Mood Enhancers: Part 3
Mood Enhancers: Part 3
As mentioned in part one, those who are depressed more often need excitory neurotransmitters (like dopamine), rather than inhibitory ones (like serotonin). In essence, they require the opposite of what drugs commonly prescribed to treat depression (SSRIs) provide. Now we will look at those precursors to dopamine with a strong scientific track record supporting their use in treating depression.
One of the best natural precursors of dopamine is SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine), pronounced “sammy”, which is a viable alternative to SSRI drugs. SAMe is also supportive of liver function and can be used to treat arthritis. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry concluded that “these data suggest conventional antidepressants are no more effective than SAMe given as monotherapy”. (Source)
Like 5-HTP, SAMe can cause an upset stomach in some people, so one is advised to start with a low dose (200 mg per day), and gradually increase the amount, allowing the body to adapt to it.
According to the Mount Sinai medical clinic, these are the recommended therapeutic doses of SAMe.
- Depression. 800 to 1,600 mg of SAMe per day, in 2 divided doses (morning and afternoon).
- Osteoarthritis. 600 to 1,200 mg per day in 2 to 3 divided doses.
- Fibromyalgia. A dosage of 400 mg, 2 times per day for 6 weeks.
- Alcoholic liver disease. 600 to 1,200 mg per day by mouth in divided doses for 6 months enhances liver function. For liver disease, a qualified healthcare provider should supervise administration of SAMe. (Source)
Mucuna, also known as velvet bean, is a tropical legume native to Africa and tropical Asia, which is high in levodopa, a substance the brain needs to produce dopamine. Used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat depression, waning libido, and even Parkinson’s disease, a variety of rodent studies have found mucuna to have an antidepressant effect. Though as of yet there do not appear to be human studies confirming this, mucuna is widely used by modern supplement consumers for improving mood, as an aphrodisiac, and to improve fertility in men.
One can purchase unprocessed mucuna powder (dose: 1 tsp), concentrated powders (follow label instructions), or capsules standardized to 15-20% L-dopa (dose: 500-1,000 mg once, or twice daily). Start slowly and watch for side effects: some people will experience nausea, sweating, and/or an increase in blood pressure, especially if their body does not actually require more dopamine.
Also keep in mind, mucuna, like all the neurotransmitter-boosting supplements we are discussing, can cease to be effective if we build a tolerance to it. Thus, we must cycle the use of these substances, which to my mind means take the supplement for 5 days, take two days off, and resume. Aside from helping with depression, mucuna has been shown, in human studies, to reduce stress and increase fertility. In one study, involving 120 men, half the men, who were infertile were given 5 grams of mucuna powder daily for 3 months.
The study concluded that: “Treatment with M. pruriens significantly ameliorated psychological stress and seminal plasma lipid peroxide levels along with improved sperm count and motility. On the basis of results of the present study, it may be concluded that M. pruriens not only reactivates the anti-oxidant defense system of infertile men but it also helps in the management of stress and improves semen quality.” (Source)
NADH (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) is currently used as a natural treatment for Parkinson’s disease, due to its ability to raise dopamine levels. (Source) But, as well as producing dopamine, it also produces ATP in the brain, literally energizing it, clearly another factor that could help boost mood. (Source)
This substance works better with the addition of 50-100 mg of vitamin B-3 daily, and should not be used in cases involving chronic alcoholism. Usual dosage is 5-10 mg in enteric-coated form, first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
An excellent dopamine booster, phosphatidylserine (PS) is a lipid (fat) nutrient also used to regenerate damaged brain cells. Research has shown that supplementing with PS can slow and reverse the decline of concentration, learning, memory, mood, and word recall, in those with dementia, or age-related cognitive impairment. (Source)
I spoke highly of PS in Health Secrets Vol 2 because it counteracts three of the damaging side effects caused by excessive exposure to electromagnetic pollution. Namely, PS raises dopamine, lowers cortisol, and protects cell membrane integrity.
Usual dose is 100 mg, one to three times daily, with a meal.
I mentioned in part one that one of the dangers of addiction to hard drugs is the damage that they do to our dopamine receptors. As the receptors break down the addict needs more and more of the stimulation to get their fix. Again, this can occur from lifestyle addictions as well (e.g. sex, gambling, social media). In diseases like Parkinson’s the dopamine receptors are also severely damaged, which is why dopamine drugs and precursors can only do so much in such cases.
For those with damaged dopamine receptors using too much in the way of dopamine precursors can be agitating or cause side effects (heart palpitations, anxiety, hypertension). So we must start slowly when using these substances, and err on the side of caution. According to some experts, it is possible to repair dopamine receptors using substances like acetyl-l-carnitine, citicoline, cordyceps, forskolin, inositol, and sulbutiamine (a new form of vitamin B-1). (Source)
As well, for receptor damage due to addictions (not disease), it has been shown that long periods of abstaining from dopamine overstimulation gradually allows the physiology of the brain to return to normal. Certain lifestyle components can also be helpful, such as exercise,meditation, and regular sunlight exposure.
While we are on the subject of sunlight, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the subject of vitamin D. Unfortunately, to this day many people to not adequately supplement with vitamin D, such that I still find I have to always ensure a client is taking adequate vitamin D before I suggest any other natural treatment, for virtually any condition. And this includes mood conditions, which comes as no surprise since vitamin D deficiency in the fetus is linked to brain conditions ranging from autism to schizophrenia, and in children, teens, and adults, is linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia. (Source.)
A small 2019 study of 86 children with ADHD found that supplementing with 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily, for 12 weeks, increased dopamine levels. (Source)
At this juncture I will reiterate something I am telling people all summer long: the vast majority of us do not get any vitamin D from the sun. First off, your face does not produce it. Secondly, here in Canada there are about 4 months of the year when there is strong enough sunshine to produce vitamin D in the body. And, in order to produce vitamin D naturally, during those 4 months, one must be 50% exposed (at least t-shirt and shorts), and unwashed. If one showers or bathes before or after sun exposure, no vitamin D is produced: we need sebum on the surface of our skin in order to manufacture vitamin D, and hot water and soap remove that naturally-occurring oil from our skin (swimming in a cold lake or ocean would not have this effect).
So, take vitamin D year ‘round, unless you are half-naked and dirty in the sun.
What a great term: psychobiotics. Most of us are well aware of the gut-brain axis, and how probiotics can affect mood and mental health conditions. (For a detailed, scientific examination of this subject follow the “source” link below the following introduction.)
Following is the introduction to that examination: “Psychobiotics were previously defined as live bacteria (probiotics) which, when ingested, confer mental health benefits through interactions with commensal gut bacteria. We expand this definition to encompass prebiotics, which enhance the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.” (Source)
Which I mention because it allows me to give a shout out to our LactoSpore product, which serves as a phenomenal prebiotic, and does have research supporting its use for mood support. As I have discussed elsewhere, simply taking a commerical mix of probiotics can be of little or no value (sometimes even counterproductive), as these products with high numbers of bacteria and many species, are often just rejected by the gut.
That being said there are a few studies on specific strains and depression that showed some beneficial effects. One such study that improved symptoms of depression used a mix of three probiotics: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum (Source), while another found Bifidobacterium longum to be of value (Source).
In the case of anxiety, Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum have both proven to be helpful. (Source)
However, the easiest thing to do is to ensure that we keep a healthy microbiome by eating fermented foods, soluble fibers and prebiotics. One option for those who do not consume these substances is to use our PROVIDE: BALANCE Smoothie Mix.
Provide: Balance is designed to support the link between gut and brain health, serving to revitalize the microbiome while benefiting cognition and memory. This unique formula contains Lion’s Mane mushroom, hydrolyzed guar gum, and Lactospore prebiotic, all of which work to encourage healthy communication between the gut and the brain.
I have already mentioned acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) above, as helpful for repairing dopamine receptors, but for the average person it is also an effective booster of dopamine, and works to alleviate depression. ALC also “prevents age-related memory decline and is also very effective for increasing mental focus energy and optimizing brain health”. (Source)
Suggested dose is 1000 mg one to three times daily, on an empty stomach.
Two other dopamine-boosting amino acids are L-phenylalanine and L-tyrosine. “Phenylalanine and tyrosine constitute the two initial steps in the biosynthesis of dopamine.” (Source)
But, as one L-tyrosine study found, increasing dopamine levels is not beneficial for everyone.
“This particular study revealed an important fact we must pay attention to. Namely, increasing dopamine levels, in this case with L-tyrosine, only improved mood and behaviors in those low in dopamine. It had the opposite effect on those who had naturally high dopamine levels. So we need to closely monitor how any of the substances discussed affect us, and discard those that do not provide the desired effect.” (Source)
L-tyrosine is also good for improving thyroid function, which can increase physical energy levels, and aid in weight loss, if necessary.
The usual dose is 500 – 1000 mg one to three times daily, on an empty stomach. Remember dopamine is stimulating, so don’t take tyrosine, or any of the dopamine precursors, too near bedtime.
Usual dose of L-phenylalanine is 500 – 1000 mg one to three times daily, on an empty stomach.
In the next part of this series I will look at herbal remedies that work to balance brain chemistry, serving to treat both anxiety and depression.