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Neurological Nutrition

Nerve Nutrition



"The composition of each meal could have a direct effect on the production of chemical signals in the brain." (The New York Times, January 9, 1979) 

Rather than give a synthetic drug to block or mimic the body's chemical nerve messengers (neurotransmitters), it is possible nutritionally to encourage the body to make its own natural ones. 

If we are what we eat, then our nerves also depend on what they are fed. Here is tremendous potential for the alleviation of depression, anxiety, neuroses, panic attacks and sleep disorders. 

A depletion of the neurotransmitter called norepinephrine may result in poor memory, loss of alertness, and clinical depression. The chain of chemical events in the body resulting in this substance is: 

L-phenylalanine (from protein foods) ->  L-tyrosine (made in the liver) ->  dopa -> dopamine ->  norepinephrine ->  epinephrine 

This process looks complex but actually is readily accomplished, particularly if the body has plenty of vitamin C. Since one's dietary supply of the first ingredient, L-phenylalanine, is usually adequate, it is more likely to be a shortage of vitamin C that limits production of norepinephrine. Physicians giving large doses of vitamin C have had striking success in reversing depression. It is a remarkably safe and inexpensive approach to try. 

Acetylcholine is the end neurotransmitter of your parasympathetic nerve system. This means that, among other things, it facilitates good digestion, deeper breathing, and slower heart rate. You may perceive its effect as "relaxation." 

Your body will make its own acetylcholine from choline. Choline is available in the diet as phosphatidyl choline, found in lecithin. 

Lecithin is found in egg yolks and most soy products. Three tablespoons daily of soya lecithin granules provide about five grams (5,000 milligrams) of phosphatidyl choline. Long-term use of this amount is favorably mentioned in The Lancet, February 9, 1980.  Lecithin supplementation has no known harmful effects whatsoever.  In fact, your brain by dry weight is almost one-third lecithin! How far can we go with this idea of simply feeding the brain what it is made up of?   In Geriatrics, July 1979, lecithin is considered as a therapy to combat memory loss. Studies at MIT show increases in both choline and acetylcholine in the brains of animals after just one lecithin meal. Supplemental choline has even shown promise in treating Alzheimer's Disease. (Today's Living, February, 1982) 

Your body can make much of its own lecithin. Ample amounts of B-complex vitamins, especially B-6 (pyridoxine) must be present for this to occur. B-6 deficiency is very common in Americans, and that "deficiency" is measured against an already ridiculously low US RDA of only two milligrams. The amount of B-6 needed for clinical effectiveness in, say, rabbits is the human dose equivalent of 75 mg daily. That is over 35 times more than the RDA! 

Really enormous doses of B-6 taken alone have produced temporary neurological side effects. It usually takes between 2,000 and 5,000 mg daily for symptoms of numbness or tingling in the extremities. Some side effects have been reported as low as 500 mg daily, but these are very rare indeed. Therapeutic doses between 100 and 500 milligrams daily are commonly prescribed by physicians for PMS relief. A few hundred milligrams of individual B-6, especially if taken in addition to the entire B-complex to ensure balance, is very safe indeed. 

Plentiful serotonin can mean a good night's sleep, and freedom from anxiety during the day. You cannot tell someone to relax unless they have the chemistry to do it. It is safer to let the body make the molecules than to use pharmaceuticals. 

Your brain produces serotonin from the amino acid L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is one of the parts of protein essential to life. Chicken, nuts, beans, and dairy products are everyday sources of this natural and necessary substance. (

You can buy L-tryptophan, but is expensive. There is little, if any, justification for this continued priceyness for L-tryptophan supplements, for it is put in liquid feedings for the elderly and is in all infant formulas. 

The good news is that your body can relax sooner thanks to inexpensive, readily-available vitamin B-3, niacin. 

L-tryptophan is broken down into niacin by a 60 to 1 ratio. That means you need a lot of tryptophan to make a little niacin, and a lot of tryptophan is difficult to come up with nowadays. It also means, however, that only a little niacin (1/60th as much) can go a long way.  Niacin does not make serotonin, but may spare it by way of a parallel biochemical mechanism. The amount of niacin needed to help relax you for sleep (50 to a few hundred mg) is substantially less than the dose routinely given by cardiologists to lower serum cholesterol levels (several thousand mg/day).

Body saturation of niacin is indicated by a warmness of the skin and blushing or "flushing" sensation. At this point, most persons will also experience a feeling of relaxation and ease. Unlike pharmaceutical tranquilizers, niacin simply feeds the body what it needs to internally and naturally provide relief. 

Niacin (or L-tryptophan) has also been effective in treating obsessive-compulsive neurosis (Let's Live, September 1979) and even schizophrenia. Drs. David Hawkins and Linus Pauling have written a 670-page textbook on the subject entitled Orthomolecular Psychiatry (1973). This is a comprehensive work and well worth your investigation. 

For more information about niacin therapy for mental illness, please do a search for "Hoffer" using the "search" box on the home page.  

Cheraskin, E., Ringsdorf, W. M. and  Brecher, A.  Psychodietetics  Bantam Books, 1974 

Galenberg, A. "Tyrosine for the Treatment of Depression," American Journal of Psychiatry, 147:622, May, 1980 

Growden, A. "Neurotransmitter Precursors in the Diet," in Nutrition and the Brain, Wurtman and Wurtman, Eds., 117-181, Raven Press, 1979 

Hawkins, D. and Pauling, L. Orthomolecular Psychiatry: Treatment of Schizophrenia  W. H. Freeman, 1973 

Hoffer, A. and Walker, M. Orthomolecular Nutrition, Keats, 1978 

Huemer, R P. "Brain Food: Neurotransmitters Make You Think," Let's Live, December, 1981 

Lilliston, L. Megavitamins, Fawcett Publications, 1975 

Nutrition News, Vol 2, No. 9, 1979

Passwater, R. Supernutrition, Pocket Books, 1975 

Pauling, L.  How To Live Longer and Feel Better, W. H. Freeman, 1986 

"Choline and Lecithin for a Better Memory," Today's Living, February, 1982 

I have also written more on the specifics of employing niacin therapeutically in my books, FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


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