Friday, September 29, 2006

Natural Supplements to Improve Your Mood and Make Your Life Happier!

Hey! Dr. John Schinnerer here! I am a U.C. Berkeley-trained psychologist. Having done some research into supplements and mood, I thought I’d contribute to the conversation. To begin with, here are the ground rules of natural supplements which affect the brain.

First, these recommendations are only for those who are interested in living a longer and happier life, those of you who want to maintain a healthy brain throughout your life based on the latest in scientific research.

The best approach to getting the nutrients to your brain depends upon the ability to combine a healthy approach to life with the right combination of nutrients in the correct dosages. Our brain requires a lot of supplements in small dosages as opposed to one supplement in a large dose. This fact is demonstrated by Ray Kurzweil, co-author of the Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, who takes 250 supplements per day. In contrast, I take 30 supplements per day. I am still playing catch up to Ray’s knowledge base.

Second, each nutrient has an ideal dosage for you. If you take too much, it may result in negative side effect. Be careful when taking two or more supplements together as their effects might be cumulative and build upon one another.

Third, you want to start with a low dose and slowly increase it over time – days or weeks – to avoid side effects.

Fourth, most of the supplements are best taken in the morning.

Fifth, don’t assume that all supplements available on the pharmacy shelf are effective or safe. What I’m sharing with you is the latest info on supplements as of today. This knowledge base is likely to change down the road.

Finally, always talk to your doctor prior starting any routine that involves supplements.

Please understand that there is still a great deal that we don’t know about the brain and its nutritional requirements. The brain is one of the last frontiers to be explored and understood by humankind. You need to decide for yourself which supplements are right for you.

So, without further ado, here are a few of the latest, scientifically proven ways to safeguard your brain and create a happier mood.

5-HTP

Low levels of serotonin (a chemical in the brain) are related to obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, interrupted sleep, aggressiveness, moodiness, overfocusing and rigid thinking. 5-HTP helps sleep, improves your mood, and decreases irritability by increasing the serotonin levels in the brain. A number of double blind studies have shown 5-HTP to be as effective as antidepressant medication when treating depression.

Recommended dose: 50 to 300 milligrams per day. 5-HTP taken on an empty stomach will improve absorption. A possible side effect of 5-HTP is an upset stomach. To reduce this possibility, start with the minimum dose (50 mg) and slowly work your way up to the desired dose over a 1 to 2 week period.

The serotonin pathway is as follows: Tryptophan  5-HTP  Serotonin  N-acetyl-serotonin  Melatonin. Both 5-HTP and L-tryptophan are available as nutritional supplements. However, 5-HTP is more readily absorbed into the brain than L-tryptophan. Seventy percent of 5-HTP penetrates the blood-brain barrier while only 3% of L-tryptophan is absorbed into the brain.

Aspirin Therapy Improves Arteries and Keeps the Communication Lines Open to the Brain

As I have touched on before, the health and functioning of your brain is directly related to the health of your arteries and your heart and the quality of your blood. This is a relationship that surprised Cliff, the producer of my radio show, (Guide To Self Radio) whom I dearly love, and who scared all of us recently when he had a minor heart attack a few weeks ago. Fortunately, he is fine and getting stronger each day – Thank you, Lord.

One step you can take to prevent heart attack, keep your blood thin, prevent inflammation of the arteries, and sustain the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain is aspirin therapy. Aspirin helps your blood from clotting. It may also help the body create more blood vessels so that when clots do form, there are alternate routes, around the clot, that the blood can use to get to its many destinations. Among other things, Cliff is now taking aspirin daily. On top of the heart-related benefits, aspirin reduces your likelihood of dementia and Alzheimer’s. We think it’s because it help keep the arteries young and healthy. However, do NOT take Advil, or ibuprofen, together with aspirin as they cancel each other out.

For those of you over 40 years of age, I strongly urge you to look at the possibility of taking 162 mg of aspirin each. It’s recommended that you drink ½ glass of water before and after taking the aspirin to reduce wear and tear on the stomach lining. According to “You: The Owner’s Manual”, aspirin therapy has a long-term effect of making you the equivalent of 2.3 years younger when your 55.

My mom stays in good physical health and keeps her brain in great shape. She is very mentally active and one of the smartest people I know. About ten years ago, my mom was up at our family cabin in Tahoe by herself where had a mini-stroke several years ago and I can tell you that is a scary occurrence when the brain wiring goes haywire in a loved one. As her left side quickly became paralyzed, she pulled herself over to the phone to call 911. However, her face on her left side was growing paralyzed as well, making it difficult to speak and be understood. Fortunately, the dispatcher understood enough to get her assistance and she was rushed to the hospital. She recovered fully from the mini-stroke, but it provides a stark reminder of our need to take excellent care of ourselves so as to reduce our risk of strokes, which are caused by blockages in the tiny arteries or by a blood vessel bursting in the brain.

Vitamin E to Stave Off Alzheimer’s

Vitamin E has been shown in some studies to help fight off Alzheimer’s. In one study, people who ate more than 23 IU (international units) of vitamin E had a 43% reduction in their risk of Alzheimer’s. In addition, ask your doctor about taking 400 international units (IU) to 1,000 IU of vitamin E daily for extra brain protection.

Understand that there is an elaborate link between the brain and the body. Chemical messengers that help the brain cells “talk” to one another are called neurotransmitters. They are like the postal service of the brain. They carry messages between brain cells.

While we’re on the topic of Alzheimer’s, I want to point out that your risk of Alzheimer’s increases by 30% for each hour of TV that you watch daily. While watching TV doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s, it does represent an inactive or sedentary lifestyle which contributes to the disease. Staying mentally and physically active will enhance the health of your brain as well as help prevent age-related diseases.

Get Your Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Better Health

Ever since 1945, the rates of depression have increased worldwide and the age of onset is moving downward – younger people are affected by it. This was noted by Dr. Gerald Klerman who found that each generation of individuals born since WWII appears to have a higher incidence and earlier age of onset of major depression and bipolar disorder. There are many theories for this. However, one of them points to the increase in our diets of sources of omega-6 oils (e.g. from corn and soy) and a decrease in Omega-3 fats. (Not proven).

Rates of depression have been found to be much lower in countries that eat a great deal of fish. In fact, the relationship is so strong, the rates of depression can actually be predicted based on per capita fish consumption!

Why? When a neurotransmitter binds to a receptor (in the brain) the receptor sets in motion within the cell a series of chemical processes known as signal transduction, amplifying the original signal. Mood stabilizers inhibit or dampen that amplification. It’s similar to building a dam across a raging river which quiets the downstream waters.

One of the most studied nutrient, is the Omega-3 fatty acids. About 60% of the brain is made up of fats (lipids) that make up the lining of every brain cell. Omega-3s are required by the brain to an extraordinary degree. They cannot be produced by our bodies but must be ingested via diet or pills. They are found in large, fatty, cold water fish, many types of nuts such as walnuts, flaxseed oil, olive oil, and canola oil.

Omega-3s help turn down the ‘volume’ of communications between brain cells (similar to the action of a mood stabilizer). Documented benefits of Omega-3 oils include improved mood, clearer thinking, more serenity, better concentration and focus, and better vision. While still under exploration, it is believed that omega-3s can help combat normal age-related deterioration of the brain, depression, anxiety, heart disease, and addictions. It’s been linked to pain relief, cancer prevention, lower blood pressure, and reduced asthma risk.

Many Americans only get as little as 200 mg per day of fish oils while Eskimos or Japanese people go as high as 10,000 mg per day due to their fish intake. The recommended daily dose is 2 to 5 g daily of a combination of the 2 key fatty acids in Omega 3s - EPA and DHA. Take 1-2 g with each meal. Little extra benefit has been found at dosages over 5 grams per day. Don’t worry too much about the particular break down or combination of amounts of EPA vs. that of DHA. Any combination of the two is fine. Future research may indicate that DHA is more beneficial, but we have not found that out yet, and supplements that contain DHA, by itself, tend to be more expensive.

Now, some people don’t like the fishy aftertaste you get from the fish oil supplements, so they take flaxseed oil instead. However, there is an important difference between fish oil and flaxseed oil. Fish oil contains the preformed omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, has ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid, which is the precursor to omega-3 fatty acids that are in fish. Our bodies can convert ALA to EPA and DHA but the amount converted is minimal. So while flaxseed oil is good for you and thought to be heart healthy, it’s not a true substitute for fish oils.

The only 2 ways to bump up your daily fish oil intake is to eat fish or take fish oil supplements. As fish oil appears to substantially reduce the levels of triglycerides (dangerous blood fats) in your blood as well as get the necessary amounts of EPA and DHA. Fish oil at a daily dose of 2 – 5 grams has been shown to reduce triglyceride levels by 20 – 50%. So research suggests that fish oil is helpful to your heart as well as your brain, cutting your risk of heart disease. I can’t say enough about fish oil – it appears to lower the heart rate, fights arterial inflammation, reduce blood clot formation, and slows the buildup of plaque in arteries which leads to blockages, heart attacks, and strokes.

I personally take 4,000 mg per day of fish oil supplements and 2,000 mg per day of flaxseed oil.

One word of caution is that fish oil supplements of more than 3 g per day can thin the blood. When combined with blood thinners such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, Vitamin E, ginkgo, garlic, phosphatidylserine (or PS), and prescription blood thinners, it could increase the risk of too much bleeding.

Be careful where you get your fish oil supplements. Make sure they screen out the mercury, a known neurotoxin, which means it kills brain cells. When eating fish, you may want to be aware of which fish are more likely to contain high levels of mercury. You can get the latest information on healthy fish at www.seafoodwatch.org.
A difference should be noticeable after approximately 3 weeks.

Recommended daily dose: 3 to 4 grams daily. Take an antioxidant with your fish oil to clean up any left over free radicals. Take 1 gram with each meal. Fish oils are one of the most critical components of optimizing your brain.

Choline for More Memory

Some of us are concerned about declines in memory. Personally, I know that my memory can never be strong enough. Research has shown that the level of phosphatidylcholine (PC) declines in the brain as we age. Choline helps form PC. Choline is found in eggs, fish, nuts, meats and vegetables.

Most people get roughly 300 to 900 mg per day from their diet. If you have a normal diet with adequate representation from all the food groups, you probably do not need a choline supplement.

Recommended daily dose: You should be getting enough from your diet. If you’re not getting enough, or if you want to try a supplement, 250 mg per day is a good dose to start at. You can work your way up to 500 mg with a goal to increase mental clarity and memory. Potential side effects include gastrointestinal distress, nausea, sweating and loss of appetite.

That should give you a few choices of supplements with which to begin. Remember, start with one supplement at a low dosage and build up to the desired dosage slowly. I have tried all of these supplements personally and found them helpful. Let me know if you find them helpful as well! All the best in health and happiness!
Warmest regards,

Dr. John Schinnerer
Guide To Self, Inc. – Positive Psychology Life Coaching

Contact Dr. John via email at DrJohn@GuideToSelf.com

For speaking inquiries, please call (925) 944-3440.

Check out Dr. John’s new book on the latest scientifically proven ways to a happier life, Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought
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Guide To Self(C) 2005-2006.

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