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Better testing for depression

A better way to battle depression

Q: I’ve seen a lot of advertising and information on the Internet about using neurotransmitters to combat depression, mood disorders, insomnia, and other mental health conditions. There are also laboratories that offer testing for neurotransmitters, along with recommendations for which ones to take based on the outcome of the tests. Even though this seems like very logical testing and treatment, and also seems much preferable to taking pharmaceutical antidepressants, I haven’t seen you write anything about this topic. What is your opinion?

Dr. Wright: If you’re low on neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter complexes, supplementing with them is indeed safer than taking patent medicines that alter the levels artificially. But the problem is that you’d be starting at the wrong end of the stick, so to speak. A better option would be to find out why they’re low in the first place.

If your neurotransmitters are low, it’s most likely because your nerve cells don’t have the “precursors” they need to make them. Most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids: serotonin from tryptophan, noradrenaline and adrenaline from tyrosine and phenylalanine, and histamine from histidine. (A major exception is acetylcholine, which is synthesized from choline.) So if your neurotransmitters are low, it’s very likely that your amino acids are also low. I’ve found that this is the case in the majority of individuals with depression.

So for people who suffer from depression, insomnia, mood disorders, and other mental health conditions, I’ve found that measuring essential amino acids is much more useful–and much more cost-effective–than neurotransmitter measurement and treatment. Time and time again, testing indicates that people who suffer from mental health conditions are low in at least two (but sometimes all eight) of the essential amino acids. By taking an individualized blend of these amino acids (which is much less expensive than taking neurotransmitters), you’ll give your nerve cells the raw materials they need to make their own neurotransmitters. And that usually improves the symptoms.

But let’s take this a step further. What would cause the essential amino acids to be low in the first place? Since amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, occasionally the problem is simply a lack of protein in the diet. But much more often, essential amino acids are low because of poor protein digestion and/or assimilation. The most common cause of that is–you guessed it–low stomach acid. Other potential causes include gluten/gliadin sensitivity, food allergies, and insufficient pancreatic enzymes.

So if you begin your investigation with neurotransmitter testing and treatment, you’re at the far end of the trail, which most frequently starts with insufficient essential amino acids caused by inadequate digestion/absorption of dietary protein. It just makes more sense (and it’s usually less expensive) to start at or nearer to the cause of the problem.

“Coffee offers ‘consistent’ benefits for heart health: Meta-analysis,” Nutraingredients USA (