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Many of those coming to us for dietary help find it difficult or impossible to follow our suggestions because of their overpowering cravings. In fact, cravings for toxic, ultra-processed, nutrient-void foods have now precipitated a world-wide public health crisis.
- Eighty percent of the US population is now overweight, and our obesity rate has reached almost 50 percent.1 The US obesity growth rate, for decades the world's fastest and still rising, has recently been exceeded by those of many, mostly third world, nations who have "adopted" our diet.2
- Fifty percent of US adults have now been formally diagnosed with some form of Type 2 diabetes.3 Galloping diabetes rates in many countries throughout the world now equal or exceed our own. In China, the rate is now 70 percent.4
- A large international study, published in 2018, found that ultra-processed food intake is linked to increasing cancer rates – to a 12% greater risk of breast cancer, specifically.5
Unfortunately, such fearsome realities have had little impact on the world's eating habits. Our cravings for "highly palatable," foods outweigh our common sense, our vanity, and even our most powerful survival instincts. The problem is not that we're mindless, misinformed, or undisciplined. The problem is that our brain is constantly being exposed to the most addictive substances ever known.
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The building scientific consensus is that most of us have actually become full-fledged food addicts. This conclusion is supported by almost 40 years of neuroscientific research confirming that the effects of sugars and other ultra-processed foods on the brain's pleasure centers are identical to those of drugs like cocaine and heroin. Neuroscientist Nora Volkow, PhD, chief of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has estimated that as much as 60 percent of the US adult population is helplessly dependent on edible narcotics.6
These highly compelling, brain-active substances include the following:
- The new high fructose, corn, agave, and fruit syrups;
- Granulated sugar from cane and beet;
- Damaged fats and salt;
- Gluten-containing and gluten-free starches;
- Chocolate, and
The biochemical cravings set off by products that combine these substances come in all sizes and strengths. Some cravers complain about visions of chocolate that linger for hours until they finally succumb. Others suffer unstoppable drive-to-the-store-and-eat-it-all-in-the-car-now compulsions. The brain's ancient system of appetite-control is no match for the now-constant assault of foods that are carefully designed to disable it.
A Brain-Based Cure for a Brain-Based Dietary Emergency
In the 1980s and 1990s, veteran researcher Kenneth Blum, PhD, a colleague of NIDA's Dr. Volkow, published several clinical studies demonstrating the positive effects of certain brain-targeted free-form amino acid supplements on the cravings (and negative mood states) that propel addictions of all kinds.7 These studies prompted me and a number of other US addiction treatment professionals to try adding this nutritional strategy to our existing (and floundering) psycho-spiritual programs. We quickly found them to be stunningly successful and have continued to promote them through an organization called The Alliance for Addiction Solutions (https://www.allianceforaddictionsolutions.org).
As the director of integrative outpatient eating disorder and addiction treatment programs in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1980, I can attest to the remarkable, almost unfailing benefits of brain-targeted amino acid therapy in thousands of cases of food addiction alone.
The Five Brain-Targets of Addictive Substances Like Ice Cream, Cookies, and Soda
My clinic's work has confirmed Dr. Blum's premise that five specific brain functions, when repeatedly exposed to addictive substances, begin generating aberrant symptoms including negative moods and overwhelming cravings. The five brain functions:
- The neurotransmitter serotonin, our natural anti-depressant;
- The pleasurable endorphins, our natural pain-killing neurotransmitters;
- The neurotransmitter GABA, our natural tranquilizer;
- The neurotransmitter dopamine, our natural caffeine providing stimulation and reward;
- The blood glucose supply that supports all brain activity.
Identifying Which Brain Functions Need Amino Acid Support
Each of these five appetite-regulating brain functions, when disrupted and depleted of their particular amino acid precursors by repeated dietary assault, expresses a unique set of deficiency symptoms. My clinic has compiled these five sets of symptoms into a single assessment questionnaire scored on a 0-10 scale. The scores on this Craving Type Questionnaire (https://www.juliarosscures.com/craving-cure/) identify, at a glance, which brain functions are depleted and indicates which amino acids are needed to restore them.
The five brain functions are each dependent on specific amino acids. This well-established fact of brain biology was the impetus for Dr. Blum's original clinical studies. Our clinic has found, over the past 30 years, that providing the depleted amino acids as individual free-form supplements quickly and thoroughly silences cravings for drug-like foods. This freedom from craving allows a brain- and body-restorative diet to be adopted (and enjoyed!) After three to twelve months, the aminos may be discontinued as long as a diet rich in amino acids and other nutrients is sustained.
My staff nutritionists, together with other health professionals who also provide brain-targeted amino acid therapy, have, over the years, developed increasingly effective protocols. In the process, we have confirmed that the following amino acids can reliably be used to eliminate all five types of addictive craving:
- Tryptophan or 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan) convert to serotonin.
- DPA (d-phenylalanine) or DLPA (dl-phenylalanine) raise endorphin levels (making them both so helpful in recovery from addiction to opiate drugs as well as to opioid foods).
- Tyrosine or phenylalanine convert to dopamine and norepinephrine.
- GABA or theanine raise GABA levels.
- Glutamine can almost instantly stabilize the brain's vital glucose levels.
Assessing for Contraindications to Individual Amino Acids
Most of our clients have received immediate benefits from the use of amino acid supplements indicated by their Craving Type Questionnaire scores. But some clients are not good candidates for certain amino acid supplements. Possible contraindications to the amino acids listed above are clearly laid out in The Craving Cure's "Cracking the Craving Code" section,which is the clinical core of the book.
With sensitive trialing and dosing, most of these potentially contraindicated conditions pose no problems at all. But some, such as melanoma or mania, rule out the use of certain individual aminos (in these cases tyrosine and glutamine respectively). With some conditions, however, no individual amino concentrates at all may be used. Our pregnant and nursing clients, for example, typically benefit safely, instead, from raising dietary levels of amino-rich animal protein and from taking a complete free-form amino blend, like Total Amino Solution.
Note: Those who know themselves to be generally intolerant of nutrient supplements rarely tolerate any aminos well.
In 1996, my clinic began adding formal in-office and, more recently, Skype amino trialing to our standard assessment and dosing process. We have since conducted over 20,000 individual amino trials. Positive reactions to a low starting dose (a single capsule of the lowest standard dose available) have typically been observable within minutes and vastly improve treatment compliance. When there is no response, a second dose is trialed.
If any negative effect is experienced during an amino trial, an oral dose of 1,000-2,000 mg of vitamin C powder in 4 ounces of water typically eliminates it in minutes. Note: Trialing Kits can be ordered on cravingcure.com.
Lab Testing for Neurotransmitter Levels
In some cases, we have asked for blood platelet testing, the equivalent of cerebrospinal fluid testing (through Health Diagnostic in New Jersey). We've also asked for more widely available, but somewhat less accurate, blood plasma testing, to confirm symptom questionnaire results. We have not found urine testing to be clinically reliable. Its results often contradict clear cut symptoms and the aminos prescribed by lab personnel often have either no effect or harmful effects, in consequence. This has understandably confused and discouraged many eager amino acid therapy practitioners and their patients.
The Amino Acids in Action
I wrote The Craving Cure's "Cracking the Craving Code" amino acid therapy section with clinicians in mind. It's broken down into two chapters: 1) general instructions for all five Craving Types and 2) very detailed instructions for treating each Craving Type. Here, I'll give a case example in which two amino acids were trialed and successfully used. I'll follow that with some clinical tips on how to use the other amino acids that are needed for eliminating the remaining three Craving Types.
Phil was a food craver who had switched from alcoholic drinking to donut and ice cream administration years before, with resulting weight-gain problems and a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. He'd been a martial arts master who'd had many injuries and lots of pain over the years. His Craving Cure Questionnaire scores clearly indicated that his endorphin function was weak. He was on the hyper side, so he found slightly stimulating DLPA, even in a single-capsule trial dose, a bit too "buzzy." After we neutralized his reaction with 1,000 mg of vitamin-C powder, we trialed him on one capsule of DPA. A few minutes later, he took a deep breath and said, "For the first time in months, the pain isn't there." After a week on two DPA capsules, mid-morning and two DPA mid-afternoon and evening, we asked if his need for sweets had diminished. He answered, "I've actually almost forgotten about them. I don't even think about my nightly ice cream sundae ritual anymore!" After three months, he dropped down to one DPA twice a day, successfully. After he'd been able to improve his diet for a solid six months, he found that he no longer needed his DPA supplements, at all.
Re Phil's Diet: We've found that all low-endorphin "comfort cravers" must be especially careful to eat plenty of complete protein i.e. protein containing all 20 total aminos acids, in generous quantity in early "recovery." At least 4 oz. (or more for males) of cooked turkey, lamb, or equivalent, preferably animal source, protein per meal, particularly at first). That's because endorphin building requires up to 19 different aminos. In contrast, serotonin and dopamine production each require only one amino acid (tryptophan and tyrosine, respectively).
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