View Full Version : Protein Nutrition and Mental Health!!

July 29th, 2006, 07:22 AM
:l Excellent Read!!

From Well Being Journal Vol. 11, No. 5 ~ September/October 2002

Mental Health and Protein Nutrition

By Julia Ross

Are you an emotional basket case who can't get by without comfort food? If you had more strength, could you power through your problems without overeating? Should you feel ashamed of yourself for needing emotional sustenance from foods? No! I hope to help you understand why you are using food as self-medication. It's not because you are weak willed; it's because you're low in certain brain chemicals. You don't have enough of the brain chemicals that should naturally be making you emotionally strong and complete.
These brain chemicals are thousands of times stronger than street drugs like heroin. And your body has to have them. If not, it sends out a command that is stronger than anyone's willpower: ?Find a druglike food or a drug, or some alcohol, to substitute for our missing brain chemicals. We cannot function without them!? Your depression, tension, irritability, anxiety and cravings are all symptoms of a brain that is deficient in its essential calming, stimulating and mood-enhancing chemicals.
Why Are Your Natural Mood-Enhancing Chemicals Sometimes Deficient?
Something has interfered with your body's ability to produce its own natural brain drugs. What is it? It's obviously not too unusual, or there wouldn't be so many people using food to feel better, or taking Prozac for depression relief. Actually, there are several common problems that can result in your becoming depleted in your feel-good brain chemicals, and none of them is your fault!
You may have inherited deficiencies. We are learning more all the time about the genes that determine our moods and other personality traits. Some genes program our brains to produce certain amounts of mood-enhancing chemicals. But some of us inherited genes that undersupply some of these vital mood chemicals. That is why some of us are not emotionally well balanced and why the same emotional traits seem to run in families. If your mother always seemed to be on edge, and she had a secret stash of chocolate for herself, it should come as no surprise that you, too, need foods like candy or cookies to calm yourself. Parents who have low supplies of naturally stimulating and sedating brain chemicals often produce depressed or anxious children who use food, alcohol or drugs as substitutes for the brain chemicals they desperately need.
Prolonged stress ?uses up? your natural sedatives, stimulants and pain relievers. This is particularly true if you have inherited marginal amounts to begin with. The emergency stores of precious brain chemicals can get used up if you continually need to use them to calm yourself over and over again. Eventually your brain can't keep up with the demand. That's why you start to ?help? your brain by eating foods that have druglike effects on it.
Regular use of druglike foods such as refined sugars and flours, and regular use of alcohol or drugs (including some medicines) can inhibit the production of any of your brain's natural pleasure chemicals. All of these substances can plug into your brain and actually fill up the empty places called receptors, where your natural brain drugs?the neurotransmitters?should be plugging in. Your brain senses that the receptors are already full, so it further reduces the amounts of neurotransmitters that it produces. As the amounts of these natural brain chemicals drop (remember, they can be thousands of times stronger than the hardest street drugs), more and more alcohol, drugs or druglike foods are needed to fill newly emptied brain slots. This vicious circle ends when these substances you ingest are unable to ?fill the bill? any longer. Now your brain's natural mood resources, never fully functional, are more depleted than they ever were, and you still crave your mood-enhancing drugs?whether they are sugar or alcohol and cocaine.
You may be eating too little protein. In fact, you almost certainly are if you've been dieting or avoiding fatty foods, many of which are high in protein, too. Your brain relies on protein?the only food source of amino acids?to make all of its mood-enhancing chemicals. If you are not getting enough protein, you won't be able to manufacture those crucial chemicals. A little later in this article, you'll learn about complete and incomplete proteins, and what is ?enough? protein for you. Simply put, eating the equivalent of three eggs, a chicken breast, or a fish or tofu steak at every meal might get you enough protein to keep your brain in repair.
The Physical Cause of Emotional Eating
In the late 1970s, I was the supervisor of a large San Francisco alcoholism treatment program. Our clients were very serious about getting sober, and we gave them the most intensive treatment available anywhere. Yet they could not stop drinking. Eighty to ninety percent relapse rates were standard then, and still are, in the alcohol and drug addiction fields.
As I studied these heartbreaking relapses, I began to see a pattern. Our clients had stopped drinking, but they had quickly developed a heavy addiction to sweets. Sugar is almost identical to alcohol biochemically. Both are highly refined, simple carbohydrates that are instantly absorbed, not needing digestion (complex carbs, like whole grains, need time to be digested). Both sugar and alcohol instantly skyrocket blood sugar levels and temporarily raise levels of at least two potent mood chemicals in the brain. This high would be followed by a low, of course. So, just as when they were using alcohol, our clients who had switched to eating large amounts of sugar were moody, unstable and full of cravings. Since alcohol usually works even faster than sugar does, at some point, caught in a particularly low mood, they would break down and have a drink to get some relief. One drink would become a full-blown relapse.
In 1980, when I became the director of the program, I began hiring nutritionists to help solve this disturbing relapse problem. They suggested to our clients that they quit eating sweetened foods, foods made from refined (white) flour, and caffeine, and that they eat more whole grains and vegetables. Unfortunately, these nutritional efforts didn't pay off. For reasons that we understood only later, our clients just couldn't stop eating the sweets and starches that eventually led them back to alcohol. For six years we struggled for a solution; then, in 1986, we found one.
The solution came from Dr. Joan Mathews Larson, the director of a nutritionally oriented alcoholism-treatment center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This brilliant pioneer, the author of Seven Weeks to Sobriety, introduced me to a technique that was quickly eliminating her alcoholic clients' cravings and raising her center's long-term success rate from 20 percent to 80 percent! The technique involved the use of specific amino acids that could rapidly feed the addicted brain exactly the type of protein that it needed to naturally fill up its empty mood-chemical sites. The results were spectacular. No longer did alcoholic clients need sweets or alcohol to feel good! Amino acid therapy revolutionized the work at our clinic, too, dramatically raising our success rates with alcohol and drug-addicted clients. Moreover, we were able to successfully treat clients with other addictions as well. In fact, our most spectacular successes were with food-addicted clients. Ninety percent of the compulsive overeaters we have treated with amino acid therapy have been freed from their food cravings within forty-eight hours.

Using Amino Acids to End Emotional Eating

When psychological help does not clear up emotional eating, we need to look at the four brain chemicals?neurotransmitters?that create our moods. They are:
1. dopamine/norepinephrine, our natural energizer and mental focuser;
2. GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), our natural sedative;
3. endorphin, our natural painkiller;
4. serotonin, our natural mood stabilizer and sleep promoter.
If we have enough of all four, our emotions are stable. When they are depleted, or out of balance, what we call ?pseudo-emotions? can result. These false moods can be every bit as distressing as those triggered by abuse, loss or trauma. They can drive us to relentless overeating.
For some of us, certain foods, particularly ones that are sweet and starchy, can have a druglike effect, altering our brains' mood chemistry and fooling us into a false calm, or a temporary energy surge. We can eventually become dependent on these druglike foods for continued mood lifts. The more we use them, the more depleted our natural mood-enhancing chemistry becomes. Substituting amino acid supplements for these drug foods can have immediate and dramatic effects.
Toni, a 26-year-old Native American, was referred to our clinic because she was exhausted, profoundly depressed, anxious and suffering lifelong trauma from the physical and emotional violence of her family.
Toni drank alcohol and ate sweets to cope. She went regularly to her scheduled counseling sessions but was unable to rouse herself to communicate with her counselor. She had volunteered to come to Recovery Systems, hoping that a new approach would help. Toni had already been through three long-term treatment programs for alcohol addiction. Clearly, she was motivated to solve her problem.
When we saw Toni's condition, the nutritionist and I conferred and decided to give her amino acids on the spot. I asked her to tell me one thing: What was the worst thing she was experiencing at that moment? She said, ?I'm sooooo tired.? Her slumped body and still, dull eyes confirmed this.
Our goal? To treat her lack of energy and depression by raising her levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, the body's natural energizer. We gave her our smallest dose?500 milligrams of L-tyrosine. While we waited and hoped for an effect, I spoke about how and why amino acids can be helpful.
After about ten minutes, Toni said, ?I'm not tired anymore.?
?Great!? I said. And then I asked my next question: ?What is the worse thing you are experiencing, now that your energy is better??
She answered by bending over and grasping herself around the stomach. ?I'm really uptight.?
We then gave Toni the smallest dose?100 milligrams?of GABA, a natural Valium-like chemical, along with 300 milligrams of L-taurine. We suspected that together these supplements would help relieve her tension and allow her to relax?and they did. She stretched her legs out in front of her and then stood up, got a glass of water, and went to the bathroom. While she was gone, her counselor came in and happened to tell me that Toni was in a lot of emotional pain because of the chronic alcoholic violence in her family. When her family members drank alcohol, they all became different people, vicious and cruel. And they had never been able to stay away from alcohol.
When Toni returned, I asked her, ?Can we give you something to help you endure the emotional pain that you are in?? She said yes, so I gave her a supplement containing 300 milligrams of DL-phenylalanine and 150 milligrams of L-glutamine. (DL-phenylalanine is the amino acid used to alleviate emotional pain.)
In ten minutes, I asked Toni how she was feeling, and she smiled and said, ?Just right.?
I was incredulous. How could these small amounts really be helping her? Our European-American clients usually need two to four times as much of each type of amino acid to get such dramatic effects.
I asked if she would like any more of any of the aminos I had already given her for energy, relaxation or pain relief. Her answer: ?Just right,? and a shake of her head.
By this time, Toni's eyes were sparkling. Weeks later, her counselor reported that by continuing with the amino acids she had first used in our office, Toni was actually talking for the first time in their counseling sessions, and was being praised at work, was being noticed for the first time by men, and was staying sober and sugar-free.
Julia Ross holds an M.A. in clinical psychology, as well as a California marriage and family therapy license. She is a pioneer in the field of eating disorders and addiction treatment in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she has founded and directed six successful recovery programs over the past 20 years. Some of her favorite achievements include starting the first programs for addicted adolescents and their families in Northern California and receiving an award for her work with Native American tribal clinics in 1996. She is the executive director of Recovery Systems in Mill Valley, California, 415-383-3611.