What are the most important, powerful and significant nutrients we can consume. However, Medicine, and society at large, has not yet grasped their power and importance. Your body, minus water, is 65% amino acids. 100 percent of all protein is amino acids. All neurotransmitters, except one, are amino acids. 100% of hormones are amino acids. Steroids and sex hormones are made up of amino acids and essential fatty acids. In fact, amino acids govern and participate in every chemical reaction in the body.
As a psychiatrist, I began treating anxiety and depression with amino acids in 1982. As a holistic doctor I began treating chronic illnesses, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in 1984. The special testing I perform has revealed amino acid deficiencies of 35 to 55 percent, on average, in patients suffering with chronic illnesses. In other words, around half of their dry body weight (made up of 72 trillion cells) is metabolically out of balance.
When the deficient amino acids revealed by blood testing are replaced, illness and suffering are usually alleviated. 80% percent of the people whom I treat with chronic illness have a very positive clinical response. While most of us are not disabled with chronic fatigue, most of us experience fatigue, feel drained at the end of the day, want more energy . . . and almost all of us can increase our energy through amino acid therapy. It is a universal approach.
When we correct profound amino acid deficiencies, the body is able to cure itself and energy skyrockets. I recommend replacing amino acids only after blood testing. I do not recommend that people walk into a health food store and ask for assistance in choosing amino acids. Without blood testing, it is impossible to accurately determine specific amino acid deficiencies, and you can cause new deficiencies if you take the wrong ratio of supplements.
Let’s take a look at a few amino acids, and what they can do in the right ratios:
Alanine — blood sugar problems.
Carnitine and arginine — heart disease.
GABA — insomnia, anxiety, and alcoholism.
Glutamine — digestive problems.
Histidine — arthritis and absorption of zinc.
Isoleucine/leucine/valine — muscle weakness.
Lysine and taurine — high cholesterol.
Methionine — allergies.
Taurine — bipolar illness and epilepsy — (stabilizes brain and heart tissue, so it is useful for people with seizures/epilepsy, mania, and heart arrhythmias.)
Tyrosine — depression with memory and concentration problems.
Tryptophan — depression with insomnia.
This is a sketch of what a few amino acids do, when working in a vacuum. Amino acids have individual functions as well as their role in building protein, neurotransmitters, hormones, all tissues and organs.
A short chain of amino acids is a "peptide." A string of more than 100 amino acids is a "poly-peptide." A string of more than 100 amino acids is a "protein." There are numerous major functions of proteins:
1. Antibodies, part of immune system function.
2. Contractile — muscle.
3. Hormonal — Hormones like insulin and growth hormone are made up entirely of amino acids. Steroids and sex hormones are made up of amino acids and fatty acids.
4. Structural — collagen, that makes up connective tissue.
5. Transport — hemoglobin transports oxygen.
6. Enzymatic — These proteins speed up metabolic processes. In order to get from point A to point B in biochemistry, an enzyme is required.
ESSENTIAL and NON-ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS
There are 11 essential amino acids that we have to get from our diet: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, taurine, threonine, tryptophan, valine.
Your body ordinarily can make the 10 “non-essential” amino acids from essential amino acids. However, under any kind of stress or prolonged illness, we lose the ability to make these “non-essential” amino acids, and so they are really “conditionally essential.” This group includes:
Alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamine, glutamic acid, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
There are hundreds of amino acids. In my opinion, the best laboratories for amino acid testing are Genova, Doctor’s Data, and Metametrix. I prefer Genova, whose Amino Acid Analysis has 37 sub-tests. Each of those 37 is important in understanding a person's symptoms, illness, and areas of strength.
INTERPRETING AMINO ACID LAB DATA
Interpreting amino acid lab tests requires a brain/mind with a lot of experience to interpret this data. Most labs that do amino acid testing prvide computer recommendations that I believe do an injustice. In analyzing this data, I am looking at 3 major categories:
1.Important, single nutrient amino acids like tyrosine, alanine, and 18 others. 2.Amino acids patterns. There are several important patterns to look for:
A. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), which are involved in muscle chemistry.
B. Glycogenic amino acids, which are involved in blood sugar chemistry.
C. Detoxification amino acids, required to remove external toxins and the breakdown products of normal biochemistry.
In treating your “pattern,” I recommend a multi-amino acid product that is geared toward re-balancing your pattern. These products contain 16-18 amino acids, including all of the essential amino acids. They will balance the abnormal pattern as well as the essential amino acids.
3.Lastly, I look for “markers” such as:
A. 1-methyl-histidine, a marker for leaky gut syndrome.
B. urea, a marker for protein levels and protein deficiency.
C. phosphoserine, a marker for a P-5-P (the active form of Vitamin B6) deficiency.
D. 3-methylhistidine, a marker for muscle breakdown. 16 of the 37 amino acids tested for are “markers.” We don’t treat markers. We treat the problem that the markers identify.
While the power of amino acid therapy is great, the approach requires high levels of responsibility. It requires patience, the willingness to take a number of nutritional supplements, attention to all areas of one’s life (body, mind, spirit), some understanding of the logic of the approach, and strong commitment. Ultimately, nobody heals anybody else. Like any other modality, amino acid and nutritional therapy help ignite the “inner healer,” that part of you that really does the healing. This approach helps restore inner metabolic balance, so that you can start or resume the deeper issues that the word “healing” implies. Amino acid therapy often works like magic, but your healing is greatly enhanced when your own inner magician is vital . . . and involved.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER NUTRIENTS?
While we specialize in amino acid therapy, we test for vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. On the Consultation page you'll see the baseline tests recommended. I've treated so many people with serious chronic illness, who have been to many clinicians, and had a great deal of lab work that turned out normal. With comprehensive nutritional and metabolic testing, there is a very large number of treatable abnormal lab tests. There is so much positive lab data that it generally takes 2 hours to interpret the lab data, explain how those abnormal findings relate to the individual's symptoms, and then make recommendations to repair those imbalances.
There are many clinicians who believe that in order to obtain optimal health, a doctor only needs to know how to treat brain chemistry. There have been times, in my experience, when balancing neurotransmitters with amino acid therapy is all a person needs, but as a general rule I disagree with this belief and practice. Balancing brain chemistry rarely balances the biochemistry of the rest of the body. Furthermore, research going back more than 30 years has shown that psychotherapy plus a physical modality (whether amino acids or medication) is much more effective than only using a physical modality. At the very least, targeted modalities like meditation, use of the breath, and interactive guided imagery, can cut stress in half...permanently. Stress is mainly physical. On occasion, working directly with mental/emotional/family/social issues is as important as physical treatments.
When I first meet a new patient, I want to know everything about them before making a diagnosis and making recommendations. Here are some of the steps in the decision-making process.
1. If the main concern or symptom is depression or anxiety, can the problem be best dealt with through mental fitness-based psychotherapy?
2. If the main concern is depression or anxiety, will balancing neurotransmitters be sufficient and complete treatment?
3. 95% of the time people need comprehensive nutritional/metabolic testing before it will be possible to make comprehensive recommendations.
4. It's taken about 3 weeks and now all the lab work I ordered is complete. The 2 biggest issues to look for are digestive problems and brain problems. More than half the population has significant digestive problems and they must be treated. Digestive problems often cause malabsorption, incomplete absorption of the food we have eaten. A person may eat enough protein, which gets broken down into individual amino acids in the digestive tract. Those individual amino acids get absorbed unless there are digestive problems, in which case that person can actually be protein deficient. Due to widespread use of antibiotics, most of us have digestive problems like malabsorption, dysbiosis (an imbalance of the gut bacteria), and candida. Over time, chronic digestive problems can cause leaky gut syndrome.
5. Does the lab work adequately explain a person's symptoms? If not, more lab work may be required.
6. What is the level of inflammation? How much toxicity is there? These 2 issues have skyrocketed since around 1960, and can easily affect every biochemical pathway, including brain chemistry. I will make recommendations for inflammation at the beginning of treatment.
7. Does the lab work indicate possible problems with methylation? If the answer is, "Yes," I will order a specific blood test for the methylation pathway. I prefer this test (done by Health Diagnostics and Research Institute) over genetic testing. Why? Your genes tell you what the probability is of any given issue. That's your genotype. Let's say you're a man with the gene for male-pattern baldness. Does that mean you will become bald? Not necessarily. The gene for male-pattern baldness is activated in the presence of moderate to high levels of testosterone. The phenotype is who you actually are physically....how tall you are, the color of your hair and eyes, your current state of health. Genotype and phenotype are different. The methyation panel blood test examines your phenotype; it tells us exactly what is going on with your methylation chemistry. If there is a significant methylation problem, it will become your top priority. While many people are able to be treated for methylation along with all the other metabolic problems, some people can only tolerate the treatment for methylation at first.
8. I am going to explain EVERY abnormality in the lab work, but I won't try to treat every abnormality. If I did, you could be taking 30 different supplements. I will treat every abnormality that is related to the main reasons you came to see me.
9. After analyzing the big picture, I will make recommendations for "minimal nutrition," namely multi-vitamins, minerals, and B vitamins. There are many categories of co-factors that are out of balance in many people. Some of these co-factors are vitamin B12, vitamin D3, CoQ10, P5P, and specific B vitamins.
10. The average brain has 100 billion neurons. Their activity is not totally different from the biochemistry of the 70 trillion cells in your body. Total health requires that we address cellular biochemistry. This approach will help bring your entire body biochemistry into balance...including brain chemistry. If we only treat brain chemistry, we are not going to balance total body biochemistry.
11. Amino acid therapy will be used to treat specific symptoms and specific abnormalities revealed by lab work. Those amino acids will be individual amino acids as well as multi-amino acids (which treat abnormal amino acid patterns).
12. There are certain situations when I will recommend a specific nutrient based on a person's "history," and not based solely on lab work. If a person has a cardiac arrhythmia or epilepsy, I am very likely to recommend the amino acid taurine. Taurine stabilizes "irritable tissue" like brain and heart tissue, and can be very effective in treating certain arrhythmias.
13. Throughout treatment I will "zoom in" and "zoom out" in terms of what I am focusing on. I will periodically focus on the big picture...and a minute later I may zoom in to focus on the function inside cells or with the mitochondria (energy factories).
These 13 steps are not always this sequential, but with chronic illness a doctor needs to be able to look at a particular person's symptoms from many different angles. If a person is responding very quickly...or very slowly, I want to know why. I remain aware of issues beyond amino acid therapy and other physical modalities. I want to know if life's main arenas are in balance: work, play, love, friendship, recreation, exercise, diet, sports, creative outlets, sexuality, and spirituality.
This is not the "right" way for every clinician to work, but it is how I work and I think it provides the best chances for successful treatment.