Posts Tagged ‘Health’

Psychotropic Drugs and Violence – Is There a Better Way?

Unless you are completely incapable of recognizing patterns and have instead been diligently absorbing typical mainstream talking points, you no doubt have noticed the striking correlation between psychiatric drug use and violence.  Even Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, and former Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, have attempted to bring attention to this phenomenon.  The number of cases of extreme violence committed either after beginning these drugs, or after stopping them, are legion.  In every one of the recent well-publicized shooting incidents, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, even Columbine, psychotropic drugs appear to have played a role.  But the question remains, with the risks of SSRIs being well established, are there any alternatives that are effective but safer?


As with any problem, it helps to first understand the mechanisms underlying the issue.  SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.  In a very basic sense, these drugs attempt to boost circulating levels of the serotonin neurotransmitter by preventing its reabsorption in the brain.  What are the symptoms of low serotonin?  From the Mood-Type Questionnaire in The Mood Cure by Julia Ross:

  • Do you have a tendency to be negative, to see the glass as half-empty rather than half-full? Do you have dark, pessimistic thoughts?
  • Do you really dislike the dark weather or have a clear-cut fall/winter depression (SAD)?
  • Are you often worried and anxious?
  • Do you have feelings of low self-esteem and lack confidence? Do you easily get to feeling self-critical and guilty?
  • Do you have obsessive, repetitive, angry, or useless thoughts that you just can’t turn off – for instance, when you’re trying to get to sleep?
  • Does your behavior often get a bit, or a lot, obsessive? Is it hard for you to make transitions, to be flexible? Are you a perfectionist, a neatnik, or a control freak? A computer, TV, or work addict?
  • Do you really dislike the dark weather or have a clear-cut fall/winter depression (SAD)?
  • Are you apt to be irritable, impatient, edgy, or angry?
  • Do you tend to be shy or fearful? Do you get nervous or panicky about heights, flying, enclosed spaces, public performance, spiders, snakes, bridges, crowds, leaving the house, or anything else?
  • Are you hyperactive, restless, can’t slow down or turn your brain off?
  • Have you had anxiety attacks or panic attacks (your heart races, it’s hard to breathe)?
  • Do you have facial or body tics, or Tourette’s?
  • Do you get PMS or menopausal moodiness (tears, anger, depression)?
  • Do you hate hot weather?
  • Are you a night owl, or do you often find it hard to get to sleep, even though you want to?
  • Do you wake up in the night, have restless or light sleep, or wake up too early in the morning?
  • Do you routinely like to have sweet or starchy snacks, wine, or marijuana in the afternoons, evenings, or in the middle of the night (but not earlier in the day)?
  • Do you find relief from any of the above symptoms through exercise?
  • Have you had fibromyalgia (unexplained muscle pain) or TMJ (pain, tension, and grinding associated with your jaw)?
  • Have you had suicidal thoughts or plans?

These seem to be pretty common problems, no?  With a large pool of potential customers, is it any wonder that heaps of money are poured into the marketing of these drugs?  As I mentioned, SSRIs are thought to boost serotonin levels by basically recycling old serotonin.  But why try to keep the old stuff circulating around?  If the body is failing to produce adequate quantities of serotonin, why not enable it to make what it needs?  To do this, first you must start with the amino acid tryptophan which comes from protein-rich foods.  Tryptophan is first converted into 5 hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) which is then converted to serotonin which is eventually converted into melatonin at night to facilitate sleep.  Supplementation with either tryptophan or 5-HTP has been shown to be more effective in boosting serotonin levels than SSRIs and they do it with far fewer if any side effects.  From The Mood Cure (my comments added in italics):

  • In studies comparing 5-HTP with Luvox, a potent antidepressant drug similar to Prozac but more popular in Europe, (1) 5-HTP improved 68 percent of depressed patients as compared to 62 percent of those on Luvox, (2) both 5-HTP and Luvox improved depression levels about 50 percent, but 5-HTP has an 11 percent lower failure rate than Luvox.
  • In another study, 5-HTP eliminated anxiety symptoms in 58 percent of patients as opposed to 48 percent on Luvox.
  • In terms of side effects, serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft cause sexual dysfunction in 50-75 percent of users, while 5-HTP studies show no sexual dysfunction and few other side effects.  In one study, 5-HTP had fewer side effects than the placebo!
  • 5-HTP raised serotonin levels 540 percent, compared with Paxil’s 450 percent and Prozac’s 150-250 percent.
  • Between 50 and 60 percent of former SSRI takers relapse into depression, OCD, SAD, PMS, insomnia, bulimia, aggression, addiction, anxiety, and panic unless adequate tryptophan is made available.
  • Exercise alone can raise serotonin levels nicely.  A ninety-minute walk can increase levels by 100 percent.  A daily forty-minute walk prevents relapse into depression (after a successful round of SSRI taking) twice as well as does taking Zoloft.  Because the working muscles can use other amino acids for fuel and repair, but not tryptophan, exercise works by increasing the concentration of tryptophan in the blood and allowing it to pass freely through the blood-brain barrier.

So thoughtful supplementation and exercise are more effective than prescription medications that have potentially dangerous side-effects.  You might be wondering, if it’s really that simple, why don’t more people know about this?  If there was any money in marketing cheap supplements and strolls around the neighborhood, I’m sure they would.


Dietary Considerations

It’s very trendy nowadays to adopt a vegan diet for its purported health benefits.  A complete refutation of this diet is beyond the scope of this article, however, it should be clear that if one of the primary raw ingredients for serotonin production is tryptophan, a diet that is low in quality sources of protein has a high likelihood of causing deficiencies.  In addition, vegan diets are typically low in quality fats and cholesterol.  As Lierre Keith explains in The Vegetarian Myth, this is also poses a problem:

Without fat, our neurotransmitters literally can’t transmit.  Twenty-five percent of the body’s cholesterol is in the brain, the brain that is made up of over 60 percent saturated fat.  The brain’s glial cells play a primary role in cognitive function:  they provide “a substance that allows…synapses to form, and function.  Without this substance your brain would be almost entirely useless.”  The name of this wonder substance?  Cholesterol.

Low cholesterol also means low serotonin levels, which mean depression.  Cholesterol is essential for the brain’s serotonin receptorsIn fact, people on low-fat diets are twice as likely to die from suicide or violent death.  Dr. Beatrice Golomb did a detailed review of all the studies published since 1965 that examined a potential link between low cholesterol levels and violence.  In her opinion, the correlation is causal.

It is now known that the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, was a vegan and was likely taking psychotropic drugs.  It’s not a great intellectual feat to recognize the probable sequence of events – vegan diet leads to depressive symptoms,  depressive symptoms are diagnosed as low serotonin, low serotonin is treated with any number of the available psychotropic drugs that have been linked to violence…


Another potential cause of behavioral issues is gluten intolerance.  For over 60 years, researchers have observed a link between gluten grain consumption and schizophrenia.  In addition, newer research is showing that  “children born to mothers with abnormally high levels of antibodies to gliadin had nearly twice the risk of developing non-affective psychosis later in life.”  Better add mental health to the growing number of reasons to avoid gluten.

Other “Bad-Mood” Foods

When discussing methods of optimizing health through dietary interventions, it is often more important to focus on what NOT to eat.  In her book, Julia Ross identifies what she call “Bad-Mood” foods.  She provides compelling justification for each food’s inclusion on the list, but for the sake of brevity, I will simply list the primary offenders here:  sugar, white-flour, gluten grains,  industrial seed oils (corn, soy, canola, cottonseed,…), and soy.  In addition, she includes common food additives that are potentially problematic:  caffeine, colorings, aspartame, MSG, and pesticides. 


The purpose of this article is not to claim that supplementation can solve all mental health problems or that psychotropic drugs are incapable of helping in certain situations.  However, it should be clear that when faced with any problem, it is always best to understand the mechanisms involved and attempt to address the root cause.  Based on the preponderance of evidence, I feel that the best way to do this is to first ensure that your body is receiving adequate levels of the nutrients and substrates it needs to maintain health.   It’s my fervent belief that following the evolutionary template by adopting a mostly Ancestral/Paleo/Primal lifestyle will get many people most of the way there.  For the tougher cases, other interventions may be necessary, but low hanging fruit should be picked first.

If you are interested in utilizing any of the supplements mentioned in this article, please read The Mood Cure or seek expert guidance for dosing recommendations as improper use can make certain problems worse.


Baby Colic

A couple years ago, my wife’s friend was having issues with a colicky newborn.  The baby was born via C-section and one of the recommended treatments was the administration of antacids.  In an effort to help her out, I tried to compile some of the relevant information I had come across into an email for her. 

My cousin just recently had a baby who is also having problems with colic.  Thinking that this might be of help to her, I dug up the old email and thought I may as well put it up here for future reference if it’s ever needed again.

I tried to tell a story by cutting and pasting the important parts from the articles referenced.  Hopefully it makes sense:

From Mark’s Daily Apple:

Until we’re born, the fetal gut is sterile. It’s just sitting there, accepting pre-digested nutrition from the mother, taking up space and generally living the slacker’s dream. But it works. The fetus doesn’t need a teeming, active gut, because all the work is done by mom’s gut flora. They’re breaking down the polysaccharides and the sugars, converting it into usable fuel, and diverting a portion of it all to the child. In a way, then, the kid is dependent on gut flora, just as much as you or I are. Once he (or she) is out of the womb, the child needs his own intestinal team. He’ll be eating, which requires digestion, and good digestion (especially of carbohydrate) just doesn’t happen without gut flora. He needs gut flora, and he needs it relatively quickly. That’s where the birthing process comes in. Traditionally, birth allows the passage of microbes from mother to the sterile infant gut, a relatively quick process. Gut colonization isn’t exactly a “feature” of the birthing process, however, and it’s not like there’s a specific pathway designed for the flora to travel from mother to child. No, gut colonization arises organically. It’s common sense, really, if you consider what child birth actually is: a somewhat chaotic, unsanitary event, where fluids are being exchanged, stuff is sloshing around and mixing together, with this vulnerable baby in the midst of it. You’ve got a helpless infant sporting a fecund, totally accessible gastrointestinal tract and a perpetually open mouth. He’s just kind of lying there, maybe crying a bit, but he’s incredibly open to suggestion. To gut flora, this is prime real estate, ripe for the taking. By the time the cord is snipped and the infant’s butt’s got a handprint on it, the baby’s upper gastrointestinal tract has been partially populated with bacterial strains derived from the mother’s feces and the surrounding environment (the air, others in the room, etc). Breastfeeding provides another ongoing source of bacteria. It takes about a month for a newborn to establish a solid population of gut flora, and another year for it to resemble an adult’s gut contents. (Any wonder why C-section, bottle-fed babies might get off to a slow start?)

From Wikipedia:

Some reports have associated colic to changes in the bacterial balance in a baby’s intestine. They suggest treating the crying with daily doses of probiotics, or “good bacteria” (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Lactobacillus reuteri). In a 2007 study,[64] 83 colicky babies given the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri had reduced crying time. After one week, treated babies had 19% less crying time (159 min/day vs. 197 min/day). By 4 weeks, treated babies had 74% less crying (51 min/day vs. 197 min/day). In a 2010 study conducted with the same probiotic strain, similar benefits were seen in colicky infants.[65] However, another study found no reduced colic in over 1000 babies who were given a mixture of four other probiotic strains from birth.[66]

In 2009, a University of Texas study observed that colicky babies had a higher incidence of mild intestinal inflammation and a specific intestinal bacteria, Klebsiella.[67] But, a commentary in the same journal, noted that the inflammation and bacteria were most likely just an exaggerated variation of normal.[68]


We’ve only recently begun to understand the extent of the gut flora’s role in human health and disease. Among other things, the gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 75% of our immune system. Dysregulated gut flora has been linked to diseases ranging from autism and depression to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes.


Unfortunately, several features of the modern lifestyle directly contribute to unhealthy gut flora:

  • Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
  • Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
  • Diets low in fermentable fibers
  • Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic infections


When the intestinal barrier becomes permeable (i.e. “leaky gut syndrome”), large protein molecules escape into the bloodstream. Since these proteins don’t belong outside of the gut, the body mounts an immune response and attacks them. Studies show that these attacks play a role in the development of autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s and type 1 diabetes, among others.

Researchers have identified a protein called zonulin that increases intestinal permeability in humans and other animals. This led to a search of the medical literature for illnesses characterized by increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Imagine their surprise when the researchers found that many, if not most, autoimmune diseases – including celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease – are characterized by abnormally high levels of zonulin and a leaky gut. In fact, researchers have found that they can induce type 1 diabetes almost immediately in animals by exposing them to zonulin. They develop a leaky gut, and begin producing antibodies to islet cells – which are responsible for making insulin.

In Step #1: Don’t Eat Toxins, I explained that one of the main reasons we don’t want to eat wheat and other gluten-containing grains is that they contain a protein called gliadin, which has been shown to increase zonulin production and thus directly contribute to leaky gut.

But what else can cause leaky gut? In short, the same things I listed above that destroy our gut flora: poor diet, medications (antibiotics, NSAIDs, steroids, antacids, etc.), infections, stress, hormone imbalances, and neurological conditions (brain trauma, stroke and neurodegeneration).

From (Paper #: 9867098):

Presence of high levels of non-degraded gliadin in breast milk from healthy mothers.
Chirdo FG, Rumbo M, Añón MC, Fossati CA.

Center for the Investigation and Development of Cryotechnology of Foods, Dept. of Immunology, School of Exact Sciences, UNLP, La Plata, Argentina.

BACKGROUND: Secretion of dietary antigens into breast milk has been extensively documented. The presence of these antigens is of relevance because they could be involved in the modulation of the immune response in neonates. The objective of this study is to determine the gliadin concentration in milk, colostrum, and serum samples from healthy lactating mothers on a normal diet. Gliadin levels in milk samples from a group of six mothers after a brief period of gluten restriction were also determined. The molecular weight of secreted gliadins was also analysed.

METHODS: Gliadin concentration was determined with a highly sensitive competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, modified so as to eliminate anti-gliadin antibody interference. The level of gliadin/IgA anti-gliadin immune complexes in milk, colostrum, and serum samples was determined.

RESULTS: Gliadin was detected in all 49 milk samples. Its concentration varied between 5 and 1200 ng/ml (mean, 178 ng/ml). In colostrum (n = 14) gliadin levels were higher (range, 28-9000 ng/ml; mean, 883 ng/ml), not being detectable in one case. Gliadin was detectable in 14 of 31 serum samples, in which levels were lower than in milk and colostrum samples (mean, 41 ng/ml). Neither a correlation between gliadin levels in milk, colostrum, and serum samples from the same subject nor a relation between gluten intake and gliadin concentration in milk samples from six subjects under a 3-day gluten-free diet could be found. Higher levels of immune complexes were observed in colostrum samples than in milk and serum samples. No correlation was detected between gliadin concentration and the level of immune complexes. The analysis of milk and colostrum samples by immunoblotting showed bands of immunoreactive gliadin presenting Mr similar to those of native proteins from wheat extracts.

CONCLUSIONS: Very high levels of gliadin were detected in milk samples from healthy mothers on an unrestricted diet. Gliadin levels were higher than those reported for dietary antigens in other studies. Breast milk contained non-degraded gliadins and gliadin/anti-gliadin IgA immune complexes.

PMID: 9867098 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


The low pH (high acid) environment of the stomach is one of the major non-specific defense mechanisms of the body. When the pH of the stomach is 3 or lower, the normal between-meal “resting” level, bacteria don’t last more than fifteen minutes. But as the pH rises to 5 or more, many bacterial species can avoid the acid treatment and begin to thrive.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens when you take acid stopping drugs. Both Tagamet and Zantac significantly raise the pH of the stomach from about 1 to 2 before treatment to 5.5 to 6.5 after, respectively.

Prilosec and other PPIs are even worse. Just one of these pills is capable of reducing stomach acid secretion by 90 to 95 percent for the better part of a day. Taking higher or more frequent doses of PPIs, as is often recommended, produces a state of achlorydia (virtually no stomach acid). In a study of ten healthy men aged 22 to 55 years, a 20 or 40 mg dose of Prilosec reduced stomach acid levels to near-zero.

A stomach without much acid is in many ways a perfect environment to harbor pathogenic bacteria. It’s dark, warm, moist, and full of nutrients. Most of the time these bacteria won’t kill us – at least not right away. But some of them can. People who have a gastric pH high enough to promote bacterial overgrowth are more vulnerable to serious bacterial infections.

A recent systematic review of gastric acid-suppressive drugs suggested that they do in fact increase susceptibility to infections (PDF). The author found evidence that using acid stopping drugs can increase your chances of contracting the following nasty bugs:

C. Difficile

Other studies have found that acid stopping drugs also increase the risk for:


Not only do acid stopping drugs increase our susceptibility to infection, they weaken our immune system’s ability to fight off infections once we have them. In vitro studies have shown that PPIs impair nuetrophil function, decrease adhesion to endothelial cells, reduce bactericidal killing of microbes, and inhibit neutrophil phagocytosis and phagolysosome acidification.

Additional Information:

Chris Kresser provides an excellent discussion in his 9/5/12 podcast starting at the 35:05 mark.