Archive for the ‘brain’ Tag

UNLOCK THE SECRETS of today’s Successful Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Treatments!


Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

This year’s symposium on Hybperbaric Oxygenation will provide improved awareness and educational interaction from some of the worlds most eminent experts covering treatments relating to:

* Autism
* Cerebral Palsy
* Lyme Disease
* Stroke
* Multiple Sclerosis
* Traumatic Brain Injury
* Coma
* Anoxic Encephalopathy

Over 30 of  world’s leading authorities in this field have been assembled to share their wisdom and their philosophy for “Putting the Vision into Practice.”

This Year, there is even more of what you want most –

– Meet more open-minded doctors seeking innovative treatment for their patients.
– A venue conducive to on-site demonstrations and one-on-one interaction that will improve learning.
– The evolution of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is fast moving.  The very latest innovations will be on show.

July 22-25, 2010
Irvine, California
Call 1-954-857-9013

Mention Webstorm Internet Media

Coffee and Memory

Drink This!: COFFEE

Fresh-brewed joe is the ultimate brain fuel. Caffeine has been shown to retard the aging process and enhance short-term memory performance. In one study, British researchers found that just one cup of coffee helps improve attention and problem-solving skills.


Ever heard of the concept “too much of a good thing”? If you OD on caffeine—too many cups, a jolt of caf from the late afternoon onward, a Red Bull cocktail—it can mess with your shuteye schedule. Sleep is reboot time for your mental computer, and you don’t want to mess with it.

Good News for Veterans: DoD Brain Injury Rescue and Rehabilitation Project

Hperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) appears to be a safe and effective treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression. Thanks to the work of the American Association for Health Freedom, and their petition to Congress, it looks as though our veterans will soon be receiving this much-needed treatment.

For each of you who took time to write your representatives regarding this issue – Thank you. The legislation which was passed and signed into law is a start, but this program needs to be funded and sustained. Please see the link at the bottom of this piece to ask Congress for its continued support of HBOT for veterans.
* From the E-Newsletter, [American Association for Health Freedom]

AAHF Scores a Victory with HBOT for Wounded Veterans

Hope For Traumatic Brain Injury, Diabetic Failure-to-Heal Wounds and More?

On September 30, President Bush signed into law the FY2009 Continuing Resolution that contains the Defense Appropriations bill. In doing so, crucial funding became available to complete a scientific study important to all Americans.

Seventeen years ago, Paul G. Harch, M.D., discovered that hyperbaric oxygen therapy at 1.5 atmospheres of pressure (HBOT 1.5) could repair a chronic traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dr. Harch, director of the Hyperbaric Medicine Fellowship at Louisiana State University’s School of Medicine and an AAHF member, has used the therapy on over 700 patients and has taught the technique to hundreds of doctors.

In 2008, Dr. Harch applied HBOT 1.5 ATA to five combat veterans of the current war who have traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from concussive blasts. So far, all of the veterans treated have significan recovery. Eighty percent no longer have PTSD and all are improved.

During this same year, Dr. Harch testified in fron to the Surgeon General of the Navy and the Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps. He told the stories of the five combat veterans he treated with HBOT 1.5; three of those veterans were in the same room.

One of them, a judge who served as a general in the Army Reserves, endured a year of treatment failures at Walter Reed. He is now back on the bench, fully recovered in 120 days, after 80 HBOT 1.5 treatments. The Health Freedom Foundation, sponsored a Marine machine gunner who expreienced seven concussive events from roadside bombs during two tours in Iraq. Now, after HBOT treatments, his migraine headaches have disappeared, his sleep is restored , his PTSD is gone. He is now actively employed. He has his life back, as do other veterans who have undergone HBOT treatment.

At Louisianna State University in New Orleans, under an approved study protocol, Dr. Harch is now treating another thirty veterans of the war who have TBI and PTSD. AAHF sought funding from Congress for this important study for the past two years. This year, after nearly 200 visitis to members of Congress, funding was finally provided.

In April 2008, the RAND Corporation, a non-profit “think tank” highly respected by the government and NGOs, found that of the 1.6 million veterans of the war, 300,000 have PTSD, 320,000 suffer TBI, and 80,000 have depression. Current treatment costs for each of these conditions, when treated separately, is more than the cost associated with HBOT 1.5.

HBOT 1.5 one-time cost is US $16,000 (80 treatments at $200 per session) and apprears to treat all three symptoms simultaneously; the earlier a person is treated, the more effective the recovery, and the fewer the treatments needed.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy at 2.4 atmospheres of pressure is already used 10,000 times a day at over 900 locations for everything from non-healing diabetic wounds and radiation injuries from cancer treatment, to fourteen other Medicare-reimbursable and FDA-approved indications. HBOT 1.5 is a dose of HBOT tat clinical experience shows is safe and effective for TBI.

According to Dr. Ted Fogarty, Chairman of Radiology at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, “Functional neuroimaging shows HBOT revitalizes brain tissues and restores normal brain metabolism in vastly different areas of the brain in ways that other existing treatments cannot. To leave these injured neurons in our brave veterans to wither on the vine seems criminal when HBOT 1.5 is available and works.”

Today a multi-state coordinated effort is under way to treat vets at 78 locations. We expect this AAHF-coordinated effort will result in the necessary scientific proof to establish HBOT 1.5 as the standard of care for acute and chronic neurological injuries, and we hope it will secure reimbursement by the VA, Tri-Care, Medicare and civilian insurance.

The body of scientific evidence indicates that modern medicine has overlooked hyperbaric oxygen as a key tool in the treatment of strokes, diabetic failure-to-heal wounds, and conditions like reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Timely HBOT therapy could reduce the incidence of stroke (the leading cause of disability in the U.S., with over 500,000 reported cases each year) and amputations due to diabetic failure-to-heal wounds. HBOT has sound science, many years of clinical practice and a convincing reason for all of us to seek access when it can be of help.

Veterans who wish treatment can can contact Teri Rich at 801-964-2008.

HyperMED NeuroRecovery Australia

Leah talks about how neurofeedback helped her.

Leah, a client of Brain Harmony Technology in Salt Lake City, Utah talks about how neurofeedback helped her with stress and seizures.

Dr. Daniel Amen, “Blood Pressure and the Brain”

“Brain in the News” is a weekly commentary on how brain science relates to the news. The brain is involved in everything we do. Wherever there are human stories the brain is involved. From the impact of war and natural disasters on the brain to drug abuse scandals to courtroom dramas to politics the brain is in the news, and you can read about it here.

Blood Pressure and the Brain

Our vital organs and body functions are very much interconnected. We have no problem making the connection between our heart and lungs or our stomach and liver, but we sometimes forget how much the brain is affected by everything else that happens in our body.  Here’s a recent article from Psychology Today magazine that highlights the growing body of research connecting brain function and other health issues…

The next time a nurse inflates a blood pressure cuff around your bicep, pay attention. Those numbers are not just important for your heart, but for your brain as well. It’s becoming increasingly clear that high blood pressure, or hypertension, is at the root of much cognitive decline that has previously been attributed to aging. The more that scientists scrutinize brain function, and especially memory, the more they conclude that we have the ability to keep our memory and spirit strong well into old age. But it depends on how well we nourish our brain throughout life.

Hypertension is defined as blood pressure of 140/90 or above. The first number is the measurement of the blood’s force against artery walls when the heart is beating. The second number is the pressure between beats. A person is hypertensive if either number is too high. Most people think salt is the culprit in high blood pressure. In the vast majority of hypertensives, salt isn’t the root of the problem. Only about one third of people with high blood pressure are what doctors call “salt sensitive.”

“The rest of the folks can eat all the salt they want without seeing much change in their blood pressure,” says Shari Waldstein, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, who studies the cognitive consequences of hypertension. People whose diets are not to blame can pinpoint the problem through a trial of medications that target differing pathways in the body. Blood pressure is affected by many of the body’s systems, including kidney function, hormones such as insulin and the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Regardless of cause, high blood pressure is extremely dangerous, especially for people who don’t know they have it, typically people who rarely see a doctor. Hypertension has few symptoms; some sufferers complain of headaches, nosebleeds or shortness of breath but for the most part the body suffers in silence. High blood pressure does its damage by weakening the blood vessels, over time leading the inner lining to slough off. Vessels can be weakened to the point that they tear, causing sudden death or disability via a stroke or aneurysm. Hypertension can also lead to heart attacks.

But long before it creates a health emergency, hypertension takes a subtle toll on mental faculties. It can reduce attention, learning, memory and decision-making skills in ways that can be clearly seen in studies. “Generally, whatever problems impact cardiovascular health also affect cognitive functioning,” says Merrill Elias, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at Boston University who has studied hypertension for 35 years. Indeed, some researchers now believe that a substantial amount of age-related mental decline has little to do with age and much to do with blood pressure. Waldstein says there’s a large body of research linking hypertension directly to brain function, but scientists don’t yet know how it causes damage at the cellular level.

Elias says high blood pressure exerts a constant stress on the brain and cardiovascular system that appears to be cumulative. “It’s more of a problem for people who don’t go to the doctor,” he says. “Just think of it as your brain taking a hit every day.” The damage to the brain can come in a variety of forms. In the elderly, more than half of whom suffer from hypertension, the damage can be detected on MRIs in the form of “white matter lesions.” These are pinpoint lesions in the brain’s message-carrying axons that affect cognitive function, especially weakening memory and reasoning and significantly impacting quality of life.

High blood pressure can also cause small strokes that may go unnoticed, but which diminish the brain’s capacity to function. Other people who have chronic hypertension actually have small spots on their brain where the tissue is dead, says Elias. But that doesn’t mean that high blood pressure is a disease of old age. For one thing, many people who are in their 20s and 30s suffer from it as well. It’s especially important for younger people to control their blood pressure so that the damage doesn’t start early and snowball over time.

But neither is high blood pressure inevitable with age. Blood pressure can be kept in check by keeping cholesterol low, not smoking and limiting salt. But perhaps the most important factor is keeping obesity at bay, a struggle most Americans are not winning. “Weight is a biggie,” says Elias. “The more you weigh, the more pressure there is.”

Getting your weight, blood pressure and diet under control will help you think better, have better relationships, be a better parent, co-worker, friend and spouse. All of those things are directly related to your brain. It’s just not reasonable to think you can neglect one area of health and not have it affect other areas. If your brain is not working at its best, you are not at your best. So, if blood pressure is a problem for you please make sure you’re getting good treatment to keep it under control.

To your brain health,


Daniel Amen, M.D.
CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.
Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association

Dr. Amen‘s Blog – Recent Articles

Dr. Amen‘s Upcoming Appearances

West Virginia Counseling Association (Eastern Region)
May 09, 2008 
National Conservation Training Center,  Shepherdstown, West Virginia   More…

“Brain In The News” is offered as a free service to educate people on how the brain relates to our behavior. You can see over 300 color 3D brain SPECT images at You can subscribe for free at

Supplements Decrease Violence

“Brain in the News” is a weekly commentary on how brain science relates to the news. The brain is involved in everything we do. Wherever there are human stories the brain is involved. From the impact of war and natural disasters on the brain to drug abuse scandals to courtroom dramas to politics the brain is in the news, and you can read about it here.

If you’ve followed my work and the research we’ve done at the amen Clinics for any length of time, you’ll know the importance I place on nutrition and how it affects brain function. A new study from England is underscoring this point. Here’s the story from London’s Independent…

Prison Study to Investigate Link between Junk Food and Violence

Some of Britain’s most challenging young prisoners are to be given food supplements in a study aimed at curbing violent behavior. Scientists from Oxford University say the effect of nutrition on behavior has been underestimated. They say increases in consumption of “junk” food over the past 50 years have contributed to a rise in violence. The university will lead the study in which 1,000 males aged 16 to 21 from three young offenders’ institutions in England and Scotland will be randomly allocated either the vitamin-and-mineral supplements or a placebo, and followed over 12 months.

In a pilot study of 231 prisoners by the same researchers, published in 2002, violent incidents while in custody were cut by a more than a third among those given the supplements. Overall, offenses recorded by the prison authorities fell by a quarter. John Stein, professor of physiology at Oxford University, said: “If you could extrapolate from those results you would see a reduction of a quarter to a third in violent offenses in prison. You could reduce violent offences in the community by a third. That would have a huge economic benefit.”

“Our initial findings indicated that improving what people eat could lead them to behave more sociably as well as improving their health. This is not an area currently considered in standards of dietary adequacy. We are not saying nutrition is the only influence on behavior but we seem to have seriously underestimated its importance.” Mark Walport, head of the Wellcome Trust, which is funding the three-year study, said: “If this study shows that nutritional supplementation affects behavior it could have profound significance for nutritional guidelines, not only within the criminal justice system but in the wider community – in schools, for example. We are all used to nutritional guidelines for our physical health but this study could lead to revisions taking account of our mental health.”

The theory behind the trial is that when the brain is starved of essential nutrients, especially omega-3 fatty acids, which are a central building block of brain neurons, it loses “flexibility”. This shortens attention spans and undermines self-control. Even though prison food is nutritious, prisoners tend to make unhealthy choices and need supplements, the researchers say. Bernard Gesch, a senior scientist in the department of physiology and head of Natural Justice, a charity that investigates the causes of offending, said prisoners would be given the supplement with 100 per cent of the recommended daily amount of more than 30 vitamins and minerals plus three fish-oil capsules on top of their normal diet.

“We are trying to rehabilitate the brain to criminal justice. The law assumes crime is a matter of free will. But you can’t exercise free will without involving your brain and the brain can’t function properly without an adequate nutrient supply. It may have an important influence on behavior. This is a positive approach to preventing the problems of antisocial and criminal behavior. It is simple, it seems to be highly effective and the only “risk” from a better diet is better health. It is a rare win-win situation in criminal justice” said Gesch.

To your brain health,


Daniel Amen, M.D.
CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.
Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association

Beginning February 27th PBS will air a special presentation:

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life

with Dr. Daniel Amen

click here for more information

Dr. Amen’s Blog – Recent Articles

Dr. Amen’s Upcoming Appearances

Nature’s Sunshine Products
February 15, 2008 
Hyatt Regency Houston,  Houston, TX  More…

California Association of Private Special Education Schools
April 11, 2008  – April 12, 2008
Crowne Plaza Resort Anaheim-Garden Grove,  Garden Grove, CA  More…

Ben Franklin Institute: Summit for Clinical Excellance
April 11, 2008  – April 13, 2008
Chicago Marriot O’Hare,  Chicago, IL  More…

Mary Lanning Memorial Hospital/ Young Minds
April 17, 2008  – April 18, 2008
,  Hastings, NE  More…

West Virginia Counseling Association (Eastern Region)
May 09, 2008 
National Conservation Training Center,  Shepherdstown, West Virginia   More…

“Brain In The News” is offered as a free service to educate people on how the brain relates to our behavior. You can see over 300 color 3D brain SPECT images at You can subscribe for free at

Study Links Sleep Apnea and ADD

“Brain in the News” is a weekly commentary on how brain science relates to the news. The brain is involved in everything we do. Wherever there are human stories the brain is involved. From the impact of war and natural disasters on the brain to drug abuse scandals to courtroom dramas to politics the brain is in the news, and you can read about it here.

Study Links Sleep Apnea and ADD

ADD is one of the most prevalent and misunderstood mental issues of our time. In a recent study published in PubMed, Brazilian researchers found a suggested link between Obstructive Ventilatory Disorders and the incidence of neuropsychological disorders like ADD, hyperactivity and impulsiveness in children.

Their study suggests surgical removal of the adenoids and tonsils can have a significant positive effect for kids who struggle with obstructive breathing disorders and ADD. Here’s the study summary…

Neuropsychological disorders are frequently associated with obstructive ventilatory disorders (OVD).AIM: To analyze the incidence of neuropsychological disorders in Brazilian children with OVD, using a screening questionnaire and to compare the answers given before and after surgery.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: We studied 30 children with clinical diagnosis of OVD. The children were divided into 3 groups: group I, children aged 4 to 7; group II, from 8 to 10; and group III, children over 11. The applied questionnaires were answered by the parents or tutors, and comprised 30 questions, 10 for each disorder: attention deficit, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The children were diagnosed with one of the disorders when presented 3 or more positive answers. The follow up interview occurred 6 months after adenotonsillectomy.

RESULTS: There was a predominance of male gender (60.6%) over female gender (39.4%). Group II presented the highest number of significant changes, with reductions raging from 87.5% to 33.3% of patients with attention deficit, 75% to 50% of the hyperactive patients, and 50% to 33% of the impulsive patients.

CONCLUSION: There was neuropsychological improvement after the surgery, which occurred mainly in the children from group II. More interaction among health professionals is necessary when diagnosing and following up similar cases.

Certainly there’s much more to learn about how breathing disorders, ADD and hyperactivity are linked, but this is not the first study to make the connection. ADD is complex as we’ve seen here at Amen Clinics. There are at least 6 different types of ADD and they manifest in different brain systems. You can learn more about ADD, how it works on your brain and treatment options by visiting our website

To Your Brain Health,

Daniel Amen, M.D.
CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.
Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association

Are You Easily Distracted? Try Some Tea!

“Brain in the News” is a weekly commentary on how brain science relates to the news. The brain is involved in everything we do. Wherever there are human stories the brain is involved. From the impact of war and natural disasters on the brain to drug abuse scandals to courtroom dramas to politics the brain is in the news, and you can read about it here.


The evidence continues to build for the positive health effects of drinking tea. I’ve been speaking for some time about the brain benefits of certain types of teas – now we’re beginning to link tea consumption with specific brain function issues, such as ADD. Here’s a recent article from Newsweek magazine…

By Matthew Shulman
Posted September 27, 2007

Tea as a treatment for attention deficit disorder? If the beverage’s other health credentials aren’t impressive enough—a host of studies have suggested it shields against heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and possibly some cancers—now comes the news that it may also focus jumpy minds. “We have reports going back thousands of years that drinking tea makes people feel relaxed,” says John Foxe, a professor of neuroscience and an expert on the mechanisms of attention at the City University of New York. “But it also seems to make them more alert.”

The bulk of the research on tea till now has focused on the antioxidants it contains, the flavonols, catechins, and lignans that appear to arm the body against disease. It’s thought that they improve blood vessel dilation, for example, and lower the risk of aortic atherosclerosis. “We know that the more tea one consumes, the stronger the cardiovascular protection will be,” says Lenore Arab, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of California-Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine. By inhibiting damage to dna, some researchers theorize, the antioxidants may also slow tumor growth.

Now neuroscientists are weighing in with evidence that components in the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant may work wonders in the brain as well. According to Foxe’s research, the amino acid theanine, which is found in green, black, and oolong teas, causes a decrease in the brain’s “alpha rhythms” when people perform complex attention tasks, causing them to pay closer attention. His ongoing research, funded by the food and beverage conglomerate Unilever, suggests that theanine and caffeine together improve performance more than either substance alone. The findings, described in September at a conference on tea and human health, argue for further studies specific to add, Foxe thinks.

Other brain studies are still in the very early stages but offer hope that tea might battle degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, too. Silvia Mandel, vice director of the Eve Topf and the National Parkinson Foundation Centers in Israel, has found that—in mice, at least—tea’s main antioxidant shows an ability to curb brain cell death and encourage neurons to repair themselves.

Food is medicine and what you eat really does affect your brain and every other part of your body. Many times, even subtle dietary changes can have tremendous effects on brain and body function. If you’re not a tea drinker, give it a try for a few weeks – you may find your world a little more focused and calm.

To Your Brain Health,


Daniel Amen, M.D.
CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.
Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association

Study: Omega-3s Linked to Prevention of Parkinson’s

A milestone report links long-chain (marine) omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with the prevention of Parkinson’s disease, according to the December 2007 Fats of Life and PUFA Newsletter electronic publications, which summarize the latest scientific findings on PUFAs. “Papers with the potential to redirect our thinking about diseases are rare, but this study from Laval University in Quebec City, Canada, might do it for Parkinson’s disease,” said Editor Joyce Nettleton. “The researchers showed that the consumption of marine omega-3s-mainly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)– protected Parkinson’s animals from losing their dopamine-producing neurons. Animals without these omega-3s lost 30 percent of these essential cells, a hallmark of the disease. The implication is that sufficient brain DHA might be able to prevent the onset of Parkinson’s disease.” The e-newsletters cover other studies linking marine omega-3s and better cognitive abilities in aging. Eating fish regularly or having higher amounts of omega-3s in the blood are characteristic of older people who have escaped dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, according to research from France and the Netherlands. In Norway, participants in their 70s who consumed fish at least once a week had superior mental abilities compared with those who avoided eating fish. Cognitive benefits from omega-3s seem not to be limited to older adults. Research from Australia found that infants consuming breast milk high in DHA had higher cognitive scores at age 21/2 years. The same study showed that mothers taking a high dose of fish oil in their last part of pregnancy increased the amount of omega-3s in their milk and in the infant for at least 6 weeks after delivery. Research from Spain reported that more frequent fish consumption in children 6 1/2 years of age with higher risk of allergies was linked to significantly lower chance of developing allergic conditions. Evidence now suggests that maternal intake of omega-3s in pregnancy and a child’s consumption of fish are associated with lower risk of childhood allergies. “For all of these reasons, expecting mothers and people at risk for Parkinson’s disease should resolve in the new year to consume more marine omega-3s,” Nettleton concluded. The quarterly Fats of Life and PUFA Newsletter, sponsored by DSM Nutritional Products, are online at and by complimentary subscription. SOURCE Fats of Life – PUFA Newsletter URL:

Brain Food: The Natural Cure for Depression

By Karin Evans

By the time she turned 44, Rebecca Jones* felt like she was falling apart. “Some times I was plagued by a crushing fatigue, I was moody, and just moving through my day was a major chore,” she says. “I wasn’t sleeping well, had lots of headaches and a sluggish libido, and my memory was often foggy.” Jones chalked up some of her woes to perimenopause, so she followed some of the standard advice for that, like cutting out caffeine, for instance. But she still felt wobbly and low.

A clinical psychologist by profession, Jones recognized that some of her symptoms pointed to depression. She figured she needed some serious attention, so she made an appointment with Los Angeles psychiatrist Hyla Cass.

Like most psychiatrists would, Cass asked Jones how she was feeling. But that was just the beginning. Jones soon found herself detailing what she ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between. She was asked to describe her energy and mood swings throughout the day, her sleep patterns, and any worrisome symptom she could think of.

Cass sent Jones for a battery of tests—blood tests that went far beyond the usual screenings—to look for anemia, blood sugar levels, and thyroid function, factors widely believed to contribute to depression. Cass also tested Jones for candida and checked her chromium, magnesium, and estrogen levels, as well as her adrenal function and her risk for toxic overload, among other things.

After analyzing the results, Cass opted not to recommend antidepressants. Instead, she told Jones to start taking supplements, including chromium, which evens out blood sugar levels, and magnesium, vital for brainpower. She gave her a specific supplement for candida, plus a menopause support formula, and another remedy to help restore adrenal function.

“Within the first week of following her program, I felt much better,” says Jones. After three weeks she went back for more tests, and Cass prescribed additional supplements. “It’s still unbelievable to me,” says Jones, “but after six weeks, my mood swings and anxiety disappeared completely.” These days, she continues to take supplements to control her depression and boost her energy, and has yet to take a single antidepressant.

For those accustomed to the notion that therapy means talking through problems and getting a prescription for antidepressants, this may seem an unusual approach. But Cass, an expert in nutritional medicine and an assistant clinical professor at UCLA, long ago became convinced that no form of psychotherapy can be fully effective if the brain isn’t functioning properly. And to do that the brain needs optimal nourishment, something she says is increasingly hard to come by in the typical American diet. “Depressed, tired, overweight women are often told they need Prozac,” Cass says, “when in fact all they really need to get their brains and bodies on track is a steady supply of real food.”

She recommends that her patients drink lots of water and eat organic vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean protein. “Diets high in refined foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats can actually interfere with our natural brain chemistry,” says Cass.

Modern eating habits are part of what makes many people depressed, says Michael Lesser, a psychiatrist in Berkeley, California, who also bases his treatment on an evaluation of a patient’s diet and lifestyle. “Ironically, though we live in a wealthy society, our diets are deficient in crucial nutrients,” says Lesser, author of The Brain Chemistry Plan.

Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to chemical imbalances, like anemia and hypothyroidism, which in turn can lead to anxiety, insomnia—and depression. Cass has observed that people with depression are commonly diagnosed with low levels of zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, essential fatty acids, and amino acids. In fact, Lesser firmly believes that most cases of depression in this country are either caused or exacerbated by poor nutrition.

Indeed, the last few years have seen increasing numbers of studies finding that specific nutrients can help manage, and even reverse, depression, along with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and even autism. One of the most compelling, a study from Harvard, found that omega-3 fatty acids in conjunction with medication worked so powerfully on manic depression that the study was halted so every subject could take them.

The new research has inspired the launch of at least one scientific journal devoted to the subject, Nutritional Neuroscience, and dozens of books—ten of them by Cass, including Natural Highs: Feel Good All the Time and the just-released 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health. “There have been huge advances over the past few years finding that nutritional intervention can treat many behavioral and mental conditions we used to think were untreatable,” says Lewis Mehl-Madrona, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Why so much interest? Experts say nutritional therapy is catching on in part due to growing discomfort with antidepressants: Physicians are realizing they’re not as effective long-term as was once hoped, and they often have nasty side effects, such as loss of libido and nausea. “We’re becoming more realistic about the limitations of drugs,” says Susan Lord, director of nutrition programs for the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. “They’re not the magic bullets we once thought.”

Much of the interest is also coming from patients themselves, says Cass. As more people realize they need to pay attention to what they eat in order to feel good, more are asking their doctors for nutritional help. Lord sees this in the growing popularity of the “Food as Medicine” workshops her center hosts for health care practitioners.

Within five years, she predicts, the demand among doctors for education about nutrition will be huge. “Most physicians already see the writing on the wall,” she says, “and are in the uncomfortable position of not knowing the answers, but feeling they should.”

While it’s clear the brain can be greatly influenced by what we eat, researchers are just beginning to figure out why. The answer has at least something to do with the composition of neurotransmitters, whose intricate wiring controls thinking, actions, and moods; these chemicals are made of amino acids, and certain vitamins and minerals play critical roles in their formation. The very makeup of brain cells also depends on nutrients—omega-3s are part of every cell membrane.

When a person’s diet is deficient in some of these nutrients, neurotransmitters aren’t made correctly or don’t get what they need to function properly, and various emotional and mental disorders can result. For instance, low blood sugar can contribute to some forms of depression, and so can low levels of zinc in some people.

For all the recent research, Lesser and Cass are still among a maverick few who focus primarily on nutritional interventions for mental health problems. For most psychiatrists, drugs are better known, despite their problematic side effects—and therefore less risky.

Both Lesser and Cass arrived at the notion that nutrition can influence brain chemistry early in their medical careers. Lesser, who was conventionally trained at Cornell and Albert Einstein Medical Center in New York City in the 1960s, started tinkering with nutrients after becoming frustrated by his field’s emphasis on drugs.

Shortly after he’d finished his residency, Lesser came across a report that treating schizophrenics with niacin tended to improve their symptoms. He figured that if the niacin worked, he should also experiment with other dietary strategies that have been linked to mood.

So he tried the approach on a patient of his own and put the young man on a high-protein diet, gave him a slew of supplements, including niacin, vitamin C, and zinc, and told him to cut out caffeine and cigarettes. Soon after his patient showed dramatic improvement, Lesser founded the Orthomolecular Medical Society, with the stated objective of emphasizing natural substances such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats in the prevention and treatment of diseases.

As for Cass, even before she began her training she was predisposed to the idea that drugs aren’t always the answer. The daughter of an old-fashioned family physician in Canada, she was drawn to a personalized kind of medicine that honored both mind and body. Shortly into her practice, she found that the standard “couch and Prozac” combination of talk therapy and pharmacology only goes so far.

Over time, she eventually developed the approach she uses today, which is to start by evaluating the patient in a number of ways—emotionally, physically, and biochemically. Then she supplies specific health prescriptions, which include supplements and food, often in tandem with exercise, natural hormones, and mind-body techniques.

The approach isn’t for everyone. It requires that a patient be a full partner in his or her care, and not everyone is motivated enough to make what can amount to pretty daunting lifestyle changes, including shopping for organic food, preparing meals without using a lot of salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats, and taking all those supplements—especially people who are depressed to begin with.

Sometimes the best option is indeed medication, says Cass, particularly with severe cases of depression. “The most important thing is to help the patient,” she says.

But even small changes—like cutting out processed foods, or adding daily fish oil pills—can make a big difference, they say. And once started, the process can develop its own momentum. “People start eating a little better or taking a few supplements, and they often start feeling a little better,” says Lord. “That’s when they become open to trying more changes.”

Many of the patients who do manage to stick to the program say it is worth the effort. After a couple of months on Cass’s regimen, Rebecca Jones is certainly convinced. She hasn’t had to make many dietary adjustments—she was already eating reasonably well to begin with and exercising a few times a week. So the only change she’s made was to start taking supplements. But the results have been dramatic.

The supplements are costly, she admits, running about $100 a month. “But that’s all it takes—I don’t need any expensive prescription drugs.” She expects to stay on some of the supplements for the rest of her life, and to continue to consult with Cass periodically. “But that’s okay,” she says. “My mood has evened out considerably—all of the depressive symptoms I had are gone. I’m much, much better now.”

Alternatives to Prozac
Many experts now believe that diet and supplements can make a big difference in treating depression, though not every type. People who can tie their sadness to a particular event, like the breakup of a relationship or a job loss, are much more likely to find success with mood-boosting supplements. “But if your depression is unexplained, you should be seeing a professional and asking serious questions—not just popping 5-HTP,” says Timothy Birdsall, director of naturopathic medicine for Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Depression might be the result of heart trouble that doesn’t allow enough oxygen to get to the brain, for instance, or an intestinal problem that prevents efficient absorption of vitamin B-12.

In fact, professional guidance can make any program more effective by making it more targeted, says Mark Hyman, editor-in-chief of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. Physicians can test patients first to diagnose chemical imbalances, and then take it from there. Working with a doctor also helps determine what does and doesn’t work. “We’re not the best judge of our own condition when it comes to depression,” says Kenneth Pelletier, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It’s something you shouldn’t tackle alone.”

• B Vitamins Many people, particularly women over 65, have B-12 deficiencies and respond dramatically to injections of the vitamin. But all B vitamins can boost mood; they work by facilitating neurotransmitter function. Other pluses: B vitamins are critical for preventing other maladies, including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Dosage: Take at least 800 micrograms of folate, 1,000 mcg of B-12, and 25 to 50 milligrams of B-6. A B-complex vitamin should do the trick, says Hyman, and if you’re depressed, take more. Take them in combination because otherwise one can mask another B vitamin deficiency. Risks: None.

• Essential fatty acids Their benefits are among the best documented. The reason they’re so effective? Essential fatty acids are part of every cell membrane, and if those membranes aren’t functioning well, then neither is your brain.
Dosage: For depression, take at least 2,000 to 4,000 mg of fish oil a day. Should be purified or distilled so it’s free of heavy metals. Risks: Very safe, albeit unstable. Since it can oxidize in your body, take it along with other antioxidants, like vitamin E (400 IUs a day).

• Amino acids The building blocks of neurotransmitters; 5-HTP is the most popular. Taking it can elevate mood in cases of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, and relieve insomnia. Increases production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Dosage: Start with a low dose, 50 mg two to three times a day; after two weeks, increase the dose to 100 mg three times a day. Risks: Mild nausea or diarrhea. Before starting, get off antidepressants (under a doctor’s supervision); the combination can produce an overload of serotonin.

• Saint-john’s-wort One of the best-known remedies. Best for mild to moderate depression. Dosage: Start on a dose of 300 mg (standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin extract) two to three times a day, depending on severity of depression; it can take three weeks to show benefits. Risks: It may interfere with up to half of all drugs, prescription and over-the-counter.

• Sam-e An amino acid combination produced by humans, animals, and plants. Supplements come from a synthetic version produced in a lab that has shown a lot of promise in European studies. May affect the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Has fewer side effects than 5-HTP and fewer drug interactions than Saint-John’s-wort. Dosage: Can range from 400 to 1,200 mg a day, though high doses can cause jitteriness and insomnia. Risks: People with bipolar disorder shouldn’t use it without supervision because it can trigger mania.

• Rhodiola rosea Considered an adaptogen, which means it can increase your resistance to a variety of stressors. May be good for mild to moderately depressed patients. Dosage: Take 100 to 200 mg three times a day, standardized to 3 percent rosavin. Risks: More than 1,500 mg a day can cause irritability or insomnia.

• Dhea This hormone is marketed in Europe specifically for postmenopausal depression, though it may be helpful for other forms as well. Has been used in conjunction with estrogen to treat hot flashes. Not clear why it helps boost mood and energy. Dosage: 25 to 200 mg a day. Risks: Any hormonal supplement has the potential to increase cancer risk.

Finding professional help.To find an integrative doctor, visit and click integrative medicine clinics; or check For an orthomolecular physician, visit the International Society of Orthomolecular Medicine (
—Genevieve Des Jarlais