Don’t take tryptophan or 5-HTP until you’ve read this

Tryptophan can be converted into antidepressant serotonin and brain protective melotonin or a highly toxic substance called quinolinic acid. Quinolinic acid promotes depression and anxiety, it causes oxygen free radicals damage, mitochondrial dysfunction, elevated levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate which causes over stimulation and excitedness in the brain involved in anxiety; elevated glutamate levels are also damaging to the brain, they inhibit the growth and repair of neurons in the hippocampus involved in depression and bipolar.

How do we steer tryptophan towards the serotonin and melatonin that we want and away from toxic quinolinic acid

Is tryptophan safe?Whether tryptophan goes down the healthy pathway to make serotonin and melatonin or the unhealthy pathway to make quinolinic acid depends on 2 primary factors:-
  1. being deficient of essential nutrient cofactors needed to convert tryptophan into serotonin and melatonin
  2. increased levels of inflammation in the brain which can be caused by elevated stress and cortisol, hidden infections activating the immune system, a poor diet that promotes inflammation and more.

1. Nutrient Deficiencies

If you are deficient in vitamin and mineral cofactors needed to convert tryptophan into serotonin then this will steer tryptophan down the neurotoxic pathway to make quinolinic acid, and deficiencies in some of these nutrients such as vitamin D3 and magnesium are very commonplace, you could have the right now without even knowing it.
It’s simple to prevent the problem of deficient nutrient cofactors simply by a comprehensive multivitamin/multimineral containing B6, D3, zinc and methylfolate together with a separate additional magnesium supplement because a multiple mineral could never have enough magnesium in it without the tablet becoming too large. If you are severely deficient of D3 then you should probably spend a couple of weeks building up your D3 status prior supplementing tryptophan/5 HTP.

2.  Inflammation in the Brain and Stress

Inflammation causes serotonin deficiency depressionThe other known factor that will steer tryptophan down the neurotoxic pathway is elevated levels of inflammation in the brain, in fact it is now known that inflammation in the brain is one of if not the primary driving force causing a variety of mental health problems from depression through OCD to bipolar and schizophrenia. Obviously these are different conditions involving different circuits and regions of the brain but inflammation is now known to be a common denominator in all of these conditions causing a breakdown in the key structures involved in each of these conditions; whether a person will develop one condition or another depends upon genetics, epigenetics and other factors.
Inflammation can come from a variety of courses from infections, injuries and again nutrient deficiencies and each of these has to be corrected and eliminated to get rid of the inflammation pushing tryptophan down the harmful quinolinic acid pathway. From the research it appears however that the most common cause of inflammation in the brain at least with regard to depression is prolonged elevations in stress levels.

Stress blocks serotonin production and promote neurotoxic quinolinic acid production

To be specific when I say stress levels what happens is when increased threat levels are detected by the hypothalamus it sends a hormonal signal to the pituitary which send a hormonal signal to the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol, cortisol easily crosses the blood-brain barrier and in the brain it increases production of cytokines which switch on the brains protective immune inflammation response. If this only happened once in awhile when it was appropriate because we were under danger that would be okay, but when we have chronic over activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal stress pathway (HPA axis) because of chronic increased stress levels, or a history of trauma or simply being born with a highly-strung nervous system so to speak this will cause chronically elevated levels of inflammation.
The hypothalamus can’t tell the difference between real threat and danger or imagined threats and danger, as far as it is concerned it doesn’t matter whether the threat is real because we really are in currently in a real-world dangerous situation or whether the increased threat and stress levels are entirely created in the mind; if the hypothalamus the centre signal that we are under danger it activates the HPA axis.

How do we combat overactivity in our stress physiology promoting the production of neurotoxic quinolinic acid and mental health problems?

The good news is there’s actually a lot we can do to change the way the brain manages stress physiology specifically the HPA axis. The bad news is if there is any is that it does take quite a few hours of work to make significant changes to the way the brain manages stress physiology and when I say a few hours I mean 50 to 100 hours.
One of the simplest and cheapest things you can do which I routinely teach in my practice is to perform 50 hours of deep relaxation brain training exercises to entrain the brain how to switch off the HPA axis and sympathetic nervous system. When we repeatedly do a thing the region of the brain that enables us to do that thing grows and develops, we literally hardwire an improved ability to do that thing, this is one aspect of what is called neuroplasticity it means we get better at doing things the more we do them unfortunately this type of neuroplasticity is a double-edged sword it can develop desirable skills such as having a good memory or playing an instrument but it can equally develop undesirable abilities including continuously activating stress responses.
If you’ve had a prolonged period of stress whether recently or in the past it will have grown and developed the neuro circuits that switch on physical stress response and once developed these enlarged neuro circuits remain even after the stresses gone and potentially even after you think you have resolved your thoughts and feelings about the stressful past in psychotherapy. When this happens the way to combat it is to grow the opposite circuits in the brain that switch off stress physiology so that we become highly skilled at doing this automatically. We can entrain and hardwire this skill into our brain with repeated relaxation brain training, like I said whenever we do a thing repeatedly the brain grows and develops the circuits that enable us to do that thing better and to do that thing automatically. My observation in my practice is it takes 50 hours of this relaxation brain training spread over 3 to 6 months which equates to 20-30 minutes a day to make a therapeutic change to our stress physiology.
If you would like to learn this technique and have me look into your individual case to develop a tailor-made prescription of natural remedies I run a practice in central London and do online consultations via Skype for people that live too far away. For more information click here.
A 2nd technique that you can use to change the way the brain processes stress physiology is meditation, but not all meditations are the same, mindfulness meditation has definitely been the most well researched and proven to have therapeutic effects against depression and anxiety, it also has been shown to reduce inflammation.
Again I recommend performing 50 hours of mindfulness in no less than 3 and no more than 6 months, the time is important because it takes a certain amount of time the neurons to grow so we can’t do too quickly on the one hand but on the other hand the brain does not start to rewire itself if we don’t do a brain training exercise with enough intensity and regularity, if you do your brain training to infrequently and slowly the brain doesn’t recognise it as important and you don’t stimulate neuroplastic change.
Mindfulness meditation classes are not hard to find these days however I believe that the style of mindfulness meditation has become popular is not the ideal type of meditation for people with mental health problems to start with. I write about this elsewhere but briefly the popular style currently being taught is open monitoring mindfulness which allows any and every thought to pass through your mind but for people with depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, OCD and intrusive thoughts when you practice open monitoring mindfulness all too often you become overwhelmed and hijacked by the condition you have. To address this I teach a specific style of mindfulness meditation for people with mental health problems that inhibits the intrusive thoughts and have adapted mindfulness meditation for the specific needs of different mental health problems such as depression versus anxiety.
When properly used meditation can be an incredibly powerful healing tool, it can rebalance over and under activity in the amygdala involved in anxiety and depression, it can improve emotional processing in the cortex, it can stimulate regrowth of lost grey matter in the cortex and hippocampus involved in mental health problems; it can improve resilience to stress, impulse control, reduce inflammation, anxiety and depression and improve sleep. I know this is a big list, don’t get me wrong meditation is not a cure all I’m not selling snake oil here it just promotes multiple surprisingly powerful healing effects in the brain, I’ve never seen anyone completely cure mental health problem with depression alone however I have consistently seen people significantly reduce their mental health problem after 50 hours of meditation brain training.
Meditation for depression and anxiety classes online
If you would like to learn how to use meditation to improve your mental health I teach regular meditation classes most in London and online for more information click here.
Last but by no means least another way to combat excess stress physiology is to remodel your stressful thinking or psychology in our cortex or reactivating stressful and traumatic memories stored in our hippocampus, or over-reactivity in our amygdala inappropriately perceiving threats and danger.
There are a variety of techniques you can use to do this including NLP/hypnotherapy, EMDR therapy, TRE, exposure therapy I will be writing more about these in 2019.
I specialise in treating and coaching people with mental health problems how to obtain better mental health with natural remedies and self-help techniques. If you would like me to look into your individual case and develop a tailor-made programme of natural remedies, dietary advice and brain training exercises I’m available for private consultations at my London clinic and online for people that live too far away.
I also run regular meditation classes in London and online.
Click on the 
bookings tab to make an appointment.
I’m passionate about treating mental health and I’d be very happy to work with you.
  • Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Apr 29;35(3):702-21. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2010.12.017. Epub 2010 Dec 23. The new '5-HT' hypothesis of depression: cell-mediated immune activation induces indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase, which leads to lower plasma tryptophan and an increased synthesis of detrimental tryptophan catabolites (TRYCATs), both of which contribute to the onset of depression. Maes M et al PMID: 21185346 DOI: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2010.12.017
  • Stress. 2008 May;11(3):198-209. doi: 10.1080/10253890701754068. A link between stress and depression: shifts in the balance between the kynurenine and serotonin pathways of tryptophan metabolism and the etiology and pathophysiology of depression. Miura H, et al PMID: 18465467 DOI: 10.1080/10253890701754068.
  • Mol Psychiatry. 2007 Nov;12(11):988-1000. Epub 2007 Apr 24. The immune-mediated alteration of serotonin and glutamate: towards an integrated view of depression. Müller N et al PMID: 17457312 DOI: 10.1038/
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Hi my name is Peter Smith I specialise in treating and coaching people how to live well with mental health problems, digestive health problems/IBS, sleep problems and type II diabetes using natural therapies.
I used these techniques to overcome and live well with my own bipolar disorder and IBS. I've been in practice as a natural medicine practitioner since 1988.

What I Treat

  • Brain Chemistry and Mental Health problems (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, addiction, OCD)
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If you’d like treatment for any of the issues discussed in this article I specialise in treating and coaching people how to obtain better mental health with natural remedies and self-help techniques. If you would like me to look into your individual case and develop a tailor-made programme of natural remedies, dietary advice and brain training exercises I’m available for private consultations and I’m available for private consultations at my London clinic and online for people that live too far away.
I also run regular meditation classes in London and online.
I’m passionate about treating mental health and I’d be very happy to work with you.
Click on the
bookings tab to make an appointment.
To Book an Appointment
At my London clinic please call the Hale clinic reception:
020 7631 0156
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As a general rule improvements are seen within 2-3 appointments so you can quickly know if the treatments are helping you and you are making a good investment.
For a more information about me and what the conditions I treat click here: About About Peter Smith
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