Have you been to talk therapy for years without a significant decrease in your symptoms? Do you practice all the coping skills and still can’t seem to shake that fog of depression? Are yoga, meditation and other relaxation practices your best friends and yet you still wake up with a knot of anxiety every morning? At some point, you have to ask yourself: is there something I’m missing here? Is it possible that these symptoms are not coming primarily from a past trauma or life stress? What if the stress is actually a deficiency or imbalance inside the body?
Amino acids, which are components broken down from proteins, are the primary building blocks and regulators of our neurotransmitter production. If we do not have adequate raw material to build and regulate our neurotransmitters, or if another physiological imbalance is not allowing efficient conversion of raw material to usable material in the body, it becomes a near biological impossibility to have a positive or stable mood.
Theoretically, we should be able to get all the nutrients we need to create neurotransmitters from our food. Unfortunately, many of us still develop nutrient deficiencies due to eating a diet heavy in processed and high carbohydrate foods, having an inadequate intake of animal based protein (the most bio available method of obtaining all 22 amino acids), or other unaddressed nutrient deficiencies.
All of these factors can create a phenomenon of “high calorie malnutrition”, where you are technically eating enough calories per day but still have not gotten the adequate building blocks for essential cellular processes, including neurotransmitter production and regulation. Amino acid deficiency is a serious problem, and can create a range of concerning mental health symptoms.
Doctor Julia Ross divides these into 4 “Mood Types” that each relate to a specific neurotransmitter imbalance. You can take her full quizzes online at: https://www.juliarosscures.com/tools/Mood_Type_Questionnaire_Practitioners.pdf
Here are general descriptions of the 4 mood types:
Type 1: Low Serotonin
When we have adequate serotonin levels, we are able to feel positive, confident, flexible and easy going. Low serotonin is indicated by an anxious, obsessive, and high functioning depressive mood. People with low serotonin will often be highly self critical, experience excessive guilt, maybe even perfectionistic, and have a hard time letting go and enjoying things. They may obsess and ruminate over a problem continuously without ever feeling resolved. They may even engage in compulsive type behaviors, needing to enact control as much as possible in their environment. Physically, people with low serotonin tend to be prone to constipation, elevated heart rate, insomnia, fibromyalgia, TMJ, migraines, and carbohydrate cravings.
Type 2: Low Catelcholamines
When we have enough catelcholamines (which are dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenalin), we are able to be energized, upbeat, and alert, especially at the beginning of the day when our cortisol levels should naturally be at their highest. Low catelcholamines are indicated by a flat, lethargic, fatigue based depression. People with low catelcholamines will often sleep too much, have difficulty staying focused, and feel emotionally numb. They may need substances like caffeine or sugar to “get going”. Neurologically, people with low catelcholamines may have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue, ADD, or major depressive disorder and tend to feel at least temporarily “better” with stimulating substances such as Adderall or methamphetamines.
Type 3: Low GABA
When we have enough GABA, we are able to be calm, relaxed, and feel competent and resilient in the face of stress. Difficult tasks and experiences are taken in stride. Low GABA is indicated by a wired, constantly stressed, and frequently overwhelmed mood type. People will low GABA will often say things like, “I just can’t take it anymore!” in regards to the next life stressor coming at them. They may also be snappy and irritable. Physically, people with low GABA are often diagnosed with the first stage of adrenal burnout. They are overloaded on cortisol, and as a result may be drawn to substances like alcohol, tranquilizers and benzodiazepines.
Type 4: Low Endorphins
When we have enough endorphins, we are able to easily have experiences of comfort, pleasure and bliss. Self soothing feels like an accessible skill to utilize during difficult times. Low endorphins are indicated by excessive emotional sensitivity, avoidance of emotions, and difficulty “shaking off” painful experiences or disappointment when the experiences cannot be avoided. People with low endorphins tend to feel very “emotionally raw” and will often find themselves crying for what feels like no reason. Physically, people with low endorphins tend to experience chronic pain.
Now that you know your therapy resistant mood problems may actually be the result of an amino acid deficiency, what do you do?
It is best to do a comprehensive dietary and supplement protocol designed to promote healthy neurotransmitter production. You can find these resources on my Mental Health and Nervous System Page:
In the mean time, there are a few key things to begin implementing, regardless of your specific mood type, that can help boost and rebalance the production of your neurotransmitters.
1. Eliminate all processed foods from your diet. I like to call refined sugars and flours “nutrient suckers”. These modern day ingredients are devoid of nutrients and still take nutrients to process and convert into energy. Therefore, consuming these foods can actively deplete nutrient levels compared to an unprocessed, whole foods diet, and regular consumption of these foods over time can lead to significant deficiencies. Basing your diet around foods that do not come in a box, package, bag or bottle is a great place to start. For a bonus, you can eliminate foods that are technically “whole foods” but have enough irritating compounds that they can irritate the gut lining, block digestive enzymes, and impinge on your body’s ability to retain and utilize adequate amounts of nutrients that turn into neurotransmitters. These include gluten/wheat, soy, alcohol, and corn.
2. Prioritize animal protein. The building blocks of our neurotransmitters come from the amino acids in protein. Although you can get some amount of these nutrients from plant proteins (such as nuts, seeds and legumes), you would have to eat excessively large amounts and balance different foods correctly to get the exact ratios necessary. Animal proteins contain all 22 amino acids in a form easily absorbable by the body. Eating a minimum of 12 oz of animal protein a day (in the form of meat, seafood, eggs or dairy) is a great way to ensure your body has the tools it needs for a balanced, positive mood.
3. Eat more healthy fats. These come from both animal and plant sources, but ideally for a healthy brain we want higher Omega 3 sources which come more from animals such as grassfed beef and lamb, seafood, and high quality dairy.
3. Work more deeply on gut health. Sometimes eliminating processed foods is not enough when we have deeper damage in the digestive tract. Some people need to eliminate all complex carbohydrates, which for other people would be a healthy addition to the diet. A lower carb, starch free diet can help rebalance gut bacteria and promote the repair of the gut lining.
The most important takeaway is that we all deserve the ability to feel balanced, positive, and energized about life. While there are many social and interpersonal factors that influence this potential, we want to be sure we are addressing the physiological ones as well. If we don’t have the raw material for the neurotransmitters that provide us a stable mood, psychological and emotional practices can only do so much. If talk and other types of conventional therapy have not given you the results you desire, this is your next step. With amino acid deficiency properly addressed, there will be one less obstacle in your way to experience a full and vigorous life.
Watch the youtube video below for more: