Many people who appear to have life under control are simply great actors. Underneath they live with inner tension, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, paranoia, racing thoughts, ongoing anger, and bone weary fatigue. While many look to psychotherapy or prescription drugs, more and more are investigating their condition as a physiologically triggered brain dysfunction.
In the last few decades, biochemists and medical doctors have begun to pinpoint scientific explanations for behavior that used to be labeled “psychological.” These researchers have noticed:
- that many ” psychological” symptoms often cluster in families.
- that certain physical changes in the brain (and body) can create mayhem emotionally.
- that an internal invasion of yeast parasites may create full blown mental and physical illness.
- that food intolerances strongly affect our emotions.
- that airborne chemicals can alter our brains.
- that angry outbursts are predictable from a brain in a chemical state of high arousal all the time.
- that dozens of biochemical mistakes can result in bleak depression or anxiety.
- that all of them are fixable, if only we can identify them!
Dr. Linus Pauling Ph.D. was the first to call mental disorders molecular diseases, the result of a biochemical abnormality in the human body. ” The mind is a manifestation of the structure of the brain itself.” His involvement in brain research led him to coining his famous definition of orthomolecular therapy. “Orthomolecular psychiatric therapy is the treatment of mental disease by the provision of the optimum molecular environment for the mind, especially the optimum concentrations of substances normally present in the human body.” With that statement, Dr. Pauling gave a scientific identity to the role of nutrition in psychiatry. He challenged doctors to become aware of the overwhelming amount of information that has poured in from all over the world documenting the vital role that natural chemicals play in brain function and other medical disorders.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
A brilliant Canadian, Abram Hoffer, who is both a biochemist and a psychiatrist, began in the fifties, to apply pellagra research to psychiatric patients. Vitamin B3 (Niacin) deficiency had been earlier established as the cause of pellagra, a disease that causes confusion, disorientation and memory disturbance. In 1962 he published the first double blind study in the field of psychiatry. He found that, of 98 schizophrenic patients receiving mega doses of niacin, the hospital readmission rate was 10% over three years, and NO suicides, while the placebo group had a 50% readmission and four suicides.
Blood Histamine Levels
Once in a great while, a researcher with a Ph.D. in chemistry decides to become a medical doctor as well – a lucky break for mankind! Carl Pfeiffer, Ph.D., M.D. was such a scientist. In the sixties he discovered that blood histamine levels were elevated in the lab tests of obsessive-compulsive patients, and as they improved, histamine levels dropped and their depression lifted. He found that his patients who had too low levels of brain histamine were likely to be paranoid and have hallucinations. Both high and low histamine patients had some degree of thought disorder and over arousal. True to his chemistry background, Pfeiffer began the search for what natural substances could make or block histamine in the brain. And of course, he uncovered the right answers.
Essential Fatty Acids
In the seventies, another door opened to our understanding of substances that are vitally essential to our sanity and health: We discovered the prostaglandins, which are made in the brain from Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. Researcher David Horrobin MD tells us ” the level of prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) is of crucial importance to the body. A fall in the level of PGE (in the brain) will lead to a potentially catastrophic series of untoward consequences including increased vascular reactivity, elevated cholesterol production, diabetic-like changes in insulin release, enhanced risk of auto-immune disease, enhanced risk of inflammatory disorders, and susceptibility to depression.” Hyperactive children have long been involved in studies with the EFAs in several different countries. Dr. Horrobin describes one such study: “About 20 children were treated with substantial benefit in about two-thirds of them. Some responses were dramatic! In one case a boy whom they had threatened with expulsion from school because of his impossible behavior was put on gamma linolenic acid without the knowledge of the school authorities. After two weeks on GLA, the teacher, who was unaware of the treatment, contacted the parents and said that in thirty years’ of experience she had never seen such a dramatic and abrupt change for the better in a child’s behavior.) Some children do equally well no matter if the oil is given by mouth or by rubbing into the skin. In others, there is the distinct impression that skin absorption, which will bypass malabsorption problems, may have a better effect.” Omega 3 is vital because it provides the substrate upon which niacin and other B vitamin haloenzymes form the prostaglandin 3 series hormones that regulate all of our neurocircuits throughout the entire brain/body!!
The eighties brought another explosion of exciting nutrient knowledge to the public. Thanks to researchers like Doctors Eric Braverman and Richard Wurtman, amino acids emerged as powerful tools for psychiatry because they convert to, or are our brains’ neurotransmitters. These precursor aminos and neurotransmitters create the chemical language of your brain: its memory, emotions, thoughts, feelings… They stimulate your mind, control depression, produce sleep, create your energy, excitement, and all manner of human response.
I know some of this must seem annoyingly complex, but please slow down to take in the full meaning of this information. These natural brain substances are creating sanity and well-being. And now in many cases, such levels can be measured by lab tests and supplemented as needed.
This article is adapted from material in “Seven Weeks to Emotional Healing” by Joan Mathews-Larson, Ph.D. (Ballantine Books, 1999).