Natural Alternatives to Anti-Depressant Drugs such as
Prozac, Effexor and Zoloft.

One out of every 10 Americans has been on an SSRI drug (Prozac, Effexor, Zoloft,
Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox and Paxil to name a few)  for depression.  
Serotonin, the
neurotransmitter influenced by this class of drug, has many influences on pain,
mood, sleep and intensity of cravings.  Imbalances in serotonin can lead to
depression, anxiety, low pain thresholds, sleep disorders, sugar cravings and weight

How does Serotonin effect the brain?

When you eat protein, an amino acid called tryptophan will absorb into the brain to
be processed into serotonin.  If sufficient nutrients such as Iron, SAMe, Magnesium,
and certain B-vitamins are present, tryptophan may be converted into a substance
called 5-HTP.  If activated B6 (P5P) is present, 5-HTP can be converted into the feel
good hormone serotonin.  
Certain brain cells will release serotonin in order to communicate with a neighboring
brain cell (target cell).  When the serotonin is released into the space between the
cells (the synapse), some of it is bound to the target cell, therefore transmitting the
message.  A small amount of serotonin is lost in the urine, and the rest (80%) is
reabsorbed by the original cell to be reused.  When there is normal re-absorption
(re-uptake) of the serotonin, feedback will tell the first cell that appropriate amounts
of serotonin has reached the target cell, and that no more serotonin production is
required.  When plenty of serotonin is available, a small amount is converted into
another important chemical called melatonin, which helps one achieve deep, restful

How do Prozac-like drugs work?  Are there side effects?
SSRI drugs (Prozac, Effexor, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, etc) block the re-absorption of
the serotonin that does not bind to the target cell, causing the serotonin to stay in
that space between the cells for a longer period of time in hopes that more serotonin
may bind to the target cell if it's forced to stay there long enough.  Some will be
bound but
much more than normal will be eliminated through the urine.

There are some problems that are associated with the use of these drugs and if you
read the first three paragraphs again, you can probably figure them out.  
  • First, If the drug is blocking the re-uptake of serotonin, there is a larger
    amount being excreted in the urine.  This is very wasteful, especially if the
    person was low in serotonin to begin with. These drugs actually deplete the
    body of it's own serotonin stores which can be very dangerous since those
    taking the drug were often low in serotonin to begin with!  
  • Second, if the receptors on the target cell were resistant to serotonin to begin
    with, abnormally high amounts of serotonin will only make the receptors more
    resistant to serotonin.  Higher doses of the drug, or a different drug may then
    be required to achieve the desired effect which means increased risk of side
  • Third, since the feedback loop is blocked, the first cell thinks that the target
    cell did not receive enough serotonin.  The first cell must then try to release
    even more serotonin, further depleting its serotonin reserves and increasing
    resistance of the target cell.  

Eventually, the body becomes both
serotonin depleted and serotonin resistant,
meaning it doesn’t make much serotonin and it does not respond well to what little
serotonin it does make.  Further, there is no excess serotonin to be converted into
melatonin which can lead to insomnia.  Based on this knowledge, it is not surprising
that suicide rates are actually higher after a depressed person has been on SSRI

These drugs were designed for
short term use and were never tested long term or
intended to be used long term.  Sadly the long term use of SSRI type drugs has
become common place.  Unfortunately the long term side effects are now being
discovered in the large population of patients using them for extended lengths.  The
side effects now attributed to these drugs include
sexual dysfunction, tics,
parkinsonian tremors, agitation, muscle spasm, weight gain, insomnia and
increased rates of suicide
(especially in young people).  Many of these side
effects are due to the long term depletion of serotonin and down regulation of
another neurotransmitter called Dopamin.  Some of the side effects are permanent
even after SSRI use has been ceased.

So what does natural therapy have to offer?
Serotonin and all other neurotransmitters are made from a specific amino acid
(building blocks of protein), in this case tryptophan.  In order to produce enough
serotonin  in the cell, you need to ingest enough tryptophan in the diet.  Poultry and
vegetables are good sources.  In order for tryptophan to be converted into
serotonin, there are some chemical conversions that need to occur which require a
whole host of nutrient co-factors.  Tryptophan is first converted to 5-HTP before it is
converted to Serotonin.  We often use supplemental 5-HTP and P5P with great
success because it supplies the natural building blocks for serotonin production.

Another area that can be addressed naturally is the sensitivity of the receptors on
the target cell.  This is rarely discussed but it is just as important as serotonin
production.  Combinations of PS, GPC, Inositol, ALC and Omega 3 fatty acids have
been shown to be beneficial in making the receptors more responsive by improving
the structural and functional makeup of the target cell, improving its ability to accept
serotonin.  These nutrients are the nutural components of the cell and receptor itself
so this type of supplementation is very safe and effective.  Be very careful when
selecting an Omega 3 supplement.  I only use pharmaceutical grade fish, flax and
borage oils which are proven to be free of rancidity and pollutants such as mercury
and PCB's.

This natural approach supplies the raw material for appropriate serotonin
production, allows for appropriate feedback, allows for proper re-absorption of
excess serotonin, and improves the sensitivity of the target cell.

In some cases SSRI drugs can have very good short term effects on people with
severe mood disorders, but too often they can make the problems worse.  I believe
natural supplementation, along with dietary changes and lifestyle modifications
should always be tried first or in addition to medication.  Your body was built to utilize
natural substances so when we appropriately replace them and remove any toxins
that could be contributing to the problem, the body will become healthy enough to
function on its own.  This method is a very safe, effective and low cost way of giving
you the best chance possible to overcome mood disturbances (like depression),
cravings, sleep disorders and pain syndromes over the long term.

Make an appointment with Dr. Webster today to discuss natural therapies for mood
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