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Identifying Phil's Endorphin Deficiency
This is an abbreviated list of endorphin deficiency symptoms from my book, The Craving Cure. On the 0-10 symptom severity scale, Phil scored 7-10 on every symptom. This was his primary Craving Type.
- "Love" chocolate or doughy, fried, creamy foods.
- Crave substances or behaviors that give pleasure, comfort, reward, or numbing.
- Are very sensitive to emotional or physical pain.
- Cry or tear up easily.
- Have a history of chronic physical pain or chronic feelings of sadness or loneliness.
Find the complete Craving Type Symptom Questionnaire in The Craving Cure or at cravingcure.com. Our clinic has verified its symptoms through 30 years of clinical experience including over 20,000 individual amino acid trials conducted since 1996.
Those who, like Phil, are low in endorphins are missing out on the enjoyment in life that should be naturally supplied by their internal pleasure-promoters. Though most of our food-craving clients have high scores in more than one deficiency category, their endorphin deficiency scores are typically the highest at all.
As endogenous opiates, the endorphins can quickly erase discomfort and pain, whether physical or emotional. These inner narcotics come in several forms. One of the three potent endorphin subtypes is called enkephalin. A heavily funded scientific study on the brain-effects of M&M's, the number one candy consumed in America, found that this chocolate and sugar bomb caused enkephalin activity to increase by 150 percent. The study found this effect on the brain to be comparable to that of the drug opium.8
When we cannot generate adequate amounts of our own enkephalin or other endorphins, we seek external help to restore our sense of well-being, however briefly, from:
- Chocolate and sugar;
- Wheat's gliadin content (also known as gluteomorphin) and the milk protein casein (also known as casomorphin);
- Coffee, cannabis, alcohol, and certain behaviors (e.g. over-exercise, porn);
- Fat and salt have milder opioid effects.
Consuming products that combine all of these, and other, endorphin-stimulating substances can generate cravings that literally overpower the brain. This is why, though techniques like mindfulness can modestly raise endorphin levels and reduce "reward-driven" eating temporarily,9 for most, they are no match for the food industry's bliss point technology. Fortunately, this lack can be quickly remedied with the help of an unusual amino acid called d-phenylalanine (DPA).
Amino Relief for "Comfort Cravers"
DPA has been particularly well researched thanks to an indefatigable pharmacology professor at Chicago Medical School, Seymour Ehrenpries, PhD. Amino acid supplements come in two forms, an L- and a D-form. Typically, only the L-form can be beneficial, but Dr. Ehrenpries (and other researchers) found that the D-form of phenylalanine slowed down the rate of destruction of endorphin by endorphinase enzymes, dramatically increased endorphin availability, and reduced the need for morphine among post-surgery patients, with no adverse effects.10
D-phenylalanine (DPA) is available in two forms:
- Full strength (500 mg) capsules. People who tend to be anxious, hyper, or agitated, or who need comfort at night, especially love its easing effects. It is also the most potent option when physical pain is a problem.
- DLPA contains both the D- (250 mg) the L- (250 mg) forms of phenylalanine. Its two-amino content works best for Comfort Cravers who are fatigued, because L-phenylalanine is somewhat energizing (as it converts in part to tyrosine) as well as being an essential component of the endorphin subtype, enkephalin.
Occasionally a combination of both forms works best (for example, DLPA during the day and DPA at night). Whichever amino is used, one to three capsules, taken two to three times a day, is the standard dose.
Note: All of the aminos mentioned in this article are available in IV, as well as oral preparations. The former can help with early alcohol and drug addiction recovery (in addition to oral aminos) but are not needed for food addiction recovery.
Phil's Secondary Amino Acid Need
Phil's questionnaire's second hyper-elevated score indicated significant hypoglycemia and his pre-diabetes diagnosis also indicated that he urgently needed blood sugar- and insulin-regulating help. That help was provided by the amazing amino acid, glutamine,11,12 which quickly eliminated his frequent blood-sugar crashes and the cravings they incited. It also helped to restore optimal insulin function as this much researched amino has been proven to do. The dose: three capsules, three times a day (AM, mid-morning, mid-afternoon). Glutamine certainly added to his ability to stick with his newhigh protein, low-glycemic, healthy fat diet, which steadily lowered his HA1C to normal over six-months.
Contraindications: Glutamine should not be taken when mania has been a problem as it converts to glutamate. Interestingly, it can help with bipolar depression, probably for the same reason. Dosing must be very careful, however, to avoid triggering mania.
Three Other Amino Acids That Can Eliminate Food Cravings (and Negative Moods)
Now that I've illustrated the use of the above two anti-craving amino acids, I'll briefly mention the three others whose clinical usefulness can be so profound. See The Craving Cure for an entire chapter on each of the five anti-craving amino acids.
Tips on Using Tryptophan or 5-HTP to Raise Levels of Serotonin, Our Natural Anti-Depressant and Appetite Regulator
The benefits of these two aminos on mood and sleep are well-know. Their effects on cravings for refined food and other addictive substances are less so. We've found that about 80% of those with serotonin deficiency do equally well on tryptophan and 5-HTP. We prefer tryptophan with young children (it's more nutritious) and with those who are more agitated and/or sleepless (5-HTP can raise the levels of the stimulating stress-response hormone cortisol too high in those whose levels may already be somewhat elevated.)
Serotonin levels naturally drop after noon, which is why those with low-serotonin-caused carb cravings and low moods feel worst in the afternoon and evening. Consequently, we typically dose these clients in the mid-afternoon and evening (with an extra dose, if needed for sleep, at bedtime, or sometimes, in the mid-morning).
Contraindications: 1) Taking any serotonin-targeted meds regularly (e.g. SSRIs, Imitrex) at the same time of day (or at all with more than one such drug). 2) A carcinoid tumor.
Myth Busting: Does 5-HTP or tryptophan always have to be given with tyrosine in a rigid ratio? We have found that these two aminos do not need to be taken at the same time as, and in a specific ratio to, tyrosine. In fact, they should usually be taken separately, and deficiency symptoms should be used to determine individual dosing needs. 5-HTP and tryptophan are mostly needed later in the day, while tyrosine, our natural caffeine, is most needed in the morning (as you'll see below).
If initial assessment indicates that any one of these aminos is not needed, it should be left out altogether. It can always be added later, if symptoms change. At our clinic, our clients fill out weekly self-scoring deficiency symptom mini-questionnaires, to guide treatment till it is completed.
Tips on Using Stimulating L-Tyrosine (or L-phenylalanine) to Raise Dopamine and Norepinephrine Levels
Most of our fatigued teen and adult clients prefer to use tyrosine to improve physical and mental energy and focus and to stop their cravings for the caffeinated sodas (including damaging diet and energy drinks) and Starbucks' lattes; the chocolate; or the pure sugar candy they've been using to boost their flagging vitality and concentration.
Children and sensitive or easily agitated adults tend to do better on the milder L-phenylalanine,13 only part of which is converted into L-tyrosine, the direct dopamine precursor. (Dopamine is then converted in part to norepinephrine and adrenaline.) Note: Tyrosine also provides fail-proof caffeine detox aid!
Dosing: Children and sensitive adults: 250 – 500 mg L-phenylalanine, as needed.
Other teens and adults: 500 mg or more, in 500 mg increments (up to 2,000 mg per dose).
Dosing Time: AM and mid-morning. If needed, they can also be taken in the mid-afternoon if they do not interfere with sleep.
Contraindications: Though, with careful dosing, these two aminos seldom cause actual problems for our clients, there are more possible contraindications to the use of tyrosine and phenylalanine (e.g. headaches or elevated blood pressure) then to any of the other aminos. (See the specific possible contraindications for each amino in The Craving Cure's Chapter 12.)
Tips for Using GABA or Thianine to Neutralize Stress Chemistry and Stop "Stress Eating"
Myth busting: Our clinic's clients' phenomenal responses to GABA supplementation over the past 30-years contradict a widely circulated, but mistaken, conviction that GABA (both an amino acid and a neurotransmitter) cannot cross the blood brain barrier and can therefore not effectively raise calming GABA levels in the brain. Research confirms that GABA actually can cross the blood-brain-barrier.14 In practice, we observe that most of our clients get a stronger effect from a little GABA than they get from much higher doses of the other aminos; 125 mg is our starting dose (versus 500 mg of most other aminos), and many clients stick with that dose. Some need to go up to 250 mg; a few need (1-3) 500 mg capsules to get the same results. (We have not liked the effects of 750 mg GABA products.)
Dosing:Take GABA two to three times a day, as clients' particular stress and craving symptoms warrant.
Contraindications: At too high a dose, GABA can lower blood pressure or cause agitation.
How Long Are the Aminos Needed?
Children's Needs: A few weeks or months.
Teens and adults: Typically, a few months to a year. More than a year if there is genetic neurotransmitter dysregulation (e.g. family history of alcohol or drug addiction).
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Julia Ross has combined 40 years of experience as a licensed psychotherapist with 30 years of pioneering work in the use of innovative nutritional therapies for the treatment of mood problems, eating disorders, and addictions. The author of the best-selling books, The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure, and now, The Craving Cure, Ross has founded several integrative treatment programs in the San Francisco Bay area and now oversees an entirely virtual clinic for food cravers. She educates health professionals and the lay public internationally and directs training and certification programs through The Neuro-Nutrient Therapy Institute (NNTI). Her work has been featured in publications from Vogue to The Journal of Molecular Psychiatry as well as online and on radio and television. See JuliaRossCures.com.