Tag Archives: Gamma-Aminobutyric acid

What’s that sound?

This is a transaxial slice of the brain of a 5...

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Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is an exceptionally common problem.  As many as 2 million Americans experience this on a daily basis.  It can range from very minor to annoying to debilitating.

Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss.  Prolonged exposure to loud noises is the most common cause of hearing loss.  It is this loss of hearing that is actually causing the tinnitus.  Say what? Hearing loss actually causes people to hear sounds that don’t really exist? Yes!

People often describe tinnitus as ringing in the ears.  However, the list of sounds that are considered tinnitus is very long.  Other sounds that people might perceive include ticking, clicking, whooshing and buzzing to name a few.

Recent research, published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest several new approaches to treatment, including retraining the brain, and new avenues for developing drugs to suppress the ringing.

As a chiropractic neurologist the above statement about retraining the brain got my attention.  This is something that is near and dear to the heart of all chiropractic neurologists.  We use techniques that retrain the brain every day.  We use these techniques to help people with a wide variety of conditions ranging from anxiety to muscular imbalances and pain.

Traditionally, patients with tinnitus are told the problem stems from damaged hair cells inside of the ear.  They are told it is these hair cells that are sending the wrong signals into the brain which interprets them as noise. Turns out, this is not true.

Because each hair cell is tuned to a different frequency, damaged or lost cells leave a gap in hearing, typically a specific frequency and anything higher in pitch.  It is this gap which causes problems for the brain.

Chiropractic neurologists have been saying for a very long time that ringing in the ears is actually brain based.  This new research supports this assertion. Below is information from coauthor of the recent study Shaowen Bao, adjunct assistant professor in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley

Experiments in the past few years have shown that the ringing doesn’t originate in the inner ear, though, but rather in regions of the brain — including the auditory cortex — that receives input from the ear.

Bao’s experiments in rats with induced hearing loss explain why the neurons in the auditory cortex generate these phantom perceptions. They showed that neurons that have lost sensory input from the ear become more excitable and fire spontaneously, primarily because these nerves have “homeostatic” mechanisms to keep their overall firing rate constant no matter what.

“With the loss of hearing, you have phantom sounds,” said Bao, who himself has tinnitus. In this respect, tinnitus resembles phantom limb pain experienced by many amputees. (From sciencedaily.com)

The neurons that have lost sensory input in the brain are the neurons that are responsible for the perceived noise that people hear.  These neurons have undergone a process called transneural degeneration.  To stabilize these neurons they need more input.  But because they cannot receive it from the hair cells in the ear that are damaged, other areas of the auditory cortex must take over.  This retraining of the brain takes time, but if performed diligently, the results can be phenomenal.

We know this is a possibility because the brain is plastic.  That is, it changes in response to the stress and environmental input it receives. When a finger is amputated, for example, the region of the brain receiving input from that finger may start handling input from neighboring fingers.

Drug therapy is aimed at increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.  GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter.  In order to slow down the firing rate of these over excited cells, we must increase the levels of this inhibitory neurotransmitter.  The good news is there are lots of natural therapies that work to raise GABA levels or drive GABA receptors in the brain.

One way is to use the amino acid taurine.  I use it frequently.  Another is a product called phenibut (Phen-i-bute).  It is a natural GABA derivative that crosses the blood brain barrier and binds to GABA receptors.  I also use this frequently in my practice. These supplements, however, I believe are temporary solutions.  The permanent solution is to retrain the brain.

Tinnitus is a complicated and elusive condition, but we appear to be headed in the right direction in terms of research.  Always remember, the brain holds the key!

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How Your Diet Affects Your Mood

Depression and Bipolar

Food is fuel.  The fuel we put into our body determines how efficiently it runs.  It’s a pretty simple concept yet when it comes to brain function there is a disconnect for many physicians.

When people come to me for help with various conditions, dietary changes are almost always part of the program.  They are especially important if someone if suffering from a mood disorder.

If a poor diet can lead to poor function of the heart, gall bladder, immune system, pancreas, intestines, etc., then why couldn’t it lead to poor brain function? It can, but it’s always overlooked by traditional medicine.  Let me explain.

The Basics

Remember, food is fuel.  The neurons in your brain consume up to 40% of your circulating blood sugar at a resting state.  That figure can jump up to 80% when your brain is working hard like studying for a test or doing your taxes. Your blood sugar is the fuel your brain needs to keep going.

Low blood sugar occurs when people do not eat frequently enough or in an amount that satisfies the demands for energy of the entire body, including the brain.  Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, causes mood to change.  Most notably, people experience irritability. This irritability is relieved by simply eating food and allowing your blood sugar to rise back to a normal level.  Next time you’re feeling irritable and you haven’t eaten in a few hours, try eating a healthy snack.  It might just be the fix you’re looking for.

If something as simple as low blood sugar can alter your mood, what else can?

Alcohol

Alcohol is consumed the world over mainly for one reason and one reason only – it has mind altering properties. Let’s face it; alcohol does not taste good in the way that ice cream does.  People are not consuming it solely for the taste. The per capita consumption of ethanol in the United States is 2.31 gallons per year.  That means, on average, every American over the age of 15 consumes 2.31 gallons of pure alcohol per year.  This is equivalent to 702 beers, 410 glasses of wine or 197 shots per year, per person.

Alcohol works on the brain by affecting the neurotransmitter GABA.  GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.  Initially, consuming alcohol elevates mood and reduces anxiety and stress.  As a matter of fact, most current pharmaceuticals aimed at reducing anxiety work by acting on GABA.

However, continuing to consume alcohol has a downside.  When consumed to excess, moods begin to go down and depression is often the consequence.  It also causes sleepiness which illustrates alcohol’s powerful depressive effects.  Always remember, alcohol is a depressant and it’s this way because it acts on the inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA.

How Foods Affect Our Neurotransmitter Levels

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about neurotransmission and how getting your neurotransmitters measured is a good way to assess your mood status and possibly change it for the better.  I went into the details of some neurotransmitters and it would be good to read before continuing to read this post.  Click here to view it.

The neurotransmitters in our brain allow one nerve to talk to the next.  It is the level of these neurotransmitters, to a large extent, that govern how we feel.  Low levels of some neurotransmitters lead to anxiety while others may lead to depression.  The interplay between all of them is complex and a problem with mood is often due to more than low levels of a single neurotransmitter but there are primary players to blame in each mood disorder.

Carbohydrate Heaven

Many people have noticed that when they eat a meal that is high in refined carbohydrates they notice an elevation in mood.  So much so that people can often become addicted to this type of food just to feel good.  This is for one very real physiological fact – eating refined carbohydrates increases serotonin production in the brain.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that most of the anti-depressant drugs like Prozac and Paxil work on.  They work by tricking the brain into thinking it has more serotonin than it actually does.  Consuming refined carbohydrates works by actually increasing serotonin levels.  Here’s how.

There is a barrier between our brain and our blood.  It prevents things from getting into the brain that should not.  It is very effective.  However, it also prevents necessary nutrients from getting in as well.  They need a special pass to  get in.  This includes the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is what the body uses to make serotonin.  If one consumes a diet very low in tryptophan, serotonin levels are likely to be low.  Tryptophan is found in foods that contain protein.

In order for tryptophan (an other amino acids) to get into the brain a transporter system exists.  It is called the large neutral amino acid transporter or the LNAA.  Competition for the LNAA is fierce.  Tryptophan is a weak competitor.  It is often left out of brain except when refined carbohydrates are consumed. When refined carbohydrates are consumed high amounts of insulin are secreted.  Insulin sends free amino acids out of our blood into our muscles when it is circulating.  Because tryptophan is a bound to albumin it is left unaffected by this process.  It is now free to circulate up to the brain where competition for the LNAA is now low and it gets into the brain more easily.  It also allows more serotonin to be produced.

Now, I hear what you’re saying.  I am not suggesting you go eat tons of refined carbohydrates to feel good!  As a matter of fact you should avoid them because they just lead to a blood sugar crash later in the day resulting in irritability.  Now you’re irritable and depressed – not a good combination!

What you should do is make sure you eat foods that are high quality proteins.  This includes mostly animal products like meat and eggs.  Also, supplementing your diet with 5-HTP is helpful.  This is the direct precursor of serotonin and is in fact a type of tryptophan. It passes into the brain freely and does not compete for the LNAA.

Not Enough B6

Vitamin B6 is an essential vitamin in many ways.  In terms of brain health, it is essential to allow the conversion of the neurotransmitter glutamate into GABA.

Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.  When levels are too high seizures are known to occur.  At lower levels anxiety occurs.

GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter.  At very low levels seizures occur and when levels are slightly decreased anxiety is the result.

Glutamate ——–> GABA – GABA is converted from glutamate and B6 is required to do this.

A diet that is low in B6 will cause glutamate to build up in the brain and GABA levels will be low.  This may result in anxiety.  Foods that are highest in B6 are:

  • Spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Turnip greens

Consuming these on a regular basis may help if your problem is the conversion of glutamate to GABA.  You may also have to supplement with B6.  This is easy to find over the counter.

No Fish? No Happy

Omega-3 fatty acids have been touted to help everything from heart disease to pain and inflammation.  Research also points to another aspect.  Brain health.  People who have the lowest level of a particular omega-3 called DHA report depression as a problem significantly more than people with the highest levels of DHA.

DHA is important for growing babies, but research is starting to show that it is important for overall brain health for adults as well.

Just how it wards off depression is not clear.  One theory suggests that because DHA is important for the insulation surrounding the nerves, low levels may prevent neurons from communicating effectively.  Whatever the reason, the research is pretty clear that low levels are not good for optimal brain function.

Consuming fish regularly is a good step.  However, more people will not be able to consume enough fish to get enough DHA.  Consider supplementing with a fish oil that is high in DHA.  Most nutrition companies now make fish oil that is high in DHA.  This may help ease your depression and prevent further episodes.

This list could go on and on.  The moral of the story is that what you eat can have a significant impact on how you feel.  If you want to feel good, inside and out, you must eat a healthy diet.  Hopefully some of these tips have helped.

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Anxiety or Depression? Test the levels of your neurotransmitters to guide therapy.

Depression

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Happy New Year!  A new era began at the Vreeland Clinic on January 1st this year.  Dr. Carrie and I would like to thank all of our friends and family for their well wishes.  We looked forward to continuing to serve the community for years to come!

Today I’d like to touch on something that has revolutionized the way I practice.

People come to me for many reasons.  Some people come to my clinic for weight loss or to get more energy.  Others for help with a chronic condition that hasn’t responded to traditional care.  Still others come to see me for a wide range of neurologic conditions.  These include things like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression or anxiety.  It is the last two that I’d like to focus on today.

Anxiety and depression are extremely common in America.  Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety, depression or both.  These conditions may have many etiologies but one theory is a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Just what is this chemical imbalance?  When someone states that they have a chemical imbalance they are referring to an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system of the brain.  These neurotransmitters are really just proteins that each nerve in the brain uses to communicate with its neighbors.  Sometimes people can have too little of a certain neurotransmitter or too much of another.  This is problematic because it alters the way the brain functions.  It may cause anxiety and/or depression.

The pharmaceutical industry has figured that out and makes a large class of drugs that alters neurotransmitter function in the brain.  These are drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Lorazepam to name a few.

Neurotransmitters are broken down into two categories – they are either excitatory or inhibitory.  That means they either tell the brain to go or tell the brain to stop.  The complexities of the neurotransmitter system are extensive and there is much more to it than “go” and “stop” but that basic principle holds true in most cases.

Examples of neurotransmitters include serotonin, GABA, epinephrine, norepinephrine, glutamate and dopamine.  Serotonin and GABA are inhibitory while epinephrine, norepinephrine, glutamate and dopamine are excitatory.

If you have anxiety and depression often times an imbalance exists in the levels of these neurotransmitters.

For example, high levels of glutamate may cause anxiety or seizures.  Low levels of GABA may cause anxiety.  Low levels of serotonin may cause depression.  Same goes for norepinephrine.

So how do you tell which neurotransmitters are low or which are too high?

Measuring Neurotransmitters

Measuring your neurotransmitters with a urine test is the best way to estimate your levels of neurotransmitters.  We do this routinely in our office for many patients.  It is incredibly insightful and directs our care for patients with anxiety, depression and many other conditions.

The measurement of neurotransmitters in the urine has been around for many years.  I’ve read studies dating to the 1960’s of scientists using similar methods to evaluate neurotransmitter levels.

Until relatively recently, perhaps the last 10-15 years, it has not been used frequently in clinical practice.  Now, through specialized laboratories, it is available to the general public and it is very affordable.

The knock on urinary neurotransmitter testing is that it does not correlate with brain levels of these hormones because the urine test is in fact testing whole body levels of neurotransmitters.

The very neurotransmitters that exist in our brain to make us happy exist outside the brain to serve the body in other ways.  So, yes, it is true that checking urinary neurotransmitter levels is technically a check of the entire body’s store of neurotransmitters.  But, through hundreds of thousands of tests these specialized labs have shown with high correlation that when neurotransmitter levels are abnormal certain psychiatric and neurological conditions are much more common.

Clinically, I have seen an almost one to one correlation in my patients with certain conditions an alteration in their neurotransmitter system.

The lab that I use will test all of the basic neurotransmitters plus a slew of metabolites of these neurotransmitters.  It provides a wonderful window into the neurological system.

If I find that serotonin is low, I supplement with something called 5-HTP.  If dopamine is low, I like to use L-tyrosine or an herb called mucuna pruriens.  The list can go on and on.

Once someone has been on a program for 6-8 weeks we recheck their neurotransmitter profile to gauge our therapy and adjust it if necessary.  We find that once a person’s profile returns to normal, their symptoms resolve.

If you have anxiety or depression, consider seeking out someone who does this kind of testing to improve your outcomes.  The brain is incredibly complex.  It never hurts to have a little extra information to guide your therapy.

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