our journey of hope and healing through autism
Our brains are amazing and complex things. As I’ve spent scores of hours studying neurotransmitters, I’ve learned that nothing is simple when it comes to the brain, and how it makes the chemical signals (neurotransmitters) that govern mood.
One of those chemical signals, serotonin, is widely thought to be the main “boss” of our level of happiness or anxiety, depression, and OCD.
In wholistic medicine, there are a handful of key supplements that are thought to help the serotonin system work better, and as a result, improve mood, anxiety and OCD.
(A few disclaimers-First, I should mention, I am not a doctor. These are supplements we’ve researched and used in our family, but be wise! I truly believe that anything that has the ability/potency to create a benefit, must also have the potential to cause side effects. Also, I don’t know of any careful studies regarding pregnancy with these supplements, so keep that in mind if you are expecting.
Also, I really believe that the decision to come off anti-depressants, or any other medication that affects mood, should be supervised by a doctor. Tapering off medications, and monitoring mood is necessary for safety, and safety has to be top priority.)
Now that all of that is out of the way:
It’s important to introduce these supplements slowly, ie- start with a small dose, and every few days increase the dose until at the optimum recommended dose. Why bother? The cells of your body have “receptors”. Imagine that you have a large pond with only a few fish in it. The more fisherman with nets you have fishing the lake, the more likely you may be to catch the fish. When a cell has a hard time getting enough of what it needs to function well, one thing it can do is make more receptors, which are kind of like nets. If we were just talking about fish, it’s no problem to catch extra. Not so with neurotransmitters- too much serotonin can cause agitation or worse. If you introduce a supplement slowly, it gives cells a chance to adjust to the new & improved supply, and reduces the chance of side effects.
More isn’t always better. It’s important to make just one change at a time, and keeping a log of the dose taken, and how you feel over the next 2-24 hours. Keeping a log helps you pinpoint what your body needs, and optimal dosages.
Also, some of these supplements (Inositol, 5-htp) aren’t a good idea if you are already taking an SSRI antidepressant (Paxil, Lexapro, Luvox, Celexa, Prozac).
The next supplement is one I’m really excited about, as one member is family is seeing great improvements in mood and a big decrease in irritability. Kinda makes me want to make inositol brownies for a few people in my life- just kidding, of course!
What it is:
Inositol is a B-vitamin, and does not build up in the body, but is believed to help the body use serotonin better. Inositol has been studied and found to improve depression, anxiety, panic disorders, bipolar, and OCD.
How it works:
In short, inositol is believed to help the serotonin system work better. For a more in depth explanation, see the links in the science section in the later half of this post.
This article is a good reference on how to ramp up/starting doses, etc. http://www.wsps.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=70:inositol-and-ocd&catid=36:ocd-and-related-subjects-by-frederick-penzel-phd&Itemid=64
Because the body is really good at removing excess B vitamins, inositol doesn’t stay in the body long, so taking a dose in the morning and afternoon, will be more effective than a single daily dose. The good news is that it can be taken in a capsule, or as a powder, and is nearly tasteless and dissolves almost entirely in water.
Potential Side Effects:
No know toxicity.
One place to buy it:
The brand we have used is Source Naturals and we purchase it through iherb here.
Methylfolate & Methyl B-12 (Methylcobalamin)
What it is:
If these sound like something straight out of a chemistry lab, rest assured, they are a little more familiar than they sound at first. Methylfolate is a specific (and more effective) form of folic acid (Vitamin B-9), and is closer to the form used by the body to work in the brain.
How it works:
Methylfolate is understood to help the body produce serotonin, and other important brain chemicals. Studies have found that people with depression frequently are lacking folate in their cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal nerves). Also, some anti-depressants (Carbamazepine, Lamotrigine, ) decrease the body’s ability to absorb folate.
The dose used in many studies is 15 mg/day
I find that 500mcg methylfolate, and 1,250 mcg of methyl B-12 per day helps me feel less anxious. I also eat a LOT of dark, leafy greens (natural source of folate) almost every day, so the dose you need may be well above that. I recommend starting with the dose I take, and increasing the dose every few days. I can tell I am taking too much when I feel uncharacteristically irritable for no reason. (Sorry, that’s not very exact, but it is the kind of thing to learn to watch for)
For this to work best, you need to avoid other forms of synthetic folic acid- Ex.- your standard drug store multivitamin. Why avoid the synthetic folic acid? Some people, perhaps 40% of the population, aren’t genetically equipped to turn synthetic folic acid into the form the nervous system needs to function well.
To maximize the effectiveness of this vitamin therapy, there are a few other things that would be good to implement when you are feeling a bit better.
Eating raw leafy greens each day is a good alternative. In fact, if you eat a large serving of leafy greens, you may be able to skip or reduce your methylfolate supplement that day.
Methyl B-12, is the preferred form of Vitamin B-12. B-12 helps the methylfolate do it’s job in the nervous system. The two are a team, and changes in mood are unlikely to be seen without taking both each day. The relationship between
Where to buy it:
This is a great combination product, costs less than what I pay separately, and is what I’ll purchase the next time we run out: http://www.seekinghealth.com/active-b12-with-l-5-mthf-lozenge.html
I usually buy Innovite Health brand “Bio-Active Folate” from the organic vitamin section at Superstore. The tiny tablets come in 1000mcg, and I break them in half.
I usually buy Methylcobalamin from Prairie Naturals brand at Amaranth health food store. “Vitamin B-12 5000mcg Methylcobalamin Sublingual” I break this tiny one into four pieces. Sublingual means it’s put under the tongue until it dissolves. This skips traveling through the digestive tract and goes to the brain quicker.
More on the next two later:
5-htp is an ingredient for the body to make serotonin, not unlike how a pan needs a handle added to make a good cooking pot. 🙂
5-htp is most effective when taken sublingually, but it’s not sold this way in Canada. For this reason, I don’t recommend relying on 5-htp for daily neurotransmitter support.
More science, if you want it:
Scientific explanation of how inositol works:
Effectiveness for OCD: http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/8780431
Doesn’t give added benefit when already taking an SSRI: http://ijnp.oxfordjournals.org/content/2/3/193.abstract
Summary of multiple studies of effectiveness for depression, panic disorder, and OCD (and doses used) : http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924977X97004094
“Significant overall benefit for inositol compared to placebo was found at week 4 on the Hamilton Depression Scale…Frequency and severity of panic attacks and severity of agoraphobia declined significantly with inositol compared to placebo… Inositol significantly reduced scores of OCD symptoms compared with placebo.”
This review also reports no benefit found for schizophrenia, ADHD, Alzheimers, or autism
Methylfolate & Methylcobalamin
Overview of the biochemistry supporting why methylfolate will help with depression: http://www.cnsspectrums.com/aspx/articledetail.aspx?articleid=1267
Great article explaining how methylfolate and methylcobalamin work together:http://kellybroganmd.com/article/folate-perfect-together/
Doses used to help depression (along with an antidepressant)-15mg/day
Methylfolate (Deplin brand) helps with depression, schizophrenia, and mild/moderate dementia: http://pro.psychcentral.com/l-methylfolate-for-depression-the-real-deal/004087.html
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