After working with people who couldn’t recover from addiction with intensive psychotherapy and spiritual-support programs, Ms. Ross suspected that poor nutrition was playing a role. She discovered that “clients who did not make the nutritional changes — despite new communication skills, exercise, long vacations, and moderate work hours — did not do nearly as well.” However, she found that it took about 10 weeks of nutritional changes for the results to really stick.
Ms. Ross’ four-part questionnaire helps to identify which amino acid(s) a person might be low in. This is extremely helpful because it’s a way to figure out which deficiencies are playing a role in a person’s mood disorders or addictions without the use of expensive testing, although that may be warranted later to confirm suspicions.
Targeted Amino Acids
Ms. Ross discovered that clients who need to take amino acid supplements should do so for three to twelve months for their mood biochemistry to be repaired, although these clients need to continue eating the whole-foods diet she recommends. What’s really helpful in this book is that dosage and timing of these amino acids is given in detail.
She found that there are four major amino acids known as neurotransmitters, of which some or all may need to be supplemented, depending on a person’s needs after completing her questionnaires. They are:
Most people know about this “happy” neurotransmitter because so many people these days are on SSRIs, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, such as Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro and Celexa. Ms. Ross details why serotonin may be low:
- Lack of pro-serotonin foods
- Stimulants like caffeine and diet pills
- Aspartame (NutraSweet)
- Genetic susceptibility
- Lack of bright sunlight, as is seen in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Lack of exercise
Because this book was published in 2002 before the explosion of research about the microbiome and its effect on our health (including mental health), it doesn’t mention how gut dysbiosis plays a critical role in serotonin deficieny. Serotonin is made in the gastrointestinal tract, and if there are more harmul than helpful microbiota, the amino acid tryptophan — which mainly comes from animal protein — isn’t converted well to serotonin (which is ultimately converted to melotonin). The dietary recommendations that she makes (see below), however, go a long way to correcting gut dysbiosis.
These neurotransmitters are stimulating, and a deficiency of any of them could lead to what Ms. Ross calls “the blahs”. Dopamine, epineprine and norepinephrine are catecholamines. They are created by the adrenal glands, so if a person has adrenal fatigue or dysfunction (who doesn’t these days?), then he or she would likely be deficient in these neurotransmitters. Children with autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder or those with chronic illnesses often have low levels of catecholamines.
GABA is the antithesis to glutamate, the excitatory neurotransmitter that, in excess, can sometimes be solely responsible for the symptoms of autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder and anxiety. GABA is calming, and it’s often called “nature’s Valium”. A deficiency of GABA can cause symptoms such as oversensitivity to lights and sounds, an inability to relax and a tendency to be easily upset.
Most people are familiar with these neurotransmitters because of the tremendous good feeling, known as the “runner’s high”, that comes after high-intensity exercise. Endorphins are natural painkillers, so a deficiency of them can cause a person to become too physically or emotionally sensitive. The craving of pleasureable treats such as comfort foods can be an indicator of low endorphin levels.
Mood-Boosting Diet Suggestions
Ms. Ross followed up her work in this book with The Diet Cure: The 8-Step Program to Rebalance Your Body Chemistry and End Food Cravings, Weight Gain, and Mood Swings, which was published in 2012. The basics are the same, though: Take out the bad food and add in the good food. Certain foods are what she calls “mood monsters”. They are sweets, white-flour foods, gluten, vegetable oils (especially hydrogenated ones) and soy. Other foods (dairy, chocolate, peanuts, eggs, corn and nightshades) are also likely culprits because sensitivities or intolerances to them can cause an IgG immune response, which can disrupt the production of neurotransmitters in the gut. The best way to find out if any of these foods is causing a mental and/or physical health problem is to implement an elimination diet.
Removing problematic foods is one step; the other is to add in health-promoting foods. Her top choices are protein (which is where amino acids come from); quality fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids and saturated fats from animals and coconuts; vegetables and legumes. As she writes, “Cholesterol (which only comes from animal fats) is one of the most valuable nutrients there is for mood, particularly for stress coping, since it is the substance that we use to make our stress-coping hormones and our mood-regulating sex hormones. If you’ve been avoiding it stringently, you may have innocently compounded your mood problems.” The brain is mostly made of fat, and cholesterol is essential for its proper function. Children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism often have a cholesterol deficiency that contributes to their symptoms.
The gist of what she recommends is a whole-foods diet. Thankfully, more people are aware these days of what that means, but they can often be mislead by food labels. (Hint: If it has a label, it’s not a whole food!) Beware of packaging claims that say “made with whole grains”, etc. Sure, maybe whole grains were used to begin with, but the end result is a processed food with a label. Recipes, menus and meal plans are given to help you get started on this journey if you’re not familiar with any of it. The book also provides a list of potential nutritional supplements that can help with different kinds of mood, health or addiction issues. Specialized pracitioners such as functional-medicine doctors and naturopaths can determine which specific supplements can help for an individual.
Mood-Cure Tool Kits
To further refine factors that may be affecting mood, testing and rebalancing of different issues that can also be affecting mood such as thyroid disorders, adrenal dysfunction, sex hormone imbalances and food cravings, she discusses ways to test these issues and suggestions for how to address them.
This book has held up remarkably well in the almost two decades since the time it was published and the time this blog post was written. It continues to be a well-used reference book for many in the field of nutritional therapy, and it’s heartening to see that so much peer-reviewed medical research backs up the points made in the book.
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