Category Archives: Mental Health

Can Lowering Homocysteine via Vitamin B Improve Cognitive Impairment?

As we age it’s common for cognitive functions to decline due to the increased rate of brain atrophy. According to previous studies, the amino acid homocysteine increases with age and is a marker for cognitive impairment, brain atrophy and dementia. High levels of homocysteine has also been associated with cardiovascular disease.

Because plasma concentrations of homocysteine can be reduced by dietary intake of B vitamins, researchers at the University of Oxford in England set out to test whether vitamin B supplementation would slow the rate of brain atrophy in elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment.

For the randomized, double-blind experiment, researchers David Smith et al. recruited 646 participants over the age of 70 who had mild cognitive impairment. The subjects were split into two groups and were either treated over the course of 24 months with high doses of folic acid (0.8 mg/d), vitamin B12 (0.5 mg/d) and vitamin B6 (20 mg/d), while the control group was treated with placebo.

Adherence to treatment was determined by measuring plasma vitamins and counting returned tablets. MRI scans were done at the start and end of the trial on a subset of the participants to assess the rate of atrophy.

The effect of vitamin B and homocysteine levels on brain atrophy in the elderly

Of the 168 participants that took part in the MRI scan, brain atrophy was found to be 0.76% per year in the vitamin B group and 1.08% per year in the placebo group. The trial supported the notion that homocysteine levels was associated with rate of atrophy.

They found that the rate of atrophy in participants with homocysteine levels greater than 13 µmol/L was reduced by 53% for the vitamin B group. Cognitive test scores were also shown to be higher for participants with lower rate of atrophy. Based on these results, Smith, et al., conclude that increased rate of brain atrophy in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment can be slowed by vitamin B intake.

Since Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, starts with mild cognitive impairment, the researchers believe additional studies should be conducted to determine whether vitamin Bs will delay development of the disease.

Source:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2935890/

L-tyrosine for Treating Depression Symptoms

Alleviating depression can sometimes be daunting, even with pharmaceutical antidepressants prescribed by your doctor. But there are some natural things you can do to help with depression, too, says researchers. Tyrosine, also known as L-tyrosine, is a viable option as a natural-source antidepressant.

In fact, amino acids help play a role in many diseases, and can be used as a tool to predict such diseases since the biological compounds involved in the normal functioning of humans can be involved in the pathogenesis of these same diseases.

W Krzysciak at the Department of Medical Diagnostics at the Jagiellonian University in Poland, talks about aromatic amino acids like tyrosine, and that some of the diseases that are tied to amino acids include the diagnosing and treating of “social disorders, such as cancers; psychiatric disorders: depression, anxiety states, schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorders; neurodegenerative, and cardiovascular diseases; chronic kidney insufficiency or diabetes.”

L-Tyrosine for Depression

There are three aromatic amino acids commonly used to treat or diagnose disorders: tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine. Where phenylalanine is a pain reliever, and tryptophan promotes sleep, it is tyrosine that acts as an antidepressant.

Dr. Greene (at DC Nutrition) also has information about L-tyrosine, and explains how this aromatic amino acid works to treat depression, saying, “Tyrosine is an essential amino acid that readily passes the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain, it is a precursor for the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine, better known as adrenalin. These neurotransmitters are an important part of the body’s sympathetic nervous system.”

L-tyrosine also relieves pain—both emotional pain and physical pain.

Dr. Greene says, “Tyrosine therapy is very useful in a variety of clinical situations. … An average human dose equivalent of 500 mg of tyrosine given intravenously reduces susceptibility to life-threatening ventricular fibrillation in experimental animals. More tyrosine is needed under stress, and tyrosine supplements prevent the stress-induced depletion of norepinephrine and can cure biochemical depression.” The exceptions would include psychosis (since antipsychotic drugs work by inhibiting L-tyrosine metabolism).

Larger doses of L-tyrosine may help reduce hunger as well as alleviate depression symptoms in obese patients. Low doses actually stimulate the appetite, however.

Dr. Greene says that even physicians at Harvard Medical School have used between 1-6 grams of tyrosine to effectively treat depression that was medication-resistant, saying, “The minimum daily requirement for adults of tyrosine and its precursor, phenylalanine, is 16 mg/kg a day or about 1000 mg total. Hence, 6 g is at least six times the minimum daily requirement.”

Please have a discussion with your doctor or naturopath to see if L-tyrosine might be able to help with depression.

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22175049

http://www.dcnutrition.com/AminoAcids/Detail.CFM?RecordNumber=129

Diazepam Alternative? – Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid

Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) is a natural sedative, sometimes referred to as natural valium. It may also serve as an alternative to those who cannot take drugs like Diazepam. In fact, Diazepam works by increasing the effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid, so taking GABA as a supplement can help accomplish a similar effect without the same side effects of Diazepam.

What is Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)?

GABA is a non-essential amino acid, which acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It works by soaking up extra adrenaline, plus brings relaxation as well as smoothes out activity in the brain.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid has GABAergic effects and the GABA receptor (GABAR) involvement is why anti-anxiety and anti-seizure drugs work, although scientists still don’t understand all the reasons why, but its connection to the suppressing the functions and nerves is well known.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid can be purchased as GABA supplements in most health food or supplement stores; however, doses may vary for use in medical situations and anyone attempting to use it for more than as a sleep aid should consult their physician first.

What is Diazepam?

The common or generic name for Diazepam is Valium. Diazepam is often used to treat acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, and seizures or muscle spasms.

Diazepam belongs to the drug class of benzodiazephines, which affect the brain and central nervous system, so has a calming effect.

Diazepam works by enhancing the natural GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) chemical in the body.

Connection between GABAARs and Diazepam-like drugs

According to a study by Andrea N Beltran Gonzales, Pablo E Pomata, et al., titled Benzodiazepine modulation of homomeric GABAAρ1 receptors: Differential effects of diazepam and 4´-chlorodiazepam the “GABAA receptors (GABAARs) are ligand-gated ion channels that mediate inhibitory neurotransmission in the central nervous system … Many GABAARs receptor subtypes are allosterically modulated by benzodiazepines (BDZs), which are drugs extensively used as anxiolytics, sedative-hypnotics and anticonvulsants.”

In their research they said that “human homomeric GABAAρ1 receptors were expressed in Xenopus oocytes and GABA-evoked responses electrophysiologically recorded in the presence or absence of BDZs. … Diazepam produced potentiating effects on GABA-evoked … currents and … diazepam induced biphasic effects depending on the GABA concentration.”

They concluded, “Our results suggest that GABAAρ1 receptor function can be selectively and differentially modulated by BDZs.”

GABA receptors and drugs like Diazepam work by enhancing the gamma-aminobutyric acid effects in the human brain.

Reference:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001429991400661X

http://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-6306/diazepam-oral/details

Food that Contain Cysteine and Methionine

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When we eat protein foods our bodies break down the proteins into their respective amino acids, and then builds them back up into new proteins that help build muscle and organs and help run other functions in the body. The amino acids cysteine and methionine are needed by the body as well, and can be gotten from certain foods.

Benefits of methionine amino acid

Methionine is a sulfur-containing and proteinogenic amino acid. It provides sulfur for the hair, skin, and nails plus lowers cholesterol and provides protection for the kidneys. It can also prevent liver damage from taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Methionine can increase acidity in the urine, improve wound healing, and treat various liver disorders. Other uses for methionine include treating copper poisoning, alcoholism, depression, allergies, asthma, side effects from radiation, drug withdrawal, schizophrenia, and even Parkinson’s disease.

Benefits of cysteine amino acid

Cysteine helps protect the liver against long-term effects of alcohol use, specifically from the poison acetaldehyde (a by-product of alcohol metabolism), although it does not reduce drunkenness. Cysteine is also an antioxidant and therefore fights free radicals in the body. It can help with treating diabetes, colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), plus may treat cardiovascular disease, angina, flu, chronic bronchitis, inflammation, and osteoarthritis.

This sulfur-containing amino acid is synthesized only when methionine is in the body, therefore it is connected to methionine in this way and is why both cysteine and methionine are usually taken together through dietary supplementation. This is why it is important to eat foods that contain both cysteine and methionine so that they can complement one another for proper health benefits.

Foods high in cysteine and methionine

Methionine and cysteine work in tandem in the body, with cysteine particularly being dependent upon the presence of methionine to be produced and work in the body.

Food sources for both methionine and cysteine…

Methionine Cysteine
nuts
eggs
spinach
mushrooms
broccoli
potatoes
fish/tuna
meats*
seeds
almonds
parmesan cheese
brazil nuts
wheat germ
peanuts
chickpea
corn
pintos
lentils
medium-grained brown rice
milk
eggs
red peppers
onions
broccoli
oats
whey protein
meats*
cottage cheese
yogurt
ricotta
garlic
brussels sprouts
granola
wheat germ
sprouted lentils

*chicken, pork, turkey, duck, cured/dried or ground beef, bacon, in particular

Be sure to talk to your doctor before making any extreme or unusual modifications to your diet.

References:

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-42-methionine.aspx?activeingredientid=42&activeingredientname=methionine

http://altmedicine.about.com/od/herbsupplementguide/a/L-Cysteine.htm

http://nutrition.nutricia.com/conditions/sulphite-oxidase-deficiency

Connection between Folic Acid and Amino Acid Homocysteine

There is a connection between folic acid and amino acid homocysteine, but what is it? Folic acid and amino acid (homocysteine, one of the 22 amino acids) functions are quite different, but the former does affect the latter. In fact, blood levels of homocysteine in the body are lowered in the presence of folic acid.

Folic acid is also known as folate; however, folate is slightly different. Folate—a bioavailable and natural form of vitamin B9—comes from the word ‘foliage’ because it is found in leafy greens, such as spinach and other greens, but also from fortified/enriched cereals and animal foods like eggs or liver, as well as plant foods like broccoli, brussel sprouts, lentils, beans, asparagus, cantaloupe, and bananas. Folic acid is merely the synthetic form of folate, and is found in supplements.

Folic acid/folate (vitamin B9) helps the body produce energy, is needed for mental and emotional health, and helps prevent neural tube birth defects like spina bifida, which occurs during the first month of pregnancy, especially in high risk pregnancies. Folic acid deficiencies can occur in people due to alcoholism, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

The terms (and products) folic acid and amino acid are two different things; where folic acid is vitamin B9, and amino acids like homocysteine, cysteine, leucine, lysine, carnitine, and so on, are simply the building blocks of proteins. All 22 common amino acids are found in protein foods such as meats (chicken, pork, beef, etc.) as well as fish and eggs. Eggs, then, are actually a good source of both folic acid and amino acid content.

So what is the connection between folic acid and amino acid homocysteine?

Although amino acids are necessary for health, sometimes it is not good to have too much of a good thing; homocysteine is one of these amino acids where elevated blood levels of the amino acid can actually cause health problems.

According to Dr. Weil, elevated homocysteine levels are “linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Elevated homocysteine levels are thought to contribute to plaque formation by damaging arterial walls. High levels may also act on blood platelets and increase the risks of clot formation; however, whether high levels of homocysteine actually cause cardiovascular disease has yet to be agreed upon. … In addition, some evidence suggests that people with elevated homocysteine levels have twice the normal risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

The folic acid and amino acid connection is affected by diet as well. People who eat a lot of meat in comparison to leafy greens (that have folate/folic acid) or fruits tend to be highest in homocysteine levels. B vitamins and folic acid help reduce homocysteine levels. Additionally, says Dr. Weil, “homocysteine is also produced in the body from another amino acid, methionine. One of methionine’s main functions is to provide methyl groups for cellular reactions. … Typically, homocysteine then receives another methyl group from either folic acid or vitamin B6 to regenerate methionine.”

Folic acid supplements usually come in .4 to .8 grams, but prescription strength is at 1 g/day, although older pregnant women or high risk moms can take up to 4+ g/day (doctor prescribed). If you are low in folic acid and amino acid levels supplements can be taken for either. High stress and increased coffee consumption can also raise homocysteine levels, however. Homocysteine levels can also be elevated due to psoriasis, kidney disease, or even low thyroid hormones.

Other than talking with your doctor, one of the best ways to deal with the folic acid and amino acid connection, especially if there is an issue, is to eat healthy, get enough exercise, and make sure your daily diet includes plenty of leafy greens and fresh fruits and vegetables and less meat and fried foods, which may also reduce cholesterol and aid cardiovascular health as an added bonus.

Sources:

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b9-folic-acid

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03423/Elevated-Homocysteine.html

Nutrition and Depression: Amino Acids Can Improve Mood

We all know the importance of eating well. The link between an unhealthy diet and obesity, heart disease, and diabetes has led to bookshelves groaning with diet and nutrition books. But nutrition also affects our mental wellbeing. Are we getting enough amino acids to maintain our mental health?

A good diet is our best weapon in the war on disease. A healthy, well-balanced diet will also help our immune systems if we do become ill. This healthy diet will help combat some mental illnesses, too.

T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao, M. R. Asha, et al, explained the link between nutrition and depression in an article in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. They found that the diets of many people suffering from mental disorders are deficient in essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Supplements containing amino acids have been found to reduce symptoms of depression. Some amino acids control our moods—they cross the blood-brain barrier, carrying the chemical signals in our brains. But if we are not getting the right amount, our moods are affected.

Amino acid supplements treat mood disorders

The major symptoms of depression include increased sadness and anxiety, loss of appetite, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Deficiencies in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and the amino acid GABA are often present patients with depression.

The amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine are often helpful in treating mood disorders. Indeed, tryptophan is converted to serotonin–the chemical which controls happiness.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means we must get it from our food. But people with poor diets do not get enough tryptophan.

Antidepressants and other drugs are very successful at treating depression. The researchers hope that nutritional supplements containing amino acids will work with these drugs, possibly leading to lower doses, and fewer side effects. They suggest daily supplements of amino acids to help achieve an antidepressant effect.

Nutritional neuroscience gives us our best shot of preventing and treating some mental illnesses.

Sources: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/

Tryptophan In Antidepressants to Cure Major Depressive Disorder?

Dr. AA Badway, from Cardiff Metropolitan University (Wales, UK), published an article which points to the essential amino acid tryptophan as a possible key to developing new antidepressant serotonin-boosting drugs to treat Major Depressive Disorder.

The article, published in July 2013, focused on Major Depressive Disorder, which is also known as clinical depression, unipolar depression, or recurrent depression. This mental disorder causes pervasive, persistent low moods, where the patient can no longer experience pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. It is usually also accompanied by low self-esteem.

Major Depressive Disorder is an extremely debilitating condition which greatly impacts quality of life. Major Depressive Disorder affects private and work life, impacting eating habits, sleeping habits, and general overall health. In some cases, the disorder has led to suicide.

Serotonin deficiency is one of the causes of Major Depressive Disorder. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that transmits signals between the brain and the body. Serotonin has many effects, including the regulation of moods.

Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder includes antidepressant medications which cause the synthesis of serotonin, and thus these medications have a mood stabilizing effect.

Serotonin is synthesized in the body by the amino acid tryptophan.

Tryptophan’s role in serotonin synthesis

Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids, which means we must obtain it from our food. Tryptophan is widely available in most proteins, like eggs, fish, meat, soybeans, and sesame seeds.

There are several factors which cause decreased levels of tryptophan, and which result in the serotonin deficiencies which could cause Major Depressive Disorder. One factor, accelerated degradation of tryptophan in the liver, is one of the factors which must be addressed when developing new antidepressants.

The article concluded that enhancing the availability of tryptophan to the brain will result in normalized levels of serotonin synthesis, and could form the basis for new antidepressant drugs.

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23904410

Can Increasing Glutathione Improve Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

Can glutathione help schizophrenia? Schizophrenia, a psychological disorder characterized by impairment in a person’s ability to think clearly and manage emotions, is believed to affect an estimated 300,000 Canadians. Worldwide, up to 0.7 per cent of individuals are diagnosed with the mental disorder. Even Vincent Van Gogh, the artist who created the famous “The Starry Night” painting, suffered from schizophrenia.

Symptoms can include paranoia, delusions, disorganized speech and thought process and auditory hallucinations. Individuals living with schizophrenia may encounter significant social or occupational difficulties. It is believed the disorder is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. One of the biological factors may be due to low levels of the tripeptide glutathione.

In a study conducted at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, researchers looked at a precursor of glutathione, N-acetyl-cysteine, to see if it would improve neural synchronicity. Previous studies revealed that irregularities in neural connectivity leads to the symptoms expressed in schizophrenics.

For the double-blind, randomized trial researchers Cristian Carmeli, Maria Knyazeva, Michel Cuenod and Kim Do examined whether treatment with glutathione precursor N-acetyl-cysteine would improve EEG synchronization in schizophrenic patients. Eleven patients with a history of schizophrenia participated in the study.

One group received glutathione precursor N-acetyl-cysteine for two months as part of their treatment and placebo for the second half of treatment. Another group was given the placebo treatment first for two months and then the glutathione precursor N-acetyl-cysteine treatment for the two months after. All participants remained on their usual antipsychotic medication throughout the trial. EEG recordings were done before treatment, at the crossover and at the end of the trial.

The effects of the glutathione precursor in neural synchronicity

At the end of the experiment, the researchers found that glutathione precursor N-acetyl-cysteine significantly increased EEG synchronization, especially in the clusters located over the parieto-temporal, right temporal and right prefrontal lobes. The researchers believe that with treatment of glutathione precursor N-acetyl-cysteine, negative symptoms of schizophrenia will improve along with reduced side-effects of antipsychotics.

Based on these results they’re hopeful that the precursor to glutathione, N-acetyl-cysteine, has huge potential to be used towards treatment for schizophrenia.

Souce:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22383949

Phenylalanine Hydroxylase and Memory Performance

Phenylalanine, an essential amino acid, is the precursor to amino acid tyrosine, which helps regulate dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline. Found naturally in breast milk, phenylalanine is said to have analgesic and antidepressant qualities. Phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) is the enzyme that catalyzes phenylalanine to tyrosine. Mutations in PAH can cause phenylketonuria (PKU), the inability to metabolize phenylalanine and a genetic disorder that can lead to intellectual disability, seizures, motor disorder and skin rashes when not monitored. Because of this association of genetic variations to cognitive ability, researchers at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry in Japan set out to test the effect of variations, or single nucleotide polymorphisms, of PAH on memory performance in humans.

For the experiment, researchers Toshiya Teraishi et al. used 599 healthy participants. All participants underwent interviews to make sure they had no history with psychological disorders. They were then given the Wechsler Memory Scale-Revised to evaluate memory performance in five parts: verbal memory, visual memory, general memory, attention and delayed recall. Blood samples were also taken to determine the genomic DNA of the participants and tag six different single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) of PAH.

The effect of variations of PAH on memory

After analyzing the test scores and associated SNPs of phenylalanine hydroxylase of the participants, researchers Teraishi et al. found a significant association of the verbal memory set of the score with five SNPs. This suggests that common variations in PAH, specifically variations with SNP marker rs2037639 and haplotype markers rs2037639 and rs10860936, can have an effect on verbal memory performance.

Because SNP rs2037639 was found in previous studies to be associated with schizophrenia in sample of Bulgarian men, the researchers believe that the particular SNP variation increases an individual’s susceptibility to the mental disorder by affecting memory performance.

They report that verbal memory is one of the most altered neurocognitive function for schizophrenics.

Source:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3733818/

Amino Acids: Taurine Essential For Brain Development

An interesting study of human brain cells highlights the crucial role the amino acid taurine has on the development of our brains. This amino acid is vital for optimal development of newborn and infant brains.

Taurine is an important inhibitory neurotransmitter. It’s essential for our cardiovascular function, and the development and function of our central nervous system. Every human needs taurine, adults and babies. Adults metabolize taurine from cysteine, using vitamin B6. High levels of B6 are found in shellfish, such as oysters and clams. It’s also present in meat and fish proteins.

Newborns get their taurine from breast milk, and taurine has been added to many infant formulas.

The role of taurine for optimal brain development has been studied in animal trials. Taurine increases the proliferation of neural stem cells in embryonic and adult rodent brains. But what about humans?

Researchers Hernández-Benítez R, Vangipuram SD, et al, from the Instituto de Fisiología Celular, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico, developed a study of taurine’s effect on cell numbers in human neural precursor cells, which are stem cells.

Neural precursor cells can become neurons (nerve cells), and can also become the two other main cell types in the nervous system. They can also be cultured in the laboratory, so have great potential for a variety of transplant treatments.

Effect of Taurine on human brain development

The researchers in this human cell study used neural precursor cells from three fetal brains (14-15 weeks of gestation). The cells were cultured, and then tested with taurine. After four days of culture, taurine induced an impressive increase of neural precursor cells: an increase of up to 188%. Taurine also dramatically increased the percentage of neurons formed: up to 480% in the best case.

These results show the positive effect taurine has on the formation and development of the brain.

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23466467