It’s based on the common set of circumstances whereby non-stop stress and anxiety ultimately depletes the adrenal system, leading to low levels of the feel-good trio of stimulating brain chemicals dopamine, noradrenalin and adrenalin. This leads to a sense of burn out and inability to cope.
In my 100% Health survey of people completing the online 100% Health Check three in four people in Britain frequently feel stressed, with declining energy levels, and two in three experience frequent anxiety and tension. You are not alone.
It also leads to lower levels of serotonin, the brain’s natural ‘connector’, vital for feeling happy and getting a refreshing night’s sleep.
The good news is that all these vital neurotransmitters are made from naturally occurring amino acids. By supplementing the right ones at the right time for 30 days, and taking steps to reduce stress and stimulants, while increasing natural feel good factors, you can reset your brain and break free from the ‘wired and tired’ trap.
How to Wake Up with Natural Energy
In the morning, before you eat, the key amino acid is tyrosine. You need 750 to 1,000mg a day. This works even better if taken with supporting B vitamins, especially pantothenic acid (B5) and the three ‘methylating’ B vitamins B6, folate and B12. Methylation is the process that helps turn tyrosine into dopamine, noradrenalin and adrenalin, as needed. These work even better if taken with what are called ‘adaptogens’ which are herbs that help even out the adrenal system. Adaptogenic herbs such as Siberian ginseng, rhodiola rosea, ashwaganda and schisandra have been found to alleviate fatigue and other symptoms of stress. The three most reputable adaptogens are the ginseng family, reishi mushroom (also known as lingzhi in China) and rhodiola. In Asia, especially China and Japan, reishi has been revered for 5000 years. Chinese reishi mushroom (Ganodermum lucidum) is often used to modify or enhance the effects of other stress-fighting herbs. It also helps to lower insulin levels.
You can get all these – tyrosine, B vitamins and adaptogenic herbs in a combination formula. These need to be taken in the morning, at least 15 minutes before food. Beware of energy tablets that contain caffeine or guarana, a natural form of caffeine. Like stimulants, these provide a short-term fix that leave you more tired and imbalanced in the long run.
Why Less Caffeine is Good for You
Ideally, you want to quit caffeine. If you do so the combination of adaptogenic herbs and tyrosine will help rest your stimulant receptors, shortening the withdrawal phase. Basically, what happens with excessive caffeine use is that the receptors for the stimulating neurotransmitters (dopamine, noradrenalin and adrenalin) start to shut down as if your brain was going deaf. The natural consequence is that you need ever increasing amounts of caffeine to keep going, and it works less and less well. Another useful nutrient in the short-term, especially if you get caffeine withdrawal headaches, is niacin, ideally taken with vitamin C and the calming mineral magnesium.
If quitting caffeine is one step too far for you right now then reduce your intake to one cup of coffee or tea a day, drunk before you eat breakfast. If you need more tea use the same teabag thus getting weaker and weaker caffeine doses. In any event don't have an caffeine after midday as it can suppress melatonin, the key sleep promoter, for up to 10 hours.
Eat Low GL meals for even energy and mood
Meanwhile, it is vital to have a slow carb/low GL breakfast. My Get Up & Go shake, made with a handful of berries (fresh of frozen) and a cup of milk (ideally almond, soya or oat), all whizzed up in a blender, is a perfect breakfast. Otherwise an egg-based breakfast, or oats with chia seeds, cold or hot as in porridge, plus some berries is a good way to go. There are lots of options in my Low GL Diet Cookbook.
The key meal tip is to never eat carbs without protein. Protein slows down the release of sugars in carbs. So, egg or beans on toast or a tuna pasta or half a baked potato with a tuna, onion mayo or beans helps keep your blood sugar level even while pasta with tomato sauce or baked potato on its own doesn’t. Also, when eating fruit for snacks have some nuts.
Hot to Relax and Get a Good Night’s Sleep.
Now, turning to the other end of the day, what you do in the evening is vital for your energy and mood recovery. Anything after 7pm should be focused on your relaxation, starting with a healthy low GL dinner, not followed by a sugary dessert. One hour later, and between an hour and 30 minutes before bed (eg don't eat late – ideally at least two hours before sleep) the key amino acid you need to boost serotonin, from which the brain makes melatonin, is either tryptophan or 5-hydroxytryptophan. You need about 500 to 1,000mg of tryptophan or 50 to 100mg of 5-HTP which is roughly ten times stronger in effect. There are two other helpful amino acids. One is GABA, made from taurine and glutamine, which helps switch off adrenalin – you want low adrenal hormones in the evening to sleep well; the other is theanine. Theanine is the active component in green tea which can help you feel calm and alert at the same time. Research suggests that 50mg naturally stimulates alpha-wave activity in the brain, which is associated with a relaxed but alert mental state. Therefore, supplements containing both theanine and GABA or GABA precursors can help you feel more relaxed and less ‘edgy’.
The other critical evening component is magnesium. Magnesium is another important nutrient that helps us relax, so deficiency, which is very common, is a problem. It relaxes the muscles as well as the mind, so symptoms of deficiency include muscle aches, cramps and spasms, in addition to anxiety and insomnia. Low levels are commonly found in anxious people and supplementation can often help. Seeds and nuts are rich in magnesium, as are many fruits and vegetables, especially kale and spinach. I recommend eating these magnesium-rich foods every day and supplementing an additional 200 to 300mg, to bring total consumption up to about 500mg. My multivitamin provides 155mg of magnesium so you want something like an additional 50 to 150mg of magnesium, perhaps a little less if you also have an Epsom salt bath which is magnesium sulphate. I am a great fan of Epsom salt baths, a favourite treatment of naturopaths for over 100 years and for good reason. It is absorbed through the skin.
A clinical study performed at the University of Birmingham, established this beyond a doubt, showing both increased blood levels, followed by increased urinary levels as magnesium was excreted. Every single person in the study had increased levels so the results are beyond doubt. This happened within 2 hours so the effect is quick.
I have, however, struggled to find a true Epsom salt without additives, caking agents, chemicals, artificial perfumes – just pure Epsom salts. But I’ve found one. It’s called Newton Wood, the place where Epsom salts were discovered. Newton Wood’s Epsom salt crystals are superb in every respect and I often end my day with a hot, soaking bath containing half a cup of Epsom salts.
Anything else you can do in the evening which helps you switch off stress will help reset your brain. This includes yoga, meditation, sex, reading a good book or watching a film – but perhaps not an action-packed, dark thriller.
While alcohol does promote GABA in the short-term, which is how it turns off stress, the effect is short lived and actually increases anxiety. Much like the advice for caffeine/coffee if quitting is too much then stick to no more than one glass of wine or equivalent. Ideally, do this a maximum of three nights a week, for example, at weekends rather than every evening.
If you have trouble sleeping the CD Silence of Peace, available from www.holfordirect.com or downloadable, is excellent to play as you go to sleep or in the night should you wake up and struggle to get back to sleep.
Do this morning and evening routine for a month and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel, with more natural energy in the morning and day, and less reactivity to life’s inevitable stresses. You’ll have reset your brain.
1. P.Holford et al., The 100% Health Survey, p.11-12, www.patrickholford.com
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