Mood Enhancers: Part 2

Mood Enhancers: Part 2

“…one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small and the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all…”    White Rabbit: Jefferson Airplane


Please understand that the material in these Mood Enhancers newsletters represent a simplified overview of neurotransmitters and mood imbalances, a primer if you will. Most of what will follow will work for generally healthy people with mild issues, but will not address the concerns of those with severe conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Such conditions may well be helped by many of the things to be discussed but should be done so with the help of a health professional.

That being said, there is one product available that has for years helped those with severe mental conditions, including autism, drug addiction, severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. This product, made by TrueHope, has a long history, including their business being raided by the police, and having to work from the U.S. for a time when they were not allowed to operate in Canada. Their crime at that time was claiming to help the aforementioned ailments.

They are back operating in Canada, but more restrained about their claims. Thus, their flagship product, called EMPowerplus Advanced, they now define as a “specially formulated vitamin, mineral, and amino acid supplement designed to assist in creating a balanced life”.

On the surface of it this product looks like a not very impressive multi-vitamin and mineral complex, however, in discussion with the founder’s son, it was explained to me that the secret lies in how the minerals are processed, and the vastly increased mineral absorption that ensues.

Since mineral imbalances are clearly linked to aberrative mental functions (Source), this would suffice to explain why the product works so much better than conventional multivitamins. Whatever its secret is, I have received enough feedback from people who have used this product to stay off, or get off, pharmaceutical mood altering drugs, that I have no doubt it is a valuable ally for anyone seeking to rectify these more severe states of mental distress, while avoiding dangerous medications.


Now, to continue with our simple primer, we will examine anxiety.

If one is often anxious (“larger”, that is, too “out there”) they usually have an excess of excitory neurotransmitters. In such cases, the natural approach would be to suppress those by increasing their inhibitory neurotransmitters, using natural substances that can increase GABA and/or serotonin levels.


GABA can currently be purchased over the counter in pill form but the quality ranges from debatable to clinically proven. The inexpensive GABA products are usually taken at about 500 mg, up to three times daily for anxiety, or once at bedtime to aid in sleep. Because sensitive materials like neurotransmitters or hormones often are destroyed by stomach acid (for example, melatonin is taken sublingually or enteric coated to avoid being damaged in the stomach), one source suggested that cheap GABA only works on those with a leaky gut.

As with introducing any supplement while seeking to treat a condition, I always suggest one begins with the best (often most expensive) version of a given substance, and then, once a positive reaction occurs, try a cheaper product and see if the same results can be obtained. It is a shame to begin with a cheap product that doesn’t do the job, and then give up on a compound that could have had great benefit (an example of this is Ginko Biloba: most cheap ginko is inferior to the clinically-tested, trademarked products).

In the case of GABA, the clinically-tested superior product is called PharmaGABA, and is effective at doses as low as 100 – 250 mg (one to three times daily).


Though GABA has been synthesized, serotonin can only be elevated by taking precursors, essentially the building blocks for your body to make serotonin. This approach is much different from the SSRI drugs commonly prescribed, which block serotonin from being uptaken by receptors, thus keeping it circulating in the blood, but does not actually elevate the patients real levels of serotonin.

After carrying a message, serotonin is usually reabsorbed by the nerve cells (known as “reuptake”). SSRIs work by blocking (“inhibiting”) reuptake, meaning more serotonin is available to pass further messages between nearby nerve cells.”  (Source)


One of the most popular serotonin elevators is 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), a metabolite of the amino acid L-tryptophan.  Since 5-HTP is well absorbed through the gut, not requiring the presence of a transport molecule, it is not affected by the presence of other amino acids, which means it can be taken with food, and its effectiveness will not be reduced. This is unlike most amino acids, including tryptophan, which are reduced in effectiveness when digested in the presence of other amino acids; thus aminos are usually taken on an empty stomach.

5-HTP came to dominate the field of serotonin precursors in Canada, because for decades L-tryptophan was illegal here. It is now available but at a fairly low dose (220 mg per cap). And, to be sure, L-tryptophan is a viable option for elevating serotonin, however a therapeutic dose can be as high as 3-4 grams, three times daily.  (Source)

The big advantage of 5-HTP over L-tryptophan is that it is one step closer to serotonin. Whereas some L-tryptophan will convert into 5-HTP, much of it will be used by the body to produce niacin (B3), or for protein production. In other words, 5-HTP, unlike L-tryptophan, “cuts to the chase”, so we need less of it.

The usual dose of 5-HTP is 50-100 mg, up to three times daily. Start with a low dose, as some people experience stomach upset. 5-HTP is available in quick-disolve capsules, or enteric-coated for a timed-release response. Immediate release may be better for those wishing to use it to fall asleep quickly, whereas the slow-release form might be better for those who wake in the night, or those using it for continuous daytime anxiety.

5-HTP is well absorbed from an oral dose, with about 70 percent ending up in the bloodstream. It easily crosses the blood-brain barrier and effectively increases central nervous system (CNS) synthesis of serotonin. In the CNS, serotonin levels have been implicated in the regulation of sleep, depression, anxiety, aggression, appetite, temperature, sexual behaviour, and pain sensation. Therapeutic administration of 5-HTP has been shown to be effective in treating a wide variety of conditions, including depression, fibromyalgia, binge eating associated with obesity, chronic headaches, and insomnia.”   (Source)

Vitamin B-3

High levels of vitamin B-3 (500-1500 mg daily, as niacin, niacinamide or flush-free niacin) will also increase serotonin production. (Source)

If you are using niacin you must start with a low dose (100 mg) and gradually work your way up to the 500 mg level. Otherwise you will experience some really uncomfortable side effects (reddening, heating, and flushing of the skin). This will not occur with the other two forms of B-3, but you will also not get the added benefit of enhanced circulation that the flushing form provides.

However, one bonus of using the niacinamide form of vitamin B-3 is that it is well documented to help prevent skin cancer. (Source)


My favorite natural sedative is L-Theanine, an amino acid derived from green tea. It works fast, whether swallowed or taken as a chewable, it does not interact with mood modifying medications (unlike 5-HTP), and is safe for children. So safe that many natural health practicioners recommend it as a drug alternative for treating ADHD in kids. (Source) Furthermore, one study found that 400 mg daily was effective at improving sleep quality in boys diagnosed with ADHD.   (Source)

As well, “currently there are a handful of studies examining the therapeutic potentials of theanine in ADHD. Theanine has also been suggested for panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder, aside from ADHD and anxiety disorders.”  (Source)

While these studies are done mostly on children, they clearly would have similar effects on an adult, though the therapeutic dose might need to be higher for adults treating such conditions.

When recommending L-theanine I always suggest one get a feel for the dose they need, since too much makes one drowsy. Usually taking 125-250 mg will be calming (adult bodyweight), and 250-500 mg, will be sedating, which is great for falling asleep. However, I have seen anxious people use 500 mg for daytime anxiety, whereas if I took that much I would be asleep at the wheel. So each person needs to experiment and find their sweet spot.

Published data suggests that L-theanine administered at daily doses ranging from 200 to 400 mg for up to 8 weeks are safe and induce anxiolytic and anti-stress effects in acute and chronic conditions.   (Source)

While those with ongoing anxiety will take L-theanine faithfully a few times a day (ideally skipping a couple of days to avoid tolerance build-up), for those who experience anxiety only occasionally, or sometimes have a hard time falling asleep, it can be used on an as-needed basis.

A bonus benefit of L-theanine is that it appears to also have anti-viral properties. In fact, when given in conjunction with the amino acid cystine (a metabolite of cysteine), L-theanine “confers resistance to influenza virus infection” and “may attenuate viral infection, replication and associated symptoms such as cytokine storm”.   (Source).  For such a purpose one would use the NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) form of cysteine, in conjunction with L-theanine.

As a related side note, we have discovered that our sleep-aid product DreamStart is very useful, at a lower dose, for dealing with daytime anxiety.

This concludes part 2 of the series. In part 3 we will look at depression and how to elevate dopamine levels naturally.

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