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You are here: Home > Balancing Negative Emotions

B a l a n c i n g  N e g a t i v e  E m o t i o n s

John Sherman, ND


Most people don't realize that the first organ to respond to malnutrition is the brain. Even subtle changes in neurotransmitter levels can affect our mood, memory, pain levels, food cravings, and sleep. Stress and poor diet dramatically deplete our neurotransmitters, so it's no wonder people look to medication for help in coping with their emotional imbalances. Adults as well as children are being put on more and more medications to help calm, provide focus, and give parents some "space". As a culture, our coping skills have reached an all time low. What many don't know, however, is that almost all mood imbalances can be attributed to poor nutritional levels.


In 2006, it was estimated that 50% of the U.S. population had some form of depression that compromised their lives. One theory behind this sudden rise in depression in the last half century, is the change in animal feed from alfalfa and grasses to corn. Corn is notoriously low in tryptophan, a primary precursor to serotonin, one of the primary neurotransmitters thought to be lacking in mood and depression problems. As animals consume more and more corn, they gradually pass on to humans the deficiency of tryptophan in their meat and milk. Also, as more and more animals are raised in feedlots with no chance to graze, levels of essential fatty acids in these foods have plummeted, directly affecting our brain and nervous system function. Adding to the disappearance of nutrients in our foods is the consumption of high fructose corn syrup in sodas and sweets, further debilitating optimal nervous system function. Thus, our diets have become extremely deficient in many key amino acids, the building blocks of our brain's neurotransmitters and essential fats, the main ingredient in our cells’ outer walls. It is very likely that these deficiencies in our diet have played a significant role in the dramatic rise of antidepressant use and teen suicide.


Whenever I hear a patient, especially a teen, tell me "healthy foods are boring", I translate that into "I'm addicted to non-foods". Sugar and caffeine are major contributors to brain malnutrition through appetite suppression. This results in skipped meals, and a lesser chance for the proper amino acids to be available to the brain. Sodas and so-called 'energy' drinks, can be a major dietary trauma by supplying a huge amount of sugar and caffeine to young, developing brains. This causes varying degrees of low blood sugar, or hypogly-cemia. Since glucose i s one t he mai n neurotransmitters, the end result can be severe emotional imbalance, with loss of a sense of self.


The following is a brief description of the main 5 neurotransmitters (NT's), and how they keep our brains balanced:


Serotonin: (Natural mood elevator) This is the internal sunshine NT, increased by sunlight, giving hope and optimism, self-confidence, and a sense of humor. It helps us tolerate dark, cold weather, pain, and extreme heat. It promotes healthy sleep by converting into melatonin, which regulates our sleep patterns. Serotonin gives us emotional flexibility and resourcefulness. Many people low in serotonin crave alcohol or sweets, since these temporarily raise serotonin levels. Serotonin is also depleted by watching television, and working excessively on the computer. By providing just the right amount of amino acids to raise serotonin at the right time of day, one can avoid the sweet cravings of late afternoon, or the alcohol cravings in the early evening.


Catecholamines: (Natural stimulant) The catecholamines are dopamine, epinephrine, and nor-epinephrine. These provide alertness, energy, mental focus, initiative, assertiveness and enthusiasm in whatever we do during the day. Symptoms of deficiency include the opposite of all these qualities: apathy, depression, lack of energy, lack of focus and concentration, lack of enthusiasm, getting bored easily. When low in catecholamines, we crave caffeine, chocolate, amphetamines, tobacco, cocaine, Ritalin, marijuana, or alcohol. You only have to count the number of coffee shops there are to see what a catecholamine deficient people we've become.


GABA: (Natural tranquilizer) GABA stands for gamma aminobutyric acid and is the cool, calm, and collected NT. It helps lower catecholamines when they're high, and provides relief when we worry, become anxious, and feel stressed. It is the best anti-anxiety NT for our brains. When it's not available, we can become panicky, short-tempered, and agitated. GABA provides the brakes when the excitatory NT's are running out of control and driving us bananas. Casein, a constituent of cow's milk, consists of 25% glutamic acid, a precursor to GABA. This is why warm milk before bed is known as a reliable folk remedy for helping one sleep.


Endorphins: (Natural pain killer) Endorphins are the 'runner's high' that joggers talk about, or the gratification you feel after an intense emotional release, as in a strong display of anger you hadn't realized was there, or following sexual release. Endorphins cause pain inhibition right after an injury, but feel pain intensely the next day when the endorphins are low again. Endorphins regulate appetite, mood, sexual interest, and supply feelings of joy and inner satisfaction.


Glucose: Blood sugar is not normally considered a neurotransmitter, but it has a strong influence on brain function. When at balanced levels, we feel a sense of stability and groundedness. When our blood sugar is balanced, we don't crave sweets, refined carbohydrates, or alcohol. An important part of any emotional treatment is avoiding hypoglycemia, which can cause severe agitation. Glucose can also wake us up in the middle of the night to find food, because our glucose has dropped so low after the Boston cream pie we had after dinner. Skipping meals can be one of the worst habits for our brains, often resulting in severe emotional swings.


Obviously, imbalances in neurotransmitters can cause multiple symptoms, often simultaneously, e.g., sweet cravings, insomnia, and panic attacks all in one day. This is why a coordinated approach in balancing all the neurotransmitters is the best way to achieve emotional and mental stability. It is also wise to follow a certain order in filling the neurotransmitter receptor sites, depending on one's particular symptoms and NT levels. For example, by supplying too much serotonin, one can create a dopamine deficiency, and induce a whole new set of symptoms. The good news is that one doesn't need to rely on medication to balance brain chemistry. Drugs need only be used in dire circumstances, and only temporarily, until an appropriate diet and supplement program is in place. Withdrawal from medication should be gradual, monitored, and take place only while introducing nutrients which create balance of all neurotransmitters. In complex cases, lab tests can measure all the basic neurotransmitter levels to determine dosages necessary for balancing.
Homeopathy is also a powerful energetic tool in addressing how we interact with others, and provides a synergistic effect in balancing our neurotransmitters. By using medication to alter our moods, we can become unsatisfied, flat, and emotionally numb. Through the lens of drugs, we see each other and our surroundings with a profound lack of clarity, and our memory of our life becomes altered. It's time to open our eyes again, to see the world clearly with enthusiasm and joy.


Buyer Beware!!!!!

Erin Holston Singh, ND


Speaking of amino acidshow does one know that supplements purchased are worthy of their label (let alone their price!)? Many supplement manufacturers speak eloquently about the “current Good Manufacturing Practices”, or cGMP’s, they follow without actually doing much of anything. The public sector that is slightly more aware knows that the FDA has instituted “cGMP” guidelines, but do not realize that the FDA does not have the manpower or resources to assure these cGMP’s are taking place. The FDA is busy overseeing 80% of our food supply, where over the last ten years inspections have decreased from 1.7% to 1%. How could they possibly be overseeing the multibillion dollar supplement industry? The reality is, they are not. Just because a manufacturer claims on their label that they are using cGMP’s, it is no insurance that they are. Furthermore, even if they are, the cGMP’s the FDA recommends fall far short of what is needed to assure safety and efficacy.


These are the two main reasons I write on this topic: my concern about efficacy and my concern about contamination issues. If a supplement does not have the claimed potency on its label, how can one rightfully know if this poor quality Vitamin C isn’t, in part, responsible for our health failing to improve? As a doctor, I must know that I’m using a product that is what it says it is. Take for instance the following example. Bilberry is a commonly used herb, rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant popular for eye problems. Suppliers around the globe had begun to either dilute or replace bilberry content with carcinogenic azo dyes, since these synthetic colorant dyes would artificially increase the anthocyanin content when measured via UV spectrometry. It required the innovation of an ingredient company (Indena) to go the extra mile, take the extra expense and develop a High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) testing method to verify anthocyanin content.
Of course fake bilberry can be sold for a cheaper price (not unlike the melamine scandal of recent events) and companies that don’t bother testing can carry that lower price onto the consumer, who thinks they’ve gotten a great bargain. Both azo dyes and melamine, aside from cutting potency, also serve as culprits to my second concern, the contamination issue, since they are harmful to health.


Contamination requires an even broader need for testing, given the state of the environment and dangerous extraction procedures used to shortcut the manufacturing process and save money. Those companies that do do diligent testing on every batch  (as opposed to skip-lot testing, where only some batches are tested) report having found multiple contaminants. Rick Liva, RPh, ND of Vital Nutrients reports having found bacteria, mold, lead, mercury, illegal fungicides, unacceptable pesticides, chemical solvents, environmental pollutants, and rancidity markers in far too many of the raw materials he methodically tests before ever proceeding to manufacture any one of the over 200 supplements Vital Nutrients makes. In fact, when recently searching for a pure source of 80% Milk Thistle, Dr. Liva tested batches from the U.S., China and Europe, but had to give up, as he couldn’t find one. Vital Nutrients stopped selling Milk Thistle, but he didn’t give up looking for a pure source. He finally found a reputable supplier out of Europe that had a pure, uncontaminated 80% Milk Thistle with acceptable levels of ethanol residue from the extraction process (Ethanol is a commonly used solvent for extraction; all herbs should show some solvent on independent analysis).
Unfortunately, after only a few batches, Vital Nutrients continued to test and they received a batch with high levels of aflatoxins, which they promptly refused. Turns out that the supplier did the aforementioned “skip-lot” testing for aflatoxins. In order to avoid the additional expense, they test only some batches for this highly toxic fungal metabolite.


When I look at the vast array of products that have come onto the market in the last 15 years, I know it is not possible they are all being tested for contaminants or potency. When I see probiotics for sale at the health food store with 5, 10 or even 20 different bacteria on their label, I have to wonder if it would be possible to sell the product for the given price if the company had done the required quality assurance testing. And then I cringe to think the money going down the drain for the consumer who buys the product. I’m inclined to say “Imagine, buying a supplement, taking it faithfully, and having a hidden contaminant in that supplement be contributing to your ill health”-even if you do get some of the claimed ingredients?”, but this is no longer a realm for speculation, it is a fact!


Dr. Liva also writes about having found the chemical solvent benzene in curcumin extracts purchased from a supplier in India. Benzene is not an approved solvent for extraction and is, in fact, dangerous. Dr. Liva has hit the nail on the head when he asks the pertinent question, “How many professional product manufacturers test every batch of raw material for a comprehensive panel of chemical solvents?” From my very first days of practice, when I opted to use the Unda brand of homeopathics, I have sought this degree of certainty when it comes to quality control. I was influenced by my three separate visits to Unda’s laboratory, on the border of Germany and Belgium, where I saw the use of  Quality Assurance (QA) practices extend far beyond what the Belgian or EU government required.
This awareness made the issue one that has been close to my heart in clinical practice, as I have seen hundreds of patients come in for their first visit on multiple, poor quality supplements. Often, just changing the multi-vitamin, and the Vitamins E, C and B-Complex to higher quality products was enough to make a difference in the symptom picture of the patient. Remember the hidden costs of QA when you find a cheaper product.


The bottom line here is to make sure you get your supplements from a reputable source. Naturopathic physicians use professional product lines to improve that likelihood, but even then, it is up to the individual practitioner to ascertain if he is getting a good quality product by exploring each company’s GMP practices AND the independent laboratory each company uses for their testing. Dr. Liva has written extensively on this subject and offers several guidelines for the clinician to investigate in order to know he is getting a sound product. He gives particular questions to ask the manufacturer or independent testing lab when seeking to assure the proper analyses have been done.

What's New in the Medicinary and Why?

Vital Nutrients is the industry leader when it comes to quality control (QC) assurance.

Berry Well - Formulated by my NCNM classmate, Josh Berry, N.D., this powdered immune formula is ideal for children throughout the cold and flu season. Rick Liva, RPh, N.D. started Vital Nutrients, & is the featured in this month’s newsletter. (From Vital Nutrients)


Resvertrol Ultra - An exceptionally powerful antioxidant from Knotweed, Resveratrol is known as the “longevity nutrient”.  No CHEMICALS, No MOLDS, No PESTICIDES, No HEAVY METALS. (From ITI)


Sea Buckthorn Oil - Shown to help relieve menopausal symptoms of vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy, this source of Omega-7 fatty acids is showing great hope for relief! Also beneficial for other mucus membrane health respiratory and gastrointestinal. (From NEWMARK)

WHOLE FOODS : Fruit Puree as an Almond Berry Dessert

A yummy recipe!

This recipe is fun for people of all ages, and a great way to avoid processed sugar during the holidays. For small children, you can use this as example of how food can be creative, fun and aesthetically pleasing as well as tasty to the palate! (I won’t always have a photo of the exact recipe, but this time, I do!!!)



• 2 apples

• 2 mangos

•fresh raspberries, blackberries &/or blueberries

• almond milk

• mint leaves for garnish


Alternate fruit blend: Pears & Papaya



Peel, core or pit the fruit and blend thoroughly in a blender. Fill a dessert cup or parfait glass, such as the one pictured, half-way full of with the fruit puree. Arrange the berries over the top of the puree and pour a small amount of almond milk over the puree/berry mixture. Garnish with mint leaves.




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