In this episode, I am speaking with Trudy Scott who is a “food and mood” expert, as well as a qualified nutritionist. She educates individuals suffering from anxiety about nutritional solutions for anxiety. She is the author of a range of books on this topic and is also the host of the Anxiety Summit.
Table of Contents
In this Podcast, Trudy and I discuss:
- How neurotransmitter dysfunction may be the root cause of your anxiety
- How neurotransmitter support like GABA, Tryptophan, 5HTP supplements might work to resolve anxiety
- How this support makes it easier to modify our addictive habits and cravings
- Is amino acid testing useful or valid (and is it the best place to start)?
- How does this approach compare with SSRI antidepressant drugs?
- When and how much melatonin might be beneficial?
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Ari: Hey there. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I am here now with Trudy Scott, who is a food and mood expert, and nutritionist. She educates anxious individuals about nutritional solutions for anxiety. She’s known for her expertise in the use of targeted individual amino acids, offering hope and immediate relief from anxiety so other underlying root causes and dietary changes can be addressed with ease: the social anxiety condition, Pyroluria, and the harmful effects of benzodiazepines.
Trudy is the author of The Antianxiety Food Solution: How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings, and host of the Anxiety Summit, an online educational platform for consumers and health professionals. And she is dubbed a bouquet of hope. I love that. It’s
very cute. She educates health professionals via the Anxiety Nutrition Institute, sharing current research and practical how-to steps.
She’s passionate about sharing the powerful food-mood connection because she experienced the results firsthand, finding complete resolution of her anxiety and panic attacks. So I’m super excited to get into this. I’ve been meaning to interview you for a very long time, Trudy, and I’m glad we’re finally making it happen. So you have a lot of novel approaches to the topic of mood via nutrition and supplementation. And just for context, this is something that, in one hand, is a very common-sense everyday experience, but maybe not everybody connects the dots. Mood and energy are both these subjective phenomena that we feel, and they’re really hard to quantify. And they’re very much overlapping.
How amino acids can be used to treat anxiety
So mood and energy are extremely interrelated, and things that optimize mood generally also optimize energy, and things that destroy the mood, especially things like anxiety and stress and fear, are absolute energy destroyers. And it’s the major cause of fatigue for a segment of people with chronic fatigue. So I think this information is extremely important and has the capacity to be very powerful for a sizeable segment of people dealing with fatigue. So first of all, give us a quick overview on amino acids and how they can be used in the context of dealing with anxiety, sleep, energy, and mood optimization?
Trudy: So, this is just one area to focus on, and it’s an area that I focus on with my clients. And it’s using amino acid as a supplement to boost your own levels of neurotransmitters. And in the context of this summit, which is energy, we want to have good energy, and there’s a specific amino acid — there’s one specific amino acid — that can actually boost energy. But there’s also two that I use that can help with the mood aspect, the anxiety aspect, the low mood, which will help with sleep as well. So if you’re not sleeping well, that’s going to drain your energy as well. So other than the aspect of what you just mentioned, when you have a terrible fear, you have terrible anxiety, you’re worrying all the time, which is energy-draining, if you’re not sleeping well, that’s also going to impact your energy levels.
And I got into this because of my own anxiety, and my own panic attacks. And I remember that first panic attack coming out of what seemed like the blue, I had no idea what it was. I’ve never experienced anxiety before. I was an adventurer, traveled around the world. I was a rock climber. I met my husband on a cliff face. We got married in the mountains after climbing. I wouldn’t have considered myself an anxious, timid kind of person, but because of biochemistry, because of food sensitivities, because of toxins, because of some dietary changes that I made, I messed up my biochemistry, and it caused the anxiety and panic attacks. And that first panic attack hit me. And I couldn’t breathe. I was hyperventilating. I got to get some air. I’ve got to get some oxygen, help. What’s going on?
And I just remember being absolutely drained afterward, and not knowing what was going on. And then I had a few more panic attacks, and every time it’s draining, and it’s exhausting. And then it took me a number of years to find all the solutions, but just that ongoing anxiety is terribly draining. The feeling of waking in the early hours with this feeling of doom and not being able to put your finger on it. Why am I feeling this feeling of doom? There’s nothing out there. There’s no trauma. There’s no reason for feeling like this. And you just have this feeling of impending doom. And that in itself is very draining. And then for some folks, if it’s low serotonin, and we will go into all of these different categories as we go through this, but for some folks, itching and replaying a discussion they’ve had with someone or replaying some article that they’ve read that they worried about and all of that is very draining.
So there’s many different aspects, and you’re right. It’s very subjective. Some people won’t even use the word anxiety. They’ll just say I just don’t feel normal. And then a lot of people will say, I’ve been like this my whole life. I didn’t know I could feel any different. So it is very subjective, but we want to feel our absolute best. So going back to the question, we use these targeted individual amino acids. So we’re using one at a time. They’re targeted. They’re used for your own unique biochemistry, and they are used — you don’t just say take 500 milligrams of tryptophan, and then you’re fine. You need to find out what are your unique needs because each person may have different needs. Someone may need more; someone may need it more frequently. And then we titrate.
So we’ll start low. And I’ll talk about dosing and everything as we go through this, but you start low based on your symptoms. And then you increase based on your needs. And then if you get to a point where you don’t need that, then you back down. Now, for me, I call myself a GABA girl. GABA was my amino acid that really helped me. I also use tryptophan. And we’ll talk about those in a second, but the main thing is the amino acids give results very quickly. So you will get relief pretty quickly. If you have low GABA, if you have low serotonin, if you have low catecholamines, which is the energy, the one that’s really to tied to energy, you will get relief from those symptoms. And then you can address some of these other underlying root causes that may have caused
the low neurotransmitters in the first place, maybe gluten sensitivity, parasites, heavy metals, you name it.
So it gives people hope. It gives them results right away. The other thing which is really nice, Ari, is that it helps stop that addiction. It helps stop those cravings. And if someone’s feeling really bad, they’ve got no energy, they can’t sleep, they’ve got anxiety, and now you’re telling them to take away foods that they love, that they self-medicated with, that they use to feel good, that can be difficult. So the other great benefit of the amino acids is it helps break that addiction. It helps remove that comfort, that need for reward, that need for comfort eating. So it makes it easier to quit the sugar. It makes it easier to quit the gluten or whatever else needs to be changed in terms of dietary changes.
Ari: Got you. So I have a question. This is something that I’ve tried to look into. I have not gotten a clear answer to it, and there seems to be, as far as I can tell, somewhat divergent opinions among experts. And that is the use of these individual amino acids. If somebody is eating an otherwise amino acid sufficient diet and protein sufficient diet and say has adequate amounts of tryptophan and taurine, and many of the other amino acids that are often precursors of neurotransmitters, in those cases, is there a unique benefit or a different mode of action of using these amino acids in isolation?
Trudy: That’s a good question. And it comes down to each person’s needs. So someone may be eating beautiful grass-fed red meat and wild salmon, but maybe they don’t have enough hydrochloric acid. So they’re not breaking down the protein. So they’re not getting the benefits of those amino acids, or maybe someone has some kind of a genetic polymorphism like MTHFR, and it’s expressing, and therefore, they’re not able to make their serotonin.
And we know that hormones play a huge role. They are very intertwined with the neurotransmitters. So maybe you’ve got low progesterone, and that’s going to affect your GABA levels. Or you’ve got low estrogen, and that’s going to affect your serotonin levels. We know women make less serotonin than men. So there’s that aspect as well. If someone’s on the birth control pill, for example, that’s going to deplete your B6. It’s going to deplete zinc levels, which has a direct impact on serotonin levels.
So even if someone is eating a perfect diet, there are all of these other factors that could lower the neurotransmitter levels. Now, the ideal is to get someone to use the neurotransmitter precursors, the amino acids to start boosting their levels. But then we want to address all of these underlying factors. We can’t just say, well, just supplement and not do all that other changes. And I’ve had some people who seem to be eating a really healthy diet, and they still benefit from the neurotransmitter support. So it is very unique, but it’s a yeah, great point.
How to use amino acids for optimal solutions
Ari: Is there any research to show that let’s say taking isolated amino acids on an empty stomach, not in the context of a meal, are metabolized in a different way than they would be in the context of a meal?
Trudy: Yes, absolutely. They all should be used on an empty stomach, so they’re taken away from protein. So it doesn’t compete for absorption with the other amino acids in that protein-containing food. Now, there are a few little variations. Tryptophan, which supports serotonin levels, definitely needs to be taken away from protein-containing foods. 5-HTP, which also supports serotonin doesn’t necessarily need to be, but just for ease of use, it’s just easier for folks to just take it away from protein-containing food. Yeah, so definitely, it does make a difference. And the ideal is to take it away from protein.
Ari: Well, so what specifically is going on there? How do we explain that? Is it that like proteins, amino acids in the context of a meal are more likely to be involved in protein synthesis, whereas the isolated amino acids are more likely to go to the brain for neurotransmitter support? How does that work?
Trudy: I don’t think we really know. Some of it’s going to the brain; some of it’s impacting the gut. We know that the microbiome has a huge impact. We know we make a lot of serotonin in the gut, and we know that serotonin support helps with motility. So maybe it’s helping with the synthesis in the gut as well. Maybe some of it’s going into the brain. So we don’t have all the answers certainly with GABA. We don’t really know. There’s a big myth that GABA doesn’t even work. A lot of people will say, well, GABA doesn’t even work. It doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier, but we know we have these receptors in other parts of the body. And with GABA, it’s more physical tension. And when people use GABA, they’ll just feel this sort of physical tension ease.
So it may be that it’s affecting receptors in other parts of the body. So yeah, we don’t have all the answers. The exciting thing is, though, that I can have someone look at this questionnaire of symptoms for each of the different neurotransmitter deficiencies. Say, yes, I have these symptoms. Try one of these amino acids and feel relief. So it’s pretty simple in terms of assessing if you may have an issue, and then doing a trial and seeing the results. Now, there are some testing that can be done, and there’s some controversy around those, and I’d be happy to answer any questions if you’ve got questions around those. Some people will do neurotransmitter — sorry, amino acid testing. I don’t find that particularly helpful, or maybe not, I should say, maybe not necessary.
There’s urinary neurotransmitter testing. And I have not seen that to correlate 100% with someone relating to the symptoms and then doing a trial and seeing benefits. There is platelet testing for serotonin and for the catecholamines. And that seems to correlate more closely with looking at cerebral spinal fluid, which is supposedly the gold standard, but obviously, not everyone’s going to be able to measure that. So just the easiest way that I find is to look at the symptoms in each of the areas and do a trial and see if it works.
Ari: Yeah, there are a number of areas where this case and fatigue is one of them as well, where it seems almost primitive because you would think like, oh, there’s all these cutting-edge tests available. You can do neurotransmitter tests, and you can do this test and that test. But when you actually speak to clinicians who are on the front lines, who have done hundreds or thousands of these tests, you realize that the tests often don’t correlate that well and are not very explanatory, and there’s questions inaccuracies.
And how much does do urinary transmitter levels indicate what’s going on in the brain as opposed to what’s going on after lots and lots of metabolic reactions, biochemical reactions, what’s then getting expelled into the urine. It’s very complex, and it’s kind of counter-intuitive that the seemingly very primitive thing of just asking somebody what their symptoms are and kind of having an idea of what those symptoms match up with, as far as what treatments are likely to be beneficial, is more advanced and more accurate than doing all the testing.
Trudy: Yes. And it’s interesting because I’m in favor of functional testing. I mean, there’s a lot that we can do, but we also have to look at people’s symptoms. We can’t just use the testing. So I think there’s — I’m not saying there’s no place for testing. Just in this area, it just doesn’t — The work that I do and how effective it is, is working. And there is a place —
Ari: There are many things we do have good tests for.
Trudy: Oh, yeah. But going back to the neurotransmitter testing, I did work in a clinic, and they were at one time we had someone come in who was pregnant and on a lot of medications and the technician said, let’s get the blood testing of serotonin because we wanted to talk to the doctor to say there’s a place here for serotonin support, and the doctor was concerned about doing it while she was pregnant. So there is definitely a place for some of the neurotransmitter testing, but yeah, we’re on the same page about testing, I think.
The key neurotransmitters to support for anxiety
Ari: Okay. So talk to me about the key neurotransmitters, and I’m sure you could talk — you could answer this question with a two-hour answer if you wanted to, but if you could do a very succinct sort of rundown of what are the key neurotransmitters for people to be aware of, and what are a few of the symptoms or sort of traits associated with those neurotransmitters?
Trudy: Okay, let’s start with the low GABA. So with low GABA — GABA stands for gamma-Aminobutyric acid, and it’s our calming neurotransmitter. And it’s with the low GABA; you will feel anxiety. You may have panic attacks; you may have some fear. There’s some new research that talks about how it helps with the inhibition of unwanted thoughts. So most of the time we think of low serotonin when we think about that sort of thinking aspect, but there is some new research showing that GABA can help with having these sort of thoughts that you don’t want.
But the main thing when I think about low GABA I think about the physical change. And so, people will be sitting with these tense shoulders, tense tension in the neck. They may have physical pain in other parts of the body. They may lie awake at night. So sleep is a big issue with low GABA. Sorry, problems with sleep is a big issue, and this lying in bed physically tense.
And then the other thing that we see MOTC with all of the low neurotransmitters is this addiction aspect, and this needs to self-medicate. And the big clue with low GABA often it’s alcohol. At the end of the day, I’ve just got to have that glass of wine, and it becomes two glasses, three glasses, four glasses, a bottle. You’re self-medicating in order to feel calm. And there’s an issue in itself with alcohol in terms of energy levels. It can actually make you sleep worse. But it’s used like a drug. It’s used to self-medicate to feel good, but the problems with alcohol, depletion of zinc, magnesium, B6, it damages the gut lining. So that’s not something that we want to be relying on. So we’ve got these symptoms.
We look at the symptoms that I’ve just described, the physical anxiety, the needing for alcohol, or something. Sometimes people will use sugar to relax. Using something to relax and then there’s physical tension. I’ll have my clients rate their symptoms on a scale of one to 10, and then we’ll trial some GABA.
We’ll use a GABA supplement. Now, a lot of people will hear about GABA. They’ll rush out and buy 500 milligrams or 750 milligrams. And that’s way too high for most people to start.
So the starting dose I’ll use is 125 milligrams. And I’ll do a trial there and then with my client so we can get immediate feedback. You get feedback within five minutes if you haven’t eaten. So I’ll say before we meet, don’t eat within an hour before we meet, and I’ll do this trial of GABA, and they might say I’m feeling anxious, and I’ve got this physical tension. It’s like an eight or nine out of 10, and we’ll try the GABA. And they can say within five minutes, oh, that felt like a glass of wine.
That’s the feeling we’re looking for. A lot of people can relate to that feeling, and they can feel immediate relaxation. And it can go down from an eight or nine out of 10 to maybe a six or seven. For some people, it may go down to four or five out of 10, depending on how much they need. Some people may need to bump that up, to double that, in that same trial to see, okay, my starting dose is not actually 125. It’s a little bit higher. And then we will have them dose that when they need it through the day. GABA is used through the day in between meals. And then also at night. Now, a lot of people will need higher amounts at night to help them sleep, and they’re going to have a restful sleep. And then they’re going to have better energy through the rest of the day.
And I mentioned earlier about the whole GABA blood-brain barrier issue. There is more and more research. It’s not as much research as we would like, but we are seeing more and more research. A recent paper came out looking at GABA and theanine and how that improves sleep. And this is a combination. So some people do well just on GABA. Others will add in a little bit of theanine as well. But the synergistic effect of those two can help. Now, keep in mind with the anxiety and with the sleep issues, it may not just be low GABA. It could also be low serotonin, and I can go into low serotonin now, but I’m going to pause here and see if you’ve got any questions from me on GABA.
Ari: Yeah, I know you mentioned something about GABA and immunity and immune function. Do you want to talk about that briefly?
Trudy: Yeah. And I think in the latter of the pandemic, and just for immunity in general, it’s very useful to know firstly that having a good sleep definitely has an impact on your immune system. And so, if we can improve sleep with an amino acid-like GABA or tryptophan, we’re going to get those indirect benefits for immunity. But there are few papers that actually talk specifically about immunity when it comes to some of these amino acids, and there was one paper.
And the problem with some of these GABA papers, they are published by the company that makes the GABA. So we have got that issue that we need to keep in mind, but this paper called Relaxation and Immunity Enhancement Effects of GABA Administration in Humans, they found that it could work effectively as a natural relaxant. Its effects could be seen within an hour of administration, and in this particular trial, they had people swallowing it.
So using the amino acids swallowed takes longer to get the results. What I didn’t mention is I’ll have people use it sublingually when we’re doing the trial, and then we’ll get results very quickly. But in this paper that also said the GABA administration could enhance immunity under stress conditions. And then there’s a similar paper looking at theanine saying that theanine can actually decrease the incidents of upper respiratory tract infection symptoms by enhancing Gamma delta T lymphocyte function. So it’s pretty interesting to see that as well as helping sleep and anxiety, that we could be having an improvement on the immune system as well.
Ari: So I’m sure you’re familiar with Datis Kharrazian and in his book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working that he wrote what is maybe ten years ago at this point. She said something to the effect if I’m remembering correctly, about GABA being used as a test for leaky blood-brain barrier. And in the context that if you take GABA, and you have some kind of negative reaction to it, that’s indicative of a leaky blood-brain barrier because GABA shouldn’t be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. So it sounds like you do not agree with that. And it sounds like this idea that GABA cannot penetrate the blood-brain barrier seems to be not correct. Is that right?
Trudy: Yes. And I have had a professional difference of opinion with Dr. Kharrazian, who I highly respect. I absolutely adore him and the work that he does, and I’ve been pretty vocal about this over the years. And I actually attended one of his courses recently and had an opportunity to converse with them about it, and then interviewed him in the last Anxiety Summit and asked him if we could talk about this specifically because it’s something that he’s written about a lot. And a lot of practitioners and consumers will question me about it. It’s probably the most common question that I get from every single person. And he was very gracious. He said, yes, it’s good that we challenge each other. And we ask these questions, and he said he came forward with that as a theory and there no research supporting it.
And it was a theory that he had. And just to recap, it’s very high doses 2000 to 3000 milligrams of GABA. And if you’ve noticed something, the theory is that you have a leaky blood-brain barrier. And I have had my — the way that I put it is if you take too much of these amino acids, you can have an opposite effect. So is it that that’s causing an issue? Is there a leaky blood-brain barrier? Is it indicating that? Maybe, we just don’t know.
I’ve been gathering the research on GABA for ten years now, and there are papers that say, we don’t really know how it works. There are some theories. I mentioned the receptors in other parts of the body. There’s other methods that it may get into the brain. Does it even get into the brain? We don’t really know. Is it the vagus nerve? Is it the gut? So we don’t know, but yes, I’m glad you asked that question because it’s a common one that I get asked.
Ari: Right. Yeah. And you alluded to my next question there, which is there good evidence to support the ingested GABA interacting directly with the brain? Or do you think it’s more likely that it’s going in the gut interacting with receptors there in the vagus nerve and then modulating the nervous system via the gut interaction?
Trudy: I think it’s all of the above, yeah. And we know that there’s research showing that ingestion of GABA supports visceral pain. So if someone’s got SIBO, and they’ve got bloating, and they’ve got that terrible pain, it can help there as well. So it can help in many levels. And we know then if someone’s in pain, that’s going to affect their sleep. It’s going to affect the energy levels.
So yeah, there’s many different ways that it’s working, and we don’t really know. It’s so exciting to be working in this field because there is so much to learn, and I get to learn from other practitioners. And from my community. My community’s amazing. There are the most amazing questions, and I get to learn from them as well. So yeah, we’re still learning. The great thing is that it does help, and these aminos are pretty amazing.
Ari: Nice. So next neurotransmitter, let’s talk about serotonin. So what are the sort of symptoms and traits that would be associated with deficiencies in this neurotransmitter?
Trudy: So, with low serotonin, there’s also anxiety. There’s also this worry. I mentioned the ruminations, the rethinking, the sleep problems also very common. The main thing with low serotonin compared to the low GABA is it’s in the head more so than GABA. The worry, the panic, the fear, the phobias, anyone who’s having panic attacks, classically it’s low serotonin. These other symptoms that we may not think about as being mood issues like imposter syndrome. That sort of lack of confidence. The feeling like who am I to be doing this? The irritability, anger issues.
I’ve worked with a number of kids with terrible explosive anger issues and sugar cravings and sleep problems. And they turn out to be low serotonin. The winter blues that’s very common and related to low serotonin. Serotonin taking a dip in the wintertime. And there’s actually one paper showing that there’s winter anxiety as well.
More people can be more anxious in the winter because of serotonin taking a dip. PMS and then, of course, as with all the neurotransmitter deficiencies, this need to self-medicate with something usually carbohydrates with serotonin, but that’s not always the case. It could be alcohol, but it’s typically carbs. And with low serotonin, the clue that it’s a low serotonin craving or addiction is that it tends to be late afternoon or evening. And that’s when serotonin takes a dip. So if you’re having those kinds of carbs, that could be a clue that it’s low serotonin. And again, I have my clients rate their symptoms on a scale of one to 10. We’ll do a trial of other tryptophan or 5-HTP. And I’ll tell you in a second when I use one versus the other, but again, it’s used sublingually in the trial.
So opening up a capsule as a starting dose for tryptophan is 500 milligrams for tryptophan. For 5-HTP, it’s 50 milligrams, but opening up that capsule and putting it on the tongue to get those results right away. Once someone’s figured out, do I need a tryptophan, or do I need GABA? Using them sublingually, I have found is the most effective way. Some of them don’t taste that good. The tryptophan is pretty bitter. That can be used with a little bit of an acetyl or may be mixed into a little bit of mashed up banana, or apple sauce can help with the taste. But a lot of people just get used to it because they get such good benefits. And I think some of the benefits using it sublingually, firstly, it’s getting into the system very quickly.
But the other thing is if some people have digestive issues, it may be that it’s helping in that aspect as well. Say someone rates his symptoms on a scale of one to 10. We’ll trial the amino acid, and then we’ll see how quickly they get results. Now we know that yes, low serotonin is something we need to be thinking about. And the timing for tryptophan or 5-HTP supplements are midafternoon because that’s when serotonin starts to go down and then in the evening, and maybe someone may need more in the evening if they’ve got the sleep problems — and then tying this back to energy levels. If you are obviously not having this worry, this constant worry, that’s going to help with your energy levels. But if you’re sleeping better, then that’s going to obviously help with your energy levels as well.
Now, there is more. I said I’ll tell you when I use tryptophan versus 5-HTP. So I typically start with tryptophan. There is some controversy. Some people are not big fans of tryptophan. There are concerns that it may go down the wrong pathway and cause problems. I have not seen that to be an issue. I use tryptophan just because I’ve had good results with it, but they are some instances where some people do better on one versus the other. So if tryptophan doesn’t work, we’ll switch to 5-HTP. There is one study that showed that 5-HTP can raise cortisol levels. So if someone does have high cortisol, I would be cautious, but I have actually had some people where their cortisol is high, and they get on 5-HTP, and they do great. So it is really a matter of doing a trial and seeing how you do. Most of the research in this area is with 5-HTP.
We’ve got a lot of studies on 5-HTP and fibromyalgia, 5-HTP and pain, 5-HTP, and insomnia, but because they are both supporting serotonin, we can extrapolate to tryptophan as well. One very nice study on tryptophan helping with PMS, it was a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. So we do have some tryptophan research, but the main thing is that people get results, and it works. I love the research, and I love to quote the research and show that there is research, but I also am a big fan of showing what works. One study that I did want to quote in this area is a study — It was actually using caffeinated fruit flies. Can you imagine all of these little fruit flies buzzing around after having being given caffeine, but they used fruit flies to show how this combination of GABA and 5-HTP had these neuromodulation effects.
And the interesting thing, which I didn’t realize until I read the study, is that the circadian regulation in fruit flies is comparable to those in mammals when you’re looking at sleep research. So I thought that was pretty interesting. So I’m guessing that’s why they chose the fruit flies, but they found that using this combination of GABA and 5-HTP modulates subjective nighttime activity, sleep episodes, and the total duration of subjective nighttime sleep to a great extent than a single administration of each amino acid. And this occurs via GABA and serotonin signaling. Now, I love studies like this and this particular one, it showed the combination was more effective, but keep in mind, each person has their own unique biochemistry. Some people do great with GABA on its own. Some need GABA and theanine. Some do fine with GABA and tryptophan, so it’s a matter of figuring out what’s going to work for each person.
Ari: Got you. Is it just a personal preference issue which one works better, or do you have some specific symptoms or traits that determine whether you use 5-HTP or tryptophan?
Trudy: It’s a personal preference. I had a lot of good results with tryptophan, so I start with it. I know some other practitioners start with, prefer to start with 5-HTP, and then go to tryptophan. So that’s what worked for me, and that’s what I continue to do. Yeah, it is the issue of tryptophan possibly converting to quinolinic acid. I know Dr. Shaw from Great Plains is not a fan of tryptophan for that reason. He’s very against tryptophan for that reason.
Ari: It converts to what acid?
Trudy: Quinolinic acid, which can be a problem. There’s a lot of research, as you know, on quinolinic acid and Alzheimer’s and it’s neuroinflammatory. I have not seen it to be an issue. They’ve got a marker on their organic acid test that shows high quinolinic acid levels. And they say, if it’s high, don’t use tryptophan. I’ve had people come into me that didn’t know they had high levels on their test — used tryptophan with success. And then after the fact found it. So I’m not sure if it is an actual concern. There is some research showing that if you’ve got sufficient levels of vitamin B6, that can prevent that tryptophan going down the wrong pathway, and it can be used to make serotonin. And then, of course, once you’ve got good serotonin levels, that’s going to help us make melatonin, which helps us sleep as well.
Ari: Got you. I want to get to that in a second because the melatonin relates to the serotonin, as you said. Serotonin is this most famous neurotransmitter. Everyone knows about serotonin, and everybody knows depression. The narrative that big pharma has promoted depression is a chemical imbalance. Depression is a serotonin deficiency.
We need specific serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant drugs and my understanding of things, and I’m sure you’ve delved into this much deeper than I have, but my understanding of things is there definitely is research linking serotonin imbalances to depression and mood disturbances. And yet there’s also research showing that these SSRI antidepressant drugs are often no better than placebo. What is your take on that? Is it that the drugs don’t work, or is it that long-term versus short term, the body makes adaptations, or what’s your take on why those two things can both be the case?
Trudy: So a lot of people will use that argument that it’s not a brain chemical imbalance, and I think it’s possibly because of an aversion to maybe using medication. So there’s that part. It’ll be often functional medicine practitioners or nutritionists. And then we do know that with the SSRIs, that a small subset of people responds to SSRIs, and it’s often a short-term benefit. And then, over time, they might start to get a lot of side effects. And a lot of people will come to work with me because they want to stop using the SSRIs. And I do work with people who are wanting to taper from the SSRIs. I work in conjunction with the doctor and make sure that the doctor’s onboard and that we first support them nutritionally before we even consider a taper, but it’s always working with the doctor and the doctors monitoring them.
But the problem is with the side effects, and they are some people who are on SSRIs on the long-term, and they do great. So I don’t want to just say SSRIs are bad, but they are the — so it’s a difficult question to answer. I think the main thing is not to say because of people saying that the SSRI research is making that connection, and now we must say, we just need to throw that whole theory out. I believe there’s definitely that connection. The problem is for some people; these SSRIs are working. For some, they’re not. And then for others, we’re getting all these side effects. I hope I answered that, okay. I wasn’t sure. That’s okay.
How melatonin affects energy levels
Ari: Yeah, that’s great. So what about melatonin? This obviously connects to serotonin — if you don’t have enough serotonin theoretically, this could result in low melatonin levels. I’m well versed in the science around light exposure. And so light relates very strongly as you alluded to with the seasonal thing with wintertime — we get low serotonin. Very much relates to light, and we know that light therapy raises serotonin levels.
And it does so through multiple pathways directly in the brain and through skin pathway as well. And that light exposure during the day relates to melatonin later in the evening. So that’s my angle and how I’ve kind of approached the literature. You’ve approached it from a different angle with a heavy emphasis on nutrition and supplementation. So I’m curious about your take on melatonin and how to optimize it.
Trudy: Yes. Before I say anything about that, I just want to say I love everything that you talk about when it comes to the circadian rhythm. And it’s really interesting. Every time you talk about it, I get in and listen, and I always learn something new. So it’s great. I think it’s so amazing how we can tackle things from different angles. And some people may just need to do what you talk about, and others may need to do something else or maybe do a combination and get even better benefits.
Ari: Yeah. I’m a fan of like the more you do, the better.
Trudy: Yeah, absolutely. And the more we can learn from each other, it helps me understand some of the mechanisms when I listen to you. So yeah, that’s really great.
Ari: The feeling is mutual. That’s why I’m here interviewing you.
Trudy: So with the melatonin, I think it’s an amazing nutrient. We know it’s an antioxidant. It’s used in cancer treatment. With as far as coronavirus, it’s actually shown to be very beneficial as well. There was actually a paper that came out: Melatonin As a Potential Edge on Treatment. And in this paper, they talk about melatonin being effective in critical care patients by reducing vessel permeability, anxiety, sedation use, improving sleep quality, and it may be beneficial for clinical outcomes for COVID-19 patients. Notably, melatonin has a higher safety profile. So from that point of view, I’m probably more and more excited about melatonin than I typically am. In the past, I would use serotonin support, which would then have a trickle-down effect and help with making melatonin. So in the past, in the recent past, I would have people use tryptophan.
We do a trial. If they’re not doing great on the dose that we start at, we would increase and go up and up and up until we get added benefits — doing tryptophan mid-afternoon, doing some at night, a little bit more if someone has problems sleeping. You can actually use tryptophan during the night if someone wakes up, and that can help.
And then if that’s not working as well as we would expect, switch to 5-HTP, and then if that’s not enough, add in melatonin. And then using sublingual melatonin for helping someone fall asleep and then using a torn release for someone who’s waking in the night, but based on some of the recent research, certainly based on this COVID-19 research, I’m thinking that a lot of people could benefit from melatonin a lot of the time anyway. So I’m a big fan of it. And I think it’s something that we should be looking at more closely.
Ari: Yeah, absolutely. I agree. I think also you know optimizing our internal production of it and then maybe also using it as a supplement is important. I think most people don’t do enough to optimize their own internal production of melatonin via optimizing circadian rhythm and nutrition and light exposure. But once you have that foundation in place, using melatonin is great. I use micro-doses a lot. And this is an interesting thing that I’ve found — that I’ve actually done polls in my audience about this — because I’m typically not hypersensitive to most things, most types of supplements, but melatonin I am extremely sensitive to. So what I’ve found is that when I do normal, if I’ve tried to supplement with like a typical 3-milligram dose of melatonin, it absolutely really disturbs my sleep profoundly. Not only makes me groggy the next day, but I sleep very poorly from it.
Usually, like wake up 2, 3:00 a.m., then I can’t sleep. So I first did a poll and figured out. I asked other people if they experienced that. And it seems from what I discerned pulling about a thousand people, like 20% or 25% of people are like me. They’re extremely sensitive to even the typical sort of standarddose in supplement form. And then, upon further digging, I realized that our physiological dose of melatonin that our brain produces is more like 300 micrograms per night, which is one-tenth of the typical amount in supplemental form. And oftentimes, they have five, seven, 10-milligram melatonin supplements, which are orders of magnitude greater than how much our brain naturally produces each night.
And so, for me, at least my interpretation is — Well, I should say one more thing. When I use microdoses on par with a physiological dose, 100 to 300 micrograms, not milligrams, micrograms, that it enhances my sleep, and I only get a benefit from it without any downsides. So my interpretation of this is for at least some people staying in the tighter physiological — closer to the natural physiological range — seems to be more reliable in generating benefits without side effects. And then for other people, it seems they can get great effects from 5, 10, 20-milligram doses.
Trudy: That’s very interesting. So I’ve got a question about this, but I love doing these interviews because I get to learn, too. When you’re using those macro gram doses, are you using like a liquid?
Trudy: Okay. And I’m glad you brought this up because actually, I posted on Facebook in my community recently, and someone said they feel terrible with melatonin, and it goes back to biochemical individuality. And it could be that you are optimizing everything else with all the other methods that you use. So maybe you do need smaller doses. I’m curious on your thoughts in a situation like if someone did have a viral infection, do you think that their needs may go up? Do you think it’s changing when you’re sick? Because I know with Nalini Chilkov, she uses 50 milligrams of melatonin working with someone with cancer.
Ari: Yeah. I think it’s really interesting. I’ve done a deep dive in the literature on melatonin, and there are studies, quite a lot of studies actually, showing remarkable benefits for cancers, for neurological diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, all kinds of things with huge doses, 30, 40, 50, 60-milligram doses a day. And I think in the context of an acute viral infection, it may very well be the case.
Big doses of melatonin could be massively beneficial. I think the tricky part is with people like me who have their sleep disturbed from the larger doses, you then get into this — okay, well, you have to weigh the pros and cons and like what are the benefits of melatonin by itself? But if it’s disturbing your sleep, now you’re missing out on sleep, which itself is extremely important for proper immune function.
So I think where you want to arrive at is you want to arrive at use of melatonin that allows you to get the benefits you can get in the context of a viral infection at the highest dose possible that does not disturb your sleep. That’s how I would summarize that. But it’s all speculative. There’s no randomized study. It’s possible, I guess, theoretically, that taking a 60milligram dose might be the best, even if it does disturb your sleep, or taking a tiny dose might be better if it ends up leading to much better sleep.
Trudy: Yeah, good. Well, I’m glad we had this discussion because I think it’s valuable. It’s really important. The other thing that I wanted to mention in the study is that they talked about it helps reduce sedation use, and what we didn’t talk about yet were benzodiazepines. I know with coronavirus, a lot of people that have been put on ventilators, which they’re now finding possibly is not being the best thing for a lot of people. But when someone is put on a ventilator, they are sedated. So they are given two or three benzodiazepines, which is something that no one’s really been talking about, but then if someone’s on a ventilator for three weeks or six weeks, they’re now being on these medications, which are highly addictive. Tolerance pulls up, so they need more and more, and now they come off the ventilators, and now what’s going to happen?
I don’t know if people are being told they need to taper slowly, or are they getting all these withdrawal symptoms when they get off the ventilator. So if melatonin can help prevent some of that, obviously if they’re going to have to get under — if they’re put on a ventilator, they are going to be given benzodiazepines. But I’m a big fan of educating about the benzodiazepines. And I’m concerned about this particular aspect. And so, it’s exciting to see that melatonin can prevent that because a lot of people who have anxiety outside of what’s going on at the moment — a lot of people have anxiety and sleep problems are prescribed benzodiazepines, and they are meant to be prescribed short-term maximum two weeks, but even two weeks can start to cause problems. So I just want to put that one out there.
How “energizing neurotransmitters” relate to fatigue and energy levels
Ari: Yeah. Thank you for mentioning that. I think it’s important. So I want to talk about neurotransmitters that directly relate — I guess they all relate to mood and energy indirectly, if not directly, but this sort of “energizing neurotransmitters” and what can be done to optimize those. So catecholamines — epinephrine, norepinephrine — what are your thoughts on these, and how do they relate to fatigue and energy levels?
Trudy: Yeah. So this is great because this is directly related to fatigue. Also related to mood. There’s the mood aspect of all of these. And also, there’s also a cravings addiction aspect for this one. So there’s a list of symptoms under the catecholamines category. And the catecholamines are hormones that are produced by adrenal glands. You mentioned dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. And when you have low levels of these catecholamines, you’re going to have low energy. So you’ll be fatigued. You may have poor focus. You may have low motivation, just feeling blur. You may have depression. And the kind of depression with the low catecholamines is “the caught up in bed; I don’t want to see anyone” kind of depression, whereas, with low serotonin, it’s not as much as a sort of accelerating kind of depression. The other thing, as I said, there’s this cravings aspect.
So you will be seeking out foods or drinks to give you energy. Maybe sugary drinks, maybe fruit juice, if you’re not into sodas or coffee, is a big thing. A lot of people with low catecholamines are drawn to coffee to give them that energy. And I’m not a big fan of coffee. I know some people are for certain reasons, but with the population that I work with anxiety, a lot of people with anxiety are more prone to the effects of caffeine. There’s some research showing that — there was one study where people had been on therapy; they’d been on medications. As soon as they stopped the coffee, their anxiety went away, and the panic attacks went away. So it is a very powerful thing to think about. But coffee aside, there’s an amino acid called tyrosine that is used in the same way as the other ones that I’ve talked about, the GABA and the tryptophan or the 5-HTP.
And we’ll do a trial based on these symptoms. So someone will be fatigued, poor focus, no motivation, or feeling sort of blur. And we’ll do a trial of tyrosine. The dosing of tyrosine is typically 500 milligrams, and it’s used first thing in the morning. So for someone who does have the low catecholamines, and we determine, yes, the tyrosine is helping once we’ve done the trial, first thing in the morning — So if someone — a lot of my plans I can’t get going until I’ve got up and hit my coffee. They’ll have their tyrosine in right next to their bed so they can take it as they wake up, mid-morning, and midafternoon, not later than 3:00 p.m., so it doesn’t affect their sleep levels. And we will see dramatic improvements in energy, in focus, if it is low catecholamines. And as you know and as everyone’s sharing on the summit, they are many causes of fatigue. This is one particular cause.
We don’t want to forget about all the other causes, but if it is these lower levels of the catecholamines, the tyrosine is amazing. Tyrosine also helps with thyroid support. Now, there are some people who just can’t do tyrosine. I happen to be one of them. So it’s a matter of trial and error to see if it is a problem if it is going to work for you.
Ari: What does it do for you?
Trudy: I just feel wiggy. I just feel wigged on.
Ari: Let’s slide into American. What is wiggy?
Trudy: Agitated, irritable, just lack of caffeinated food flat, I guess.
Ari: That’s what happens with coffee.
Trudy: Yeah, me too. Coffee, I feel like I’m actually flying. It’s just like I’m up there — somewhere up there — and I’m just not good. I haven’t had coffee for years.
Ari: Physically tense, anxious, and distractible, like not focused. My mind is like all over the place.
Trudy: Yeah. It’s very interesting how we all say unique. But what I was going to say is typically because I’m working with most — everyone who comes to see me has anxiety. That’s my focus. So we’ll focus on like other symptoms first, ease that physical tension, and then we’ll help with the ruminating thoughts. And then, we will address the energy levels. And when I’m having someone go through the questionnaire, I’ll usually say to them, which area resonates with you the most? And for most people, they’re saying it’s the low GABA or the low serotonin. I just want to sleep and not lie there tense, or I want to stop this mind racing going on. And we’ll do a trial on that area first. And then the next area based on what they’re finding really is affecting them.
So for most people that I’m working with, those are the areas that we start with. Now, interestingly enough, there was one client that I worked with, and since then, I’ve had three or four more people actually respond on the blog that I wrote about this. She got some benefits with the GABA support. She got some benefits of the tryptophan, but it just wasn’t enough. So we got to the point where we trialed it as much as we can. And she still had some focus issues. She was a very high-level executive. And she was in a lot of these meetings, and the meetings were very stressful for her — very stressful. And she had these focus issues.
And I said, okay, well, let’s now deal with the energy and the focus. And we want to be careful because the tyrosine can you more anxious. So we’re going to just go slowly, and we’re going to see how you do. And lo and behold, the tyrosine completely eliminated all of her anxiety because she could now focus, and she could get her tasks done. We wouldn’t have thought that would be the fact. So we are cautious when we use tyrosine. You talked about how you feel with coffee. And so every one is unique. You talked about using these small doses of melatonin for some people. So it is very unique
Ari: And then I can use tyrosine without any issue.
Trudy: Oh, you can? Okay. Yeah, so we’re all different. And that’s what’s the joy about the aminos is because you look at the symptoms, you do a trial, and you see how you respond, and sometimes it might not be as expected.
Ari: Yeah. Quick question. There are some inositol forms of some of the amino acids; for example, tyrosine is one of them. Do you feel there is any benefit or difference in how the inositol tyrosine is metabolized versus regular Ltyrosine?
Trudy: I don’t have an answer for that because I have not compared one to the other. So that’s a good question. And it’s something that I’m going to have to look into.
Ari: Okay. Do you have any final thoughts for people who are interested in optimizing their energy? What would you say are the sort of top three big takeaways you want to leave people with? And this has been awesome, by the way. I think there’s so many wonderful tips here that people can have of simple supplements solutions that they can use to profoundly in many cases.
I mean, some of these things may be life-transforming for people who are dealing with anxiety or panic attacks, or sleep problems or energy issues and things like that. Some of these little tweaks, as you mentioned in some of the stories you told, can absolutely be life-changing. So I think this has been wonderful, amazing information. But if there’s sort of not but — I should say and — and if there’s sort of three big takeaways or keys that you want to leave people with of how to implement this information, what would those be?
Trudy: I think if you’ve heard this, and you’re excited about this, that’s great. The big takeaway is learn more about it before you jump in. There’s nuances as you’ve heard me talk about. I’m all about empowering people and saying, go for it. A lot of people have read a book about it, so you can read the book, and you can implement it yourself. If you feel like you need help, you can get help by working with someone — with me or with someone else. But I think before you jump in, educate yourself about it so you can be an informed consumer and use them. Even if you are going to work with someone, educate yourself about them because they are very powerful, and we’ve just touched on the surface there.
It is so much more to this. I mean, I teach practitioners five days of training, so there’s a lot to it. So that’s the one thing. The other thing is know that there are answers out there and don’t tolerate not feeling your absolute best. Don’t tolerate the sort of low-level anxiety or stress or fatigue. Know that there is an answer. And maybe this isn’t the answer for you. Maybe what works for one person is going to not work for you and vice versa.
So keep looking for answers. And then the other thing is look outside this because there’s so many amazing interviews. I’m sure I haven’t heard the interviews yet, but I know from the quality of interviews that you do, Ari, there’s just so much that we need to look at. And then the other thing is when you are hearing all of this — I get this feedback from our community — is it sometimes they’re overwhelmed. There’s too much going on. There’s too many choices. Just pick one or two areas and focus on those.
And the amino acids are a great area to start with in many cases because it gives you that relief. It gives you that sort of not feeling that overwhelm. And now, you can tackle some of the other areas that may be deeper that you need to dig into. I’m very interested in oxalates, dietary oxalates. And I’ve been looking at that. And I think that that’s causing a lot of problems, but for someone who’s new to this to think about, oh my gosh, what are oxalates? What are they going to do? How’s that going to impact my energy or my mood? That just seems too overwhelming. And the amino acids are often a great place to start because it gives you that relief. And then you can start looking at some of that other areas.
Ari: Yeah, beautifully said. So there you have it, folks. You have a beautiful set of tools here to start optimizing your mood and energy levels, serotonin, GABA, catecholamines, melatonin. I think you covered a lot of beautiful stuff here, Trudy. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom with our audience. And if people are interested in following your work, learning more about what you do, and getting in touch with you, working with you, where’s the best place to do that?
Trudy: So I’ve got my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution. I’ve got a great Facebook community, Trudy Scott Antianxiety Food Solution. I’ve got a home study course if someone wants hand-holding through using the amino acids, and then I’ve got the Anxiety Nutrition Institute, where I train practitioners on how to use these. I’d love to have more practitioners using these with their clients and patients because they are so powerful.
And then, of course, I’ve got the Anxiety Summit that I host — similar format to this. And the next one is in November, and the theme is Toxins, Meds, and Infections. And I look forward to having the opportunity to interview you on that summit, too. So thanks very much for inviting me to speak here. I look forward to sharing this with my community, and I appreciate the opportunity to share all of this.
Ari: Yeah. Thank you so much, Trudy. It’s brilliant stuff. I really appreciate it. And I was looking forward to this interview for a very long time, and it did not disappoint, so thank you, my friend.
Trudy: Thank you.
How amino acids can be used to treat anxiety (02:17)
How to use amino acids for optimal solutions (10:27)
The key neurotransmitters to support for anxiety (16:16)
How melatonin affects energy levels (38:12)
How “energizing neurotransmitters” relate to fatigue and energy levels (50:07)