Tag Archives: 5-HTP

Fighting Depression Naturally


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Depression is a huge problem in the United States.  The numbers are quite amazing. Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder. Depression is not just a disorder for adults, however. As many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression.

Depression is characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Unipolar depression, the most common mood disorder in the U.S., was first described by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C. He believed that depression was caused by an imbalance in the four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  Excess black bile caused depression according to Hippocrates. In fact, the Greek term for depression, melancholia, means black bile.

This view may seem far fetched, but the fact that depression is a physical process is correct. Even Freud wrote of the various presentations of depression which range from mild and cognitive, to severe and somatic.
There are several ’causes’ of depression.  I put ’causes’ in quotes because no one really knows for sure what ’causes’ depression.  There are many theories.  In my opinion, an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system is a scientifically sound explanation as to how a person could develop a mood disorder.  I also like to consider that if a person is not in good general health, depression is more likely to take hold.  This is a view that is also supported by the research.
So if these are two ’causes’ of depression, how can we effectively treat it?  Good question.  See my answers below.

Get Healthy

First and foremost a person that is depressed must make every effort to get healthy.  This includes exercise and dietary changes.  Junk in equals junk out.  Period.  If all one eats is McDonald’s value meals they are very unlikely to be healthy and much more likely to develop depression in my opinion.  Did you ever see the movie SuperSize Me?  A documentarian decides to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days to see what happens.  Not only did he fall apart physically but he developed depression! Now, this is just one case and is a bit anecdotal, but the result confirmed the  hypothesis I made before I even saw the movie.

You must eat a healthy diet in order for your body to work properly and be healthy.  For some reason modern medicine has separated the health of our body from the health of our minds.  It is widely understood that to have a healthy body we need to eat nutritious foods.  It is far less accepted that to have a healthy mind we need to have a healthy diet.  Why is this the case?  The food that we eat provides fuel to our bodies and to our brains. The same food nourishes our entire system, not simply our physical bodies.

Exercise is unbelievably critical.  In fact, research has shown that the #1 cure for depression lasting less than 7 years is exercise.  Exercise does many things for the body. It improves blood flow, is a great stress reliever and changes the chemical balance in the brain to name just a few.  If you feel as if you suffer from depression and you do one thing for yourself this should be the one.  It has long lasting benefits in terms of depression and helps get the rest of your body healthy as well.

Supplements to take

There are several supplements that have been shown to reduce depression.  I would not suggest trying them all at once.  And I would suggest you consult a physician that is trained in functional medicine before you start a program.


If your problem is low serotonin this may help you.  5-HTP is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan.  5-HTP is the direct precursor in the body for serotonin.  Taking it may increase your serotonin levels and improve your mood.

St. John’s Wort

This is an herbal product that is used here in the U.S. to help with depression.  It acts by affecting the serotonin system.  I have found that it helps some, but not all depressed patients.  It’s a popular depression treatment in Europe.


Short for the chemical name S-adenosylmethionine, it is pronounced “sammy.”  This has worked well in my practice for many people.  It is available over the counter in the U.S., but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids are known to protect people from depression.  It also appears that consuming more omega-3s reduces the symptoms of depression.  Consuming more in one’s diet is not likely to be enough.  Most people will have to supplement their diet with the oil or capsules to gain the most benefit.

This is just a small sample of the things that one can do to naturally ease depression.  People are most successful when combine exercise, diet and supplements together.  It will give you the best chance of improving your mood and feeling happier and more alive.

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Filed under Brain Health, Diet

11 Natural Ways for a Better Night’s Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of our lives.  Most of us don’t think about just how important it is until we experience sleeplessness.  The effects can range from annoying to down right life altering.  They include anything from feeling foggy headed and grumpy to hallucinations if the sleep is disturbed long enough.  I came across an interesting article online with 8 natural sleep remedies. I’ve listed them below with some others that were not mentioned.

1. Magnesium and calcium

Magnesium and calcium are both sleep boosters, and when taken together, they become even more effective. Plus, by taking magnesium, you cancel out any potential heart problems that might arise from taking calcium alone. Take 200 milligrams of magnesium—lower the dose if it causes diarrhea—and 400 milligrams of calcium each night.

2. Wild lettuce

If you’ve suffered anxiety, headaches, or muscle or joint pain, you might already be familiar with wild lettuce. It’s also effective at calming restlessness and reducing anxiety—and may even quell restless legs syndrome. When using a wild-lettuce supplement, take 30 to 120 milligrams before bed.

3. Hops

Beer fans will no doubt be familiar with the calming effect of hops, the female flowers used in beer making. For sleep purposes, though, this extract has been widely used as a mild sedative for anxiety and insomnia. Take 30 to 120 milligrams before climbing under the covers.

4. Aromatherapy

Lavender is the trick here, as studies have proven that it aids in sleep. It’s also a cheap, nontoxic way to slip into a peaceful slumber. Find a spray with real lavender and spritz it on your pillow before bedtime. Or buy a lavender-filled pillow.

5. Melatonin

Melatonin is the hormone that controls sleep, so it’s no wonder that it naturally induces sleep. Although some experts recommend taking higher doses, studies show that lower doses are more effective. Plus, there’s concern that too-high doses could cause toxicity as well as raise the risk of depression or infertility. Take 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams before bed.

A note from Dr. Court – Taking melatonin keeps your brain from making it.  Because of this, I don’t recommend people take it for long periods of time.  If you need it in a pinch or for a week or two of high stress it’s ok, but you should look for something else if you think you will need assistance for longer than that.

6. Yoga or meditation

Choose gentle yoga or stretching, not vigorous power or ashtanga yoga, which could energize you instead. Try easy yoga stretches in bed followed by simple meditation. Close your eyes and, for 5 to 10 minutes, pay attention to nothing but your breathing.

A note from Dr. Court – When I can’t sleep I like to use something called square breathing.  Tip your head back and breath in for two seconds then tip your head forward and breath out for four seconds.  Repeat until you are asleep.  It works wonders for me.

7. L-theanine

This amino acid comes from green tea and not only helps maintain a calm alertness during the day but also a deeper sleep at night. However, green tea doesn’t contain enough L-theanine to significantly boost your REM cycles.  You will have to take a theanine supplement to get enough of the stuff to help you sleep. Take 50 to 200 milligrams at bedtime.

8. Valerian

Valerian is one of the most common sleep remedies for insomnia. Numerous studies have found that valerian improves deep sleep, speed of falling asleep, and overall quality of sleep. However, it’s most effective when used over a longer period of time. One caveat? About 10% of the people who use it actually feel energized, which may keep them awake. If that happens to you, take valerian during the day. Otherwise, take 200 to 800 milligrams before bed.

9. 5-HTP

This substance is an amino acid that is used to make serotonin in the body.  Serotonin is critically important for being able to get to sleep and stay asleep.  5-HTP or 5-hydroxytryptophan is a derivative of the amino acid tryptophan.  While tryptophan is readily available in the diet in such things and turkey and milk, 5-HTP is not.  I usually recommend people supplement with about 100-200 mg before bed.  The supplement is readily available through any health care practitioner who specializes in functional medicine.

10. GABA

GABA is technically another amino acid, but it is not so in the traditional sense.  It is not incorporated into proteins like other amino acids.  GABA is one of the main inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain and deficiencies in GABA can lead to anxiety, insomnia and even seizures.  GABA can be taken orally as a supplement to help you sleep.  As a matter of fact most of the pharmaceutical aids for sleeping act on GABA.  To obtain a supplement with GABA in it you should definitely see a qualified doctor who specializes in functional medicine.  I routinely recommend this for my patients and it works great.  I recommend 600-800 mg before bed.

11. Hydrolyzed Milk Proteins

Remember when Mom would give you a glass of warm milk to help you sleep?  As it turns out there is some science behind why that was so effective.  Many nutrition companies use products with these proteins in them as sleep aids.  I use a product from Biotics Research call DeStress. It works wonderful for sleeplessness.  I don’t know of any available over the counter but ask your health practitioner if they have any sources they are aware of.

This list is by no means all inclusive, but it’s a good start.  There are many reasons that you might not be sleeping, but I would certainly try a natural remedy before resorting to more powerful pharmaceuticals which have a high rate of dependency.  Here’s to a better night’s sleep!


Filed under Brain Health

SIDS babies have low serotonin levels, study finds

Babies who died from sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, show lower amounts of the brain chemical serotonin, says a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Levels of serotonin, which regulate a baby’s sleep, heart rate and breathing, were 26 percent lower in the brainstems of babies who died of SIDS than in those of babies who died of other causes, the study says.

Researchers believe a low level of serotonin may be the “fundamental abnormality” in babies who die from SIDS. In the brainstem, serotonin acts as an alarm system, waking up a baby when breathing is disrupted. Babies without it can be unaware that they are not breathing enough oxygen, causing them to die in their sleep, according to the study.

The study also found that infants with insufficient serotonin also had low levels of the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase, which is needed to make serotonin. Levels of that were 22 percent lower in SIDS babies.

The next phase of the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, will focus on why some babies lack enough tryptophan hydroxylase to produce serotonin, said the study’s author, Dr. Hannah Kinney, who is affiliated with Children’s Hospital Boston in Massachusetts.

There is no test to determine which infants may be at risk for SIDS. Kinney told CNN that researchers believe they are decades away from discovering a physical marker of a brainstem problem that could be identified in the blood.

To avoid the risk of SIDS, she and other doctors recommend that parents make sure that babies can breathe uninhibited during sleep: Place babies on their backs to avoid their rolling over, don’t over-bundle the baby, and don’t leave loose bedding or stuffed toys in the crib.

Via: cnn.com

Dr. Court’s Comments

This information is truly intriguing.  We routinely check the levels of serotonin of adults in our clinic.  We have not, until this point, checked the levels of babies.  I could be done because it is a simple urine and saliva test.  I also wonder what the implications of the mother’s diet will be when this is studied further.  I don’t think it is a large leap to assume that mother’s deficient in serotonin might also have babies that are deficient in serotonin.  Serotonin is made in the body from the amino acid tryptophan.  This is then converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, which is directly converted into serotonin.  This 5-HTP is a supplement that is very easily taken.  There is no research thus far into how low levels of available 5-HTP in the mother may correlate into SIDS in a child, but I will be interested to see how it plays out.  It stands to reason that low levels in the mother may translate into low levels in the baby.  This, in turn, may increase the likelihood of SIDS.


Filed under Brain Health, Diet, Public Health