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Autism Coach

Alcohol, Marijuana, Autism and ADD/ADHD - Part 2 - Safer Approaches to Balancing Neurotransmitters and Feeling Good

Posted by Susan Bennett on

Young adults with autism and ADD/ADHD are more at risk for developing an addiction to recreational substances because they have a neurotransmitter imbalance that contributes to feelings of agitation, anxiety, depression, and anger. 

Recreational substances can temporarily increase levels of neurotransmitters that promote a feeling of happiness, relaxation, and well being. 

The problem is when recreational substances are heavily used over a period of time, they rewire and damage the brain. 

Depending the genetic make-up of the individual and the substance being used, a person can develop a tolerance to the substance, where they need more of the substance to feel than when they first took it. Also, they often feel worse when they don't use the substance than before they started using it.

If you haven't already done so, click here to read Part 1 of this article to learn about neurotransmitter imbalances and the short-term and long-term consequences of self-medicating with recreational substances.

Balancing Neurotransmitters Naturally

There are safer, natural ways to balance neurotransmitters levels so that a person feels much better without any of the negative side-effects of recreational substances. Supporting neurotransmitter balance can also make it it easier to stop using recreational substances with less severe withdrawal symptoms.

It is possible to feel energized, happy, focused, calm, and be free of depression, anxiety through a natural approach that includes diet, exercise, and a nutritional protocol.

There can be several causes of neurotransmitter imbalance, sometimes more than one in a single person:

  • Intestinal dysbiosis is a major cause of neurotransmitter imbalance. Overgrowths of toxic microbes in the intestinal tract can churn out large amounts of ammonia, proprionic acid and other toxins which can pass through the blood brain barrier, cause inflammation, and ultimately result in excessive levels of excitatory neurotransmitters being produced. Intestinal pathogens that produce toxic by-products include candida, pathogenic strains of clostridia, klebsiella and pathogenic forms of e. coli.
  • Chronic infections in the brain and/or the immune system generating antibodies to infections also increase levels of glutamates being produced.
  • Genetic mutations or variances can also result in neurotransmitter imbalances. The effectiveness of nutrients can depend upon the genetic makeup of the individuals so protocols are generally customized for each individual, sometimes by trial and error and sometimes with the help of a knowledgeable health care professional.

Natural approaches can improve the balance of neurotransmitters and help you achieve improved mental and physical health. Instead of an artificial temporary euphoria that recreational substances provide that is then followed by a mood-lowering crash, you can achieve a stable, consistent, long lasting sense of well being and being on top of your game. Here are some natural approaches to balancing your neurotransmitters that can help you authentically be your best:

1. Diet

Food can be addictive. The microbes in your intestinal tract effect your mood and cause you to crave foods that feed them. The more healthfully you eat, the less you will crave junk food if you can get past the withdrawal from junk food period (usually 4-5 days). Here are some basics of a healthful diet that will support an optimal balance of neurotransmitters:

  • Eat healthful, organic, natural and fresh foods that contain living enzymes and living beneficial probiotics. Avoid artificial ingredients, preservatives, foods that are mal-digested or tend to cause inflammation in the intestinal tract and/or brain, including gluten and casein.
  • Low carbohydrate and low sugar. These food feeds the pathogens in the intestinal tract. Cut off their food supply and your beneficial microbes thrive and you feel better.
  • Avoid foods with preservatives. Your digestive tract has to break down (partially rot) food to break it down into molecules it can absorb. Beware overly preserved food - preservatives preserve frequently by killing enzymes that break down food or interfering with their function. You need to break down food to digest it and get all the nutritional value from it.
  • When possible, buy fresh locally home grown or farmer's market produce. Even fresh produce in supermarkets is typically irradiated, killing off beneficial microbes that live on the surface of produce and help to keep your microbiome healthy.
  • Avoid GMO foods and non-certified organic food which are contaminated with Roundup which inhibits the production of critical metabolic enzymes and amino acids used to make neurotransmitters.
  • Drink purified, filtered water. There are many toxins in municipal water supplies and even in well water, depending on where you live. If you live in a heavily polluted area, also consider sleeping with an air filter in your bedroom.
  • Eliminate foods you are allergic to or cause problems due to mal-digestion. If you want to take a nap after eating, you are probably eating foods that don't agree with you and burden your digestive system. Falling asleep results in your brain consuming less of the body's resources so your intestinal tract has more energy to digest the food.
  • Consider a special diet. Diets that have helped many within the autism spectrum include the gluten and casein free diet (GFCF), the specific carbohydrate diet (SCD), the ketogenic diet (low carbs and sugar - high in medium chain triglyceride fats).

2. Exercise

Even 1/2 hour a day walking, jogging or biking can improve neurotransmitter balance, improve digestion and help the body to eliminate toxins.

3. Intestinal Health Promoters

Promote the growth of beneficial microbes and reduce overgrowths of pathogens producing excito-toxins that over stimulate the production of glutamates in the brain.

  • Probiotics - Reduce pathogens whose by products increase glutamate levels. Beneficial probiotics help to break down food and produce the building blocks for our calming and mood-elevating neurotransmitters. We recommend:
    • Equilibrium, a product developed by NIH funded microbiologists, which has more strains than any other probiotic and is designed to replace probiotics eliminated by modern farming and chemcials.
    • Floraphage specifically kills e.coli. and as a prebiotic - when it kills e. coli, it turns the e. coli into nutrients for beneficial probiotics. Can be used with any probiotic to increase its efficacy.
  • Digestive Enzymes and Substances - The more better the food is digested, the less food is available for pathogens. Also mal-digested proteins in milk and grain products can form neurologically damaging opiates. Here are some digestive products we recommend:
    • Autism Enzymes - specifically created to help individuals on the autism spectrum with digestive issues specifically associated with autism spectrum disorders, including breaking down gluten and casein proteins so they don't form opiates. Are helpful for many other health issues.
    • Intrinsic Zyme - contains many digestive substances that are insufficiently produced that are needed to metabolize and absorb nutrients, including instrinsic factor need to absorb Vitamin B12.
    • Devigest - also breaks down gluten and casein
  • Biofilm Removers - Pathogenic organisms in the intesintal tract tend to form colonies that are protected under a slimy biofilm that lines the intestinal tract. The biofilm allows thsee pathogens to thrive, multiply, crowd out beneficial microbes, and steal nutrients that would otherwise go to nourish the body. Get rid of the biofilm and beneficial microbes that produce nutrients for the body dominate:

4. Toxin Reducers and Absorbers

It seems like common sense, but often overlooked in nutritional protocols. The fewer toxins in your body, the better you feel. Toxin absorbers are usually est taken at least an hour after consuming meals and supplements and before bed for a better night's sleep. 

5. Lower levels of Cortisol/Adrenaline

Lowering levels of cortisol/adrenaline reduces levels of excitatory neurotransmitters. Elevated cortisol levels can contribute to sleep disorders - trouble going to sleep or waking up in the middle of the night. Cortisol lowering substances include: Vital Adapt, Ashwagandha, Pterostilbene, Licorice, Rhodiola Rosea, Ginseng, Holy Basil, and Astragalus

6 Nutrients that Increase Levels of Calming Neurotransmitters

Amino acids, neurotransmitters, and B Vitamins are amongst the many building blocks of calming neurotransmitters that are often deficient in individuals with neurotransmitter imbalances. Supplements that can increase levels of calming neurotransmitters include:

  • Magnesium, Zinc, Taurine - prevent activation on NMDA receptors on neurons.  These receptors cause neurons to over-fire when they are exposed to glutamates and/or ammonia.  Depending on genetic make-up some people do well with Taurine and others do not.
  • Tyrosine - amino acid that is aprecursor to mood elevating neurotransmitters Dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, frequently depleted due to poisoning with the weedkiller, Roundup
  • Tryptophan - amino acid that is a precursor mood elevating neurotransmitter seratonin and sleep inducing neurotransmitter m
  • GABA - butyric acid is a precusor or GABA itself
  • Phosphatidyl Serine - contains neurotransmitter serine in a phosphorylated form.
  • Glycine - include Glycine, Dimethylglycine (DMG), and Trimethylglycine (TMG)
  • Melatonin - taken at bed promotes sleep
  • Active B Vitamins - help produce calming neurotransmitters and elevate mood. It is important to get activated (methylated) forms of folate (such as Super Folate), B6 (P5P), and B12 (such Methylcobalamin). They are also available in multivitamin blends such as  Behavior Harmony and the Bioactive Vitamin Mineral Supplement.
  • BH4 or Bitter Orange, which actually tastes good. Both contain BH4, a molecule required to manufacture several calmining neurotransmitters but frequently depleted when used in another metabolic pathway to detoxify ammonia. Certain extracts contain BH4 which can promote production of calming neurotransmitters. Should only be used in combination with methylfolate to ensure it is used in the correct metabolic pathway and under the supervision of a medical professional.

7. Cannabinoid Receptor Supplements for Calming and also have Anti-Seizure Properties

Depending upon your genetic make-up, cannabinoid receptor supplements can reduce damage to neurons from excessive levels of excitatory neurotransmitters and also inhibit neurons from firing so they are not over-excited and become damaged.

There are several that have no psychoactive or addictive properties:

  • Passionflower - interacts with endocannabinoid receptors.
  • Echinacea - interacts with cannabinoid receptors.
  • CBD oil - a non-psycho-active component of marijuana which is neuroprotective and anti-seizure.

8. Supplements That Inhibit the Uptake of Opiates

Inhibit the uptake of opiates to support withdrawal from opiates, including substances containing opiates and foods that produce opiates as a by-product of mal-digestion:

9. Supplements that Reduce OCD Tendencies

Supplements that reduce OCD tendencies include:

10.  Community of Support, Faith, and Meditation

Research indicates that prayer and meditation can be powerful and elevate levels of calming and mood elevating neurotransmitters  amongst their many positive benefits.  

Many people have an inner voice that talks continuously and reinforces their view of the world.  Prayer or meditation can still that inner voice providing relief from a stressful and negative internal dialog.  This can also give a person a perspective to help to help them assess whether or not that dialog is helpful or harmful and provide an opportunity to change their view of the world to one that is more beneficial for them. 

Research indicates the most successful recovery programs that help people stop using substances swap a harmful addiction for another activity that also raises neurotransmitter levels but promotes positive behavior, positive attitudes and helps the person have a better life.

Examples of positive activities that can help to increase levels of calming and mood elevating neurotransmitters are joining an activity with a group of people who genuinely like and altruistically want to help the person as opposed to manipulating the person for their own benefit.  These activities can include:

  • Joining and regularly participating in a church.
  • Participating in a 12-step recovery program. 
  • Joining a group of supportive people that share a common positive interest and engaging in positive activities. Positive common interests can include hobbies and sports.  Positive activities can include interactions/relationships with pets or animals, getting fresh air and sunshine through activities such as hiking and gardening.  

Put your time, energy and thoughts into activities you love that are good for you and bring out the best in you. 

So What Really is Addiction?

Addiction is just a natural part of a system in our brain that provides us with incentives to behave and carry out activities that are in our best interests.  

Substances that interact with the reward system in the brain that initially help to elevate mood of someone who is not feeling their best can unfortunately have negative side-effects. 

We are always going to be motivated to want to do things that make us feel good.  The trick is to find better ways to feel good through a healthful lifestyle and diet, and through activities we enjoy that are also good for us.

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