Harvard MD Interview: Neurotransmitter Therapy, Published in New England Journal of Medicine
Mary Beth Ackerley MD is a Harvard and Johns Hopkins trained board certified psychiatrist. Her focus is on natural therapies and emphasizes an integrative approach to wellness. In a recent interview, Dr. Ackerley explores the topics of antidepressants and the effectiveness of amino acid (Neurotransmitter) therapy.
Question: Welcome Dr. Ackerley. As a psychiatrist, what are your thoughts on the effectiveness of antidepressants?
Dr. Ackerley: First, it’s important to understand how antidepressants work. They recirculate neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that are required for mood regulation and hormonal function. The downside is that these drugs are only able to work with neurotransmitters that we currently have in our systems. If we are already depleted we may receive a mild amount of relief but with minimal long term benefit. Since prescription drugs fail to increase levels of neurotransmitters needed for vibrant health a person exists in a deficient state.
Question: Are you saying that antidepressants fail to increase neurotransmitters?
Dr. Ackerley: Yes. Sadly these drugs actually exhaust and deplete neurotransmitters. Antidepressants stimulate the circulation of available neurotransmitters which is why patients initially experience mood elevation. Eventually though, the small pool of neurotransmitters become worn out and no longer function. This is why patients often switch to a different drug to gain relief.
Question: There are a lot of people using antidepressants. Are many of them just treading water and not really getting a whole lot better?
Dr. Ackerley: Unfortunately this is true. Antidepressants act as a safety net that provide initial relief and management of symptoms. Patients are reluctant to stop using them because they are terrified of returning to prior states of hopelessness and despair. And with insurance coverage the incentive to seek alternative programs is low.
Question: This outlook seems rather bleak. Is there a way to find relief from depression?
Dr. Ackerley: Yes there is. Thankfully there is a breakthrough in program that has emerged in the last few years. It is natural, safe, and it fits in with my mission to provide wholesome methods for achieving wellness.
Question: That’s exciting. Why hasn’t this come out sooner?
Dr. Ackerley: Doctors are discovering different concepts of brain chemistry. Our understanding of the role of neurotransmitters has dramatically changed. It is exciting because it means there is much more that can be accomplished in our program of depression. Instead of just recycling low levels of neurotransmitters to attain limited benefits through the use of drugs, we can build higher levels of neurotransmitters with amino acid precursors. This is a radical shift in the program of depression. I am pleased because doctors are able to safely provide beneficial brain nutrients to their patients without the use of harmful drugs.
Question: That is a big accomplishment. How does this actually work?
Dr. Ackerley: Neurotransmitters have many functions in the body. Low levels affect our moods. They also influence appetite signals, hormones, and weight regulation. There is a well known correlation between the use of anti-depressants and weight gain. Some people may gain as much as 15-20 pounds, most likely from neurotransmitter depletion stimulating the appetite. Women are particularly affected by this.
Question: That makes sense. Are you saying this new amino acid therapy helps with weight gain, depression, and hormonal issues all at the same time?
Dr. Ackerley: Exactly. The woman who has hormonal issues, has added unwanted weight, and is depressed from depleted neurotransmitters, has a lot to gain by increasing amino acid levels. In the past researchers have been aware of this requirement so this is not new but the breakthrough came from understanding the hierarchy in the biochemical chain that creates neurotransmitter production. By supplying the right balance of amino acid precursors and co-factors we can increase the available pool of neurotransmitters. Drugs that treat conditions like Parkinson’s disease have side effects because they end up tipping the ratios of neurotransmitters. It is important to maintain the right proportion.
Question: Are you saying that this new protocol is a way to supply the right precursors to make the essential neurotransmitters which operate our many biological systems?
Dr. Ackerley: That’s correct. The precursors are part of the equation. However, there are two things required to get everything working properly. First, neurotransmitters need vitamins, minerals and other precursors to come alive and do their job. Secondly, they need to be in the right ratios otherwise, they can’t work properly. That’s the key to this protocol. Once balance is established hormones are regulated, we lose weight, mood is stabilized and other things like PMS disappear.
Question: That’s remarkable since it helps a number of different conditions. So then why isn’t this better known?
Dr. Ackerley: Up until recently little attention has been paid to naturally replenishing neurotransmitters because the mechanisms were not well understood. So we are just catching up to this now. With Parkinson’s disease we know that dopamine helps to regulate and calm down hand tremors. Giving the patient dopamine helps with the tremor but the side effect is depression because the serotonin levels are thrown out of whack. When serotonin and dopamine levels are supplied in the right ratios with amino acid therapy, depression is no longer an issue, and hand tremors disappear. This is saner than combating isolated symptoms with drugs, creating another side effect, and then combating the imbalance with more drugs. I believe medicine will make more headway when it focuses on the cause of illness instead of various stray symptoms.
Question: It seems this could have broader benefits. What other conditions can be helped by amino acid therapy?
Dr. Ackerley: There are many applications. We know that obesity is quickly on the rise in our population. Obesity has many interrelated deleterious effects. It affects the heart, leads to diabetes, stresses our joints, and reduces productivity and enjoyment of life. The use of amino acid therapy has been shown to reverse diabetes.
Question: Wait a minute. This is a revolutionary statement. Is there any evidence of this?
Dr. Ackerley: There are over 1.4 million patient hours recorded on a database at the University of Minnesota. This is the single largest database they have ever seen. It clearly shows that amino acid therapy leads to safe and effective weight loss. Weight is a well known requirement that diabetics need to stabilize and reduce in order to halt insulin dependence.
Question: Did they receive media attention for this breakthrough?
Dr. Ackerley: No, often this sort of thing happens with little publicity. Humanity is moving forward all the time. It is evolving, changing and growing. We learn new information each day. Eventually it filters out to the greater population and then it receives more attention. Right now I am pleased to know there is more room for advancement in the realm of healing and that this new method holds so much promise.