The premise of orthomolecular medicine extends back to the 1920s when vitamins and minerals were first used to treat illnesses unrelated to nutrient deficiency. During that time, it was discovered that vitamin A could prevent childhood deaths from infectious illness, and that heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) could be stopped by dosages of magnesium. Like their more conventional colleagues, orthomolecular physicians acknowledge that mental disorders originate from faulty brain chemistry. However, unlike their more conventional colleagues, orthomolecular physicians rely less on prescription medications. Instead, orthomolecular psychiatrists recognize the important role nutrients, including amino acids, play in creating and regulating neurotransmitters. They then seek to uncover any nutritional deficiencies that may be causing mental disorders. Once these deficient nutrients are found, they are replaced to provide optimal levels needed to correct the neurotransmitter dysfunctions.
Amino Acids and Orthomolecular Medicine
Most individuals who consult their medical doctor for mood disorders are placed on prescription medications. Many of these anti-depressants are in the form of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI). These drugs (Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, and Zoloft) are supposed to help the brain be more efficient at using the serotonin it produces. And, as I've already stated, it is analogous to a gasoline additive to help your car get more mileage out of the gasoline in your tank. Unfortunately, many of these individuals don't have any serotonin in their tanks and they are running on fumes. Since their brain isn't making serotonin, an additive isn't going to help.
Where do the neurotransmitters come from?
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that help relay electrical messages from one nerve cell to another. Neurotransmitters are produced from the amino acids in the foods we eat. Amino acids join together in different patterns to form a protein. Eating a protein-rich food allows us to replenish our ongoing demand for the essential amino acids. Half of the amino acids are essential. This means our bodies can't manufacture them and we must get them from the foods we eat (protein). Certain amino acids, along with vitamins (B6, B3, C) and minerals (magnesium), produce the neurotransmitters. The amino acid Tryptophan turns into serotonin. The amino acid phenylalanine turns into epinephrine. Amino acids are the raw nutrients needed to manufacture the neurotransmitters which regulate our moods.
What do neurotransmitters do?
Neurotransmitters help regulate pain, reduce anxiety, promote happiness, initiate deep sleep, boost energy, and mental clarity. The neurotransmitters that cause excitatory reactions are known as catecholamines. Catecholamines, epinephrine and norepinepherine (adrenaline) are derived from the amino acid phenylalanine. Inhibitory or relaxing neurotransmitters include serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).The neurotransmitter serotonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan. GABA is produced from the amino aid glutamine.
Correcting the cause of mood disorders.
No one is born with a Prozac deficiency. However, people can develop a serotonin deficiency. Using a SSRI doesn't correct the cause. If someone is out of gas (serotonin), why would you use a gasoline additive (SSRI)? Why not fill the tank (brain) up with gas (serotonin) instead? I've been using amino acid replacement therapy for several years and have found this approach to be far superior to using prescription medicines (in most cases) for treating mild to moderate mood disorders. I've treated thousands of patients with mood disorder. I've found very few problems with mixing amino acid therapy with prescription anti-depressants. However, you may wish to work with a health-care professional familiar with orthomolecular or amino acid therapy.
Helpful related links:
BRAIN FUNCTION QUESTIONNAIRE The brain function questionnaire allows you to see if you’re low in certain neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, etc) and which amino acids you need.