Volume 11, Issue 62 | August 1, 2014
The permanent way to
overcome your afternoon lull
Are you one of the millions who need a caffeine type "pick-me-up" to get going? Maybe you just generally feel low energy or that you can't easily focus mentally. Maybe you crave chocolate. If so, you might have a chemical imbalance. Chemical imbalances in your brain are real. They're not a deficiency of a drug. Fortunately, you can make changes that will rebalance your system.

An imbalance is a relative deficiency or excess of specific neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals used by your nerve cells to talk with each other. I've told you about serotonin. It's one of the best-known neurotransmitters.

But there's another class of neurotransmitters called catechols. This class of neurotransmitters gives us some interesting alternatives to a fix of caffeine or other stimulants.

Catechols are a class of chemicals made both in your neurons and in your adrenals. You've heard about adrenaline. That's the chemical that gives you a huge rush when you see a truck barreling toward you. It super energizes you.

Adrenaline, also called epinephrine, is not found in your brain. A nearly identical twin molecule called norepinephrine and similar molecules are made in your nerve cells and are critical for your nervous system's functioning.

Catechols are excitatory. They stimulate and energize you. If you don't have enough, you might easily get depressed, and feel low energy. Your body, knowing that it is short on these neurotransmitters will look elsewhere for relief. It can find relief with any chemical that will pick up the missing slack. That's one reason you might need a pot of coffee in a day. You might have an easily addictive personality. Amphetamines are semisynthetic catechols. Cocaine also acts as a catechol. A hit from a street drug could make you feel great. But there's a huge price. Taking external sources of any hormone will discourage your own endogenous production. In the case of stimulant drugs, when they wear off, and you can't replace the need, you will crave the drug fix.

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So how else might you know if you are catechol deficient? You might feel a "slow brain." You are not your previous sparkling self and can't concentrate. It's hard to get things done. You might just want to stay in bed. If you went into menopause, the loss of estrogen complicates matters. Estrogen helps maintain levels of norepinephrine (and serotonin).

There are easy remedies for these problems, and it's not some drug. Norepinephrine, like serotonin, has an amino acid raw material. It's phenylalanine. But its metabolite, the amino acid tyrosine (500-1,000 mg, twice daily) is likely superior. Your body will quickly convert tyrosine into the norepinephrine you need. Don't worry about safety. I haven't seen any problems at all with tyrosine at these doses for these problems.

Tyrosine gives you additional benefits. The metabolic pathways for creation of norepinephrine also create dopamine, another neurotransmitter in your brain. It's the one that's quite deficient in Parkinson's disease. It could be useful in Parkinson's, but limited. In that disorder, specific neurons that make dopamine have died. The raw material won't help them, but could help struggling neurons. Finally, tyrosine is food for your thyroid. Your body takes tyrosine and converts it to thyroid hormone with the help of iodine.

If you try tyrosine and are still not feeling your best, consider the nutrient SAM-e. It can help restore catechols (and serotonin). Try 200-400 mg, twice daily. Tyrosine is readily available at most health food stores, as is SAM-e.

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