April 2003

Treating Depression with Amino Acids
(Depression Part 2A)
by Ross Bishop

After several years of struggling with clients to find the right drugs and dosages and deal with the brain numbing and detrimental side effects of antidepressants, I began a search for alternatives. Since our central nervous systems are almost completely regulated by amino acids, I thought I might find some help there, and I did. Amino acids can have a powerful impact on depression, with minimal side effects. Plus, they are considerably cheaper than prescription pharmaceuticals. Aminos cost about $20 a month, where Prozac now costs about $130 a month, plus doctor visits.

Amino acids are derived from proteins and are largely responsible for building cells, cell function and cell repair. They are the fundamental ăbuilding blocksä of the 50,000 different proteins that our bodies make. Our daily protein requirement is really a daily need for amino acids. Amino acids are vital to the formation of antibodies to combat bacteria and viruses and are part of the enzyme & hormonal system. They create RNA and DNA, carry oxygen to the cells, are vital to muscle function and many, many other things, in addition to being vital to the creation of neurotransmitters.

When the body is functioning normally, it makes most of the 22 amino acids it needs from protein-rich foods like meat and dairy or in selected combinations of plant proteins (like beans and corn or tofu and rice). These synthesized materials are called ănon-essentialä amino acids. The remaining 8 or 9 amino acids the body cannot synthesize, called ăessentialä amino acids, must be absorbed directly from food protein. Aminos do not last long in the body as such. The body digests out what it needs and passes out the rest. If a necessary amino is not found in food, the body will break down its own tissue to get it.

Only a few amino acids are central to the creation of neurotransmitters. However, a number of others play smaller, but very important functions in healthy neurochemistry. Since each person is different, finding the (usually) two or three amino acids that a depressed person needs from amongst the 22 aminos, and adjusting the mix and dosage, can take a little time and effort, but it is well worth the trouble. Especially when you start to feel better without the side effects of prescription drugs. I encourage people to learn about the aminos they need to supplement. It teaches them about their physiology and encourages them to make dietary and lifestyle changes to naturally correct the identified deficiency.

The western diet is very high in protein, so an amino acid deficiency should not be an intake issue. In fact, most of us take in too much protein, causing our bodies to turn acidic instead of their natural alkaline state. An acidic body can lead to a host of physical problems such as, cancer (cancer cells flourish in an acid environment and do not do well in an alkaline one), calcium deficiency (how are your teeth?) and candida. As just an aside, if you donât have some ph testing paper at home, get some (from your health food store), and check your urine and/or saliva. You will probably be surprised.

But back to amino acids: Since we should have ample amino acids in our diet, supplementation does not make sense to many conventionally trained experts. And, in theory they are correct. However, there is a large body of empirical evidence to support the premise that amino supplementation can have a profound effect on depression, so clearly something is amiss in our understanding of the process.

This is far from a complete explanation, but contrary to what you may have been lead to believe, the nutrition in our diets, even a good diet, is awful. The food choices we make are sometimes poor, but adding to that, and what is generally not told to us, is how nutritionally devoid even the ăgood stuffä is. The reason is that the nutritional content of our grains, vegetables and produce has been dropping precipitously since WWII, while the use of industrial chemicals in processed food has skyrocketed.

The produce you buy in the supermarket today has very little nutritional value. By very little, I mean that you would have to eat eight oranges today to get the same amount of vitamin A your grandparents got from a single orange. Want to try six tomatoes? A pound of green beans? The average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables have declined 27%; iron levels have dropped 37%; vitamin A levels have fallen 21%; and vitamin C levels, 30% . . . all since we began the widespread use of chemical fertilizers.

When I go to Mexico I can almost live on their tortillas because the grains are so full of life energy. The same is true of pasta in Europe. Either product in America simply feels dead. This may be a stretch, but if you remember from the opening paragraph of Part I of this series, people born after 1945 are 10 times more likely to experience depression than those born before that time. Our mass production agricultural system began the widespread use of chemical fertilizers, etc. after WWII. A connection? Perhaps.

Experts tell us that our farm soil is dead. After three decades of the overuse of artificial fertilizers and chemicals, ămodernä farming has destroyed our soil's fertility, causing it to age the equivalent of 5,000 years in 30. There is almost nothing left in the soil of nutritional value that it can pass on to our grains, fruits and vegetables. The simple truth is that the most nutritious vegetable in your world these days is not something you get at the supermarket, but the lowly dandelion growing in your back yard! If people realized how much money they were wasting on dead supermarket fruit, vegetables and grain products, theyâd buy organic in a heartbeat, even though it does cost more.

But dead fruit, vegetables and grains are only the beginning. Adding to this are the preservatives and chemicals we get from processed food and the steroids, antibiotics and growth hormones used in our meat and dairy products, and you have to wonder how our poor bodies survive the onslaught! And the truth is many of them are not doing very well at all. By the way, most of this comes to you compliments of the factory-farm dominated, U.S. Department of Agriculture whose employees are in a revolving door relationship with chemical companies like Monsanto.

Our levels of emotional stress are also off the charts and that certainly must also be considered a significant factor. Maybe itâs preservatives, processed food, pollution, stress, hydrogenated oils, or the lousy nutrition of our produce, but many people today are lacking in one or more vital amino acids, and depressed people significantly more so.

The process of breaking dietary proteins down into component amino acids (digestion) and then reassembling them to create the many substances that the body needs is extremely complex. I will try and simplify the description of each aminoâs function as best I can, but please understand that I am simplifying massive complexity into a few pages. Aminos transform from one to the other, each having very different properties. Sometimes the process goes one direction, sometimes it goes backwards. Some aminos can be made in many different ways from a number of different substances, depending upon the raw materials at hand. When you see the name of an amino acid you will see a prefix, usually ăLä and rarely ăDä like L-Glutamine or DL-Phenylalanine. This is because amino acids come in two forms. ăLä is the naturally occurring molecule, which the body needs in order to form proteins. The ăDä forms are generally a synthesized molecule and with a few exceptions, are not used by animals. Donât be thrown by their scie ntific sounding names, aminos are basically highly concentrated foodstuff.

I encourage people to test themselves for what they need, buy their amino acids, vitamins and other supplements in bulk and then custom formulate their supplements and vitamins. There is nothing wrong with buying prepackaged supplements off the shelf. Itâs quick, easy and convenient. This may be just quirky on my part, but I prefer the freedom setting my own dosages and combinations and choosing the ingredients that are best for me. I enjoy doing it and I learn a lot about my body in the process. It takes a little time, but you save money doing it, so I figure itâs a fair trade.

Supplementing with amino acids does not require the precise accuracy demanded by prescription drugs. With most aminos you could consume many times your normal dosage and probably not even notice it. Itâs simply wasteful, not generally harmful. I weigh out my supplements on a small food scale that I use in the kitchen for baking. You can get a capsule-making gadget at most health food stores ($10-14) along with empty gel caps ($5).

In working with aminos it would be good for you to change your point of reference from drugs. Amino acids are concentrated food and the body sloughs off what it does not need. Experts have been unable to identify lethal doses of amino acids, which is rare in toxicology studies. If you grossly overdo most drugs they will kill you. If you overdo an amino, about all that you will feel is some agitation and maybe a headache. Itâs like drinking too much coffee. But I do not meant to infer that there is no risk. You can have a bad reaction to too much caffeine, too!

Surprisingly little is known about the side effects of amino acids, mostly because they are so few and so rare. They do occur, and you should become familiar with any drug or supplement you take in order to assess potential problems. The most typical long-term side effect to excessive amino acid consumption is the loss of appetite and its resulting weight loss.

I suggest that people mix small batches and small doses. If you make small batches you can adjust the mix as your body changes. The small doses are because aminos move through the body rather quickly, usually in hours. I find that small doses taken several times a day works best. You can usually feel the effects of amino acids an hour after taking them. Conversely, they leave quickly too. Forget them for a day and you will notice the difference.

There are many companies making amino acid supplements and quality can vary from one to the other, so youâll want to buy from a very reputable supplier. I like a firm called Beyond-A-Century (www.beyond-a-century.com) for my supplements and vitamins because they are particular about quality and they sell the most commonly used amino acids and vitamins in bulk.

A few other firms that I know to be good are Solaray (www.affordablesolaray.com), Pure Encapsulations (www.purecaps.com), Thorne (www.thorne.com), Standard Process, Solgar, Jarrow (www.jarrow.com), Bluebonnet and Country Life (www.country-life.com/index). A few of my clients have used Whole Foods private label aminos, but I have not worked with them myself.

Some body builders and professional athletes, either banned from steroids or frightened by their many side effects, have turned to using mega-doses of aminos to both stimulate growth hormones and help with tissue repair. So when you go to company web sites youâll probably see an orientation toward the body builders.

It is essential to increase your intake of B vitamins and vitamin C when you supplement aminos. Notice that I said essential. You must have B vitamins to assimilate aminos and if they are not there, you will stress your liver and kidneys. Find a good source with B3 (Niacin), B6 and B12, or even better, make your own! (Iâll provide some recommended dosages at the end of the aminos section). Donât buy drug store or grocery store vitamins! They are made from coal tar derivatives and are really awful to your body.

Youâll get the most from your aminos if you take them on an empty stomach. I suggest first thing in the morning with juice, then mid-morning and mid-afternoon. The B vitamins are better taken with food, so, I suggest that people take their aminos when they get up in the morning and their Bâs with breakfast. I mix some vitamin C into my amino capsules and then make my B capsules separately so I can take them with food.

If you supplement with aminos, your body will get used to this more available source and begin to depend on it. Therefore it is not a good idea to supplement aminos for long periods. After supplementing aminos for 4-6 weeks, I encourage people to take a break for a week. If the depression starts to snarl back at you, then you will have to respond accordingly. The point is that as you begin to heal, start to wean yourself by taking breaks from your supplementation to encourage your body into a more normal state.

When you eat, the body controls the amount of aminos it draws out of food. When you supplement with aminos, you artificially increase what the body normally produces. If there is any risk to taking amino acids it is because as the aminos are digested, ammonia is produced. Ammonia is normally processed out in the urea cycle. If your bodyâs processing (thatâs why the B and C vitamins are important) and clean-up systems are not working as they should, increasing your amino acid intake can overload the clean-up system, create stress, and increase your bodyâs toxicity. Youâll get headachy, feel like you have a hangover and be agitated and edgy.

That is why, if you have liver or kidney problems for example, you should not take any substance, amino acids included, which is not directly related to your treatment. That is also why I do not recommend the extremely high-dose approaches used by some body builders. At those intake levels, the body must be very efficient in cleaning out by-products, and it can easily become toxic if itâs not. When you are a peak-performance athlete, your body is working very efficiently and you can get away with some things that the rest of us should not try.

As a general precaution, no supplement should ever be taken in combination with other medication until you have checked with your physician. Pregnant women should always check any treatment with their doctor. And if you are being treated for any serious illness, especially liver or kidney disease, consult your doctor before taking any supplement. Having said that, I know that few Doctors know much at all about amino acid supplementation. But maybe you can help them to learn something.

Never take amino acids if you are taking prescription antidepressants, and remember that pharmaceutical antidepressants can take weeks to clear out of your system. Do not take amino acids if you are suffering from schizophrenia, phenylketonuria (pKU), hepatic cirrhosis, diabetes, overactive thyroid, malignant melanoma or anxiety attacks.

Please understand that the information I am providing here is solely for educational purposes. I do not intend this information to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or the care of any medical condition.

Knowing exactly which aminos to take may require a little trial and error on your part. There are blood or urine tests that can measure the amino levels in your system, but I have found that muscle testing works pretty well as a substitute. I would suggest that you first read through the list of aminos that follows and see if it gives you some clues as to what you might need. We will muscle test using the list as a first step, but the most reliable testing is done with the aminos themselves. Weâll do both and use an additional test for insurance. Muscle testing has its advocates and its detractors, so be advised.

If you donât want to fool around with testing, and want to simply get on with it, a perfectly viable option is to try taking one or two of the key amino acids generally involved in neurotransmitter production. Itâs a shotgun approach, but it will provide some help for most people. In our convenience minded society, some people would prefer this approach.

There is one thing I would ask you to consider first: Do you feel anxious as well as depressed? If you do, donât shotgun. Test yourself. Some aminos excite and others act to soothe the system. It is important that you take the right combination for your situation. There are some issues regarding side effects, but mostly if you take the wrong amino youâll just make yourself more uncomfortable. That is why I encourage people to test for what they need. But if you do not feel particularly anxious with the depression, and want to try this approach, fine.

If you want to try the shotgun approach, try 5-HTP first at 50-100 mg per day for a few days to see if it begins to lift the fog. Raise the dosage to see if your depression lifts. If that doesnât work, then switch to DL-Phenylalanine and try it by itself for a few days to see how it makes you feel. If you get some help from both, but not enough, then try both together. If you havenât hit a home run yet, then try Theanine or Acetyl-Carnitine. Itâs not an ideal way to do things, but you will probably hit part of what you need to take.

The ultimate shotgun approach is a supplement called Total Balance from a New Zeeland based company called Xtend-Life. This stuff has just about everything in it but the kitchen sink! Your body is sure to find at least some of the things it needs in this mix! Whether itâs worth the $35 (or more) a month to probably get some of what you need has to be your decision. One of the things I like about Total Balance is that New Zeeland has one of the strictest regulatory environments in the world for the manufacture of dietary supplements, far exceeding U.S. FDA standards, so that that the quality what you get will be impeccable. (http://www.xtend-life.com/main/products.asp?product=tb&page=main).

If you decide to test, I would suggest that you look for someone who has an established track record as a muscle tester. Many healers have learned the skill and would probably help you at a nominal cost. If you cannot find someone, Iâll do the best I can to guide you here.

One of the keys to muscle testing is to have a fairly clear mind. Skeptical scientists have tried muscle testing and when it didnât work, they have called it quackery. A skeptical mind destroys the whole premise of muscle testing. Also, when testing for aminos, an empty stomach is the best way to test, but itâs not essential.
Muscle testing is not a contest of strength. If your arm remains strong, you have a yes. If it goes weak, you have a no. Itâs that simple. We are not looking for subtlety; we need either a yes or a no. Youâll need a friend to help you test.

Stand or sit in a comfortable position. Do not cross your legs. Get relaxed, have both you and your friend take a few deep breaths. Hold your arm out to the side and then bring it a little bit forward. Be sure your arm is straight and not bent. To test, ask yourself a question that you know to be true. Then have your friend apply light, gentle pressure with her hand just above your wrist. Your arm should remain strong. Repeat with a question that you know to be false. You should have little arm strength. Donât try and resist. This isnât a fight, you should either be weak or strong so donât fight it, besides youâll just tire your arm out.

Start out with the list of amino acids that follows. Go through each amino and ask, ăShould I take the supplement _________?ä and have your friend test your arm. Note the results. If you get a questionable response, retest at another time, but be conservative, let it go if you do not get a clear response. If your body needs something, there will be little question. If your arm does get ămushy,ä look for other explanations. Many aminos are made from other aminos, and perhaps you could use this material but a related one might suit your needs better. You can get a lot of information asking yes or no questions and muscle testing the answers.
Using the printed list for testing is the least reliable method, but it will give you a base reference. If you are going to touch the name on the list as you test, be sure to first check your reaction to both the paper (acids) and the ink on the page (chemicals) to be sure that they wonât throw your responses off. If you know how to use a pendulum, this is also a good place to use it.

I would then take my list and my friend to the health food store and test at least your positive responses from the list against the real thing. Throw in a few aminos that you tested as not needing, just as a check. You are probably only going to find the most commonly used aminos in the store, but it will give your initial testing some validation.

Have your friend pick out the amino so you do not know which one you are testing. Stand in the aisle and hold the bottle of the amino in one hand and test the opposite arm. You donât have to ask a question, your body will simply respond to the amino. By the way, glass bottles test more accurately than plastic ones. You may feel a little out of place, but today most people have done muscle testing and theyâll understand what you are doing. If not, itâs a hell of a way to start a conversation.

As a backup, there is another test that seems like more of a parlor trick, but it really works for most people. I like this test because you can also do it by yourself. Stand still with your legs less than shoulder width apart, and if your friend is with you, have them observe you from the side towards your front. Clear your mind of thoughts. Take a bottle of the supplement (donât look at what it is!) and place it just above your belly button. (OK, I know it sounds weird, but try it!)
Direct contact with the skin is best, but if you are in a public place, the test will work through a thin shirt or T-shirt, itâs just not quite as reliable. Hold the bottle on your abdomen for 10 - 15 seconds and watch and feel if your body moves forward or backward. Take time with this test, and give your body an opportunity to respond. You will have a noticeable physical response. If your body moves forward, you are getting a yes, and if it moves backward or away, it is saying no.
Using both the muscle and abdominal tests should give you a good picture of what aminos you need to supplement. Go back over the list and look for related aminos. Some aminos are made from others and you may not need to take them both.

If you have access to the actual amino, this is the best way to test. You can simply hold a capsule in your hand and test your free arm. The abdomen test works well with capsules too. If the amino is in bulk form, put a little in your palm and make a fist around it, then test your free arm.

When you feel as though you have a good starting list, then purchase your aminos. When you get them home, then muscle test each one for dosage. Remember to ask yes or no questions. ăShould I take ___ mg of this a day?ä etc.
If you are going to make your own capsules, the small ăOä capsules hold between 400-500 mg, and the larger ăOOä capsules hold between 700-900 mg. If your dosage is large and the capsules are just too small, you can simply take your amino dissolved in juice. Some aminos have a rather bitter taste, however. Come reasonably close to the recommended dosages. For those aminos whose dosages need to be handled more precisely, I have indicated maximum dosages. Donât forget to mix some vitamin C with your aminos (or your Bâs.)
If you decide to make your own B vitamins, here are some recommended dosages:

Vitamin B1 (thiamin) 50 mg a day.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 50 mg twice daily.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) Start with a single dose of 25 mg a day gradually increased incrementally to 100 mg 3 or 4 times a day. Taking too much niacin may cause what is known as a "niacin flush," which is characterized by tingling, reddening, and possible itchiness. The cause of the niacin flush is the release of histamine. There are "non-flush" versions available.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 10 mg twice a day.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) 500 mcg (thatâs 500 micrograms) twice a day. Vitamin B12 is best taken sublingually.


©2004 Blue Lotus Press.
Reproduction is permitted with attribution.


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April: Islam and the West
March: Why is Spirituality so Difficult?
February: Loving Yourself
January: The Corporation and Society
December: Finding Faith
October: Living Wills
September: When did God become a Fundamentalist? II
August: When did God become a Fundamentalist? I
July: John of God
June: Accepting Love Part II
May: Accepting Love Part I
April: Relationships II
March: Who's Running Your Life?
February: Spirituality and Life
January: Why is Life so Difficult?
December: How do I open my heart?
November: Why can't I meditate?
October: What's the truth and how do I get there?
September: Why can't I heal?
August: The Yuppie Paradox
July: Dealing with Dragons
June: Healing
May: Are you happy?
April: Relationships
March: Shamanism
February: The Loss of Spirituality
January: The Evolution of Faith
December: The Rise of Rational Thought
November: Rationality and Universal Thought
October: Business and the Paradigm of Opposites
September: Institutionalization
August: Domination
July: The Web of Connectedness
June: Depression - Part 3
May: Depression - Part 2A The Aminos
April: Depression - Part 2A Treating with Amino Acids
March: Depression - Part 1