For many reasons, the modern world can leave us feeling less than positive about our existence. Technological advances are often enjoyed at a heavy price, as the concept of 24/7 availability has swept over us with the advent of the mobile phone, instant messaging and the internet. This constant demand of our time and energy for both work and recreation is not conducive to a positive mental state, and neither are many other aspects of the modern world which induce stress and sadness. Our surroundings are often dull and grey, art and architecture have lost their energy and sparkle, a sense of nihilism and a rejection of the spiritual have drained much of the perceived purpose from life – in short, modern life can be mentally challenging to say the least.
Then the temptation is often to fall victim to the pharmaceutical industry, who proclaim to have a pill for every ailment. Sad? Take a pill! Stressed? Take this pill! Tired and listless? Well here’s a pill for that too!
The obvious problem here is that you delegate your well-being to international profiteers, who clearly have no interest in cures or prevention as these notions run contrary to their business interests. Instead, we would all do well to seek alternative remedies to the mental challenges that many face in trying to make sense of the modern world. With that in mind, I have listed below just a few suggestions for those who face such difficulties.
Green tea has many health benefits, both physical and mental. Its a drink popular in east Asia, historically among Buddhist monks who use it to stay mentally focused and alert. It’s also popular for health enthusiasts for its ability to suppress the appetite and thus stimulating weight loss (some people take it in capsule form for this purpose).
In terms of its capabilities as a mental remedy, green tea has twofold benefits both for motivation and low mood. Its key ingredient is caffeine which, as we all know, provides the consumer with higher energy levels and increased motivation to a certain extent. Some green tea products have more caffeine than both coffee and regular tea, making it a popular drink for long nights studying or mentally taxing exams.
Green tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. This increases the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which has anti-anxiety effects in the same way that a benzodiazapine might, but without the negative affects associated with the prescription drug. It also stimulates dopamine production, a chemical which is part of the brain’s ‘reward centre’.
Tyrosine, or L-tyrosine as it is often marketed, is an amino acid that can also permeate the blood-brain barrier. It’s often found naturally occurring in high-protein foods such as various meats, fish, nuts and soy products, but many people’s diets are not sufficient to provide a decent amount of the tyrosine itself.
Many health food shops have begun offering L-tyrosine as a dietary supplement for its stimulant and anti-depressant properties. A standard 500mg dose greatly increases the production of both dopamine and norepipherine in the brain, which provides the consumer with increased energy and motivation. It’s more potent for these purposes for green tea, and significantly easier to consume in its capsule form, particularly if the taste of green tea isn’t to your liking.
Most health sites recommend that you take L-tyrosine first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, and avoid eating or drinking for 30 minutes – it is supposed that taken with food, the dopamine production effects are inhibited. You can increase your dose safely to 500mg two or three times a day, but bear in mind that its half-life is around 15 hours which could affect quality of sleep if taken later in the day.
There are minor side effects associated with L-tyrosine, such as increased anxiety and irritability. However, these often pass as your body becomes accustomed to it, particularly if taken at a low dose.
Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP as it is commonly known, is an over-the-counter remedy available in most health food shops. This one is a little different as it is marketed as a prescription anti-depressant in some European countries, and for a while was banned as a supplement in the United Kingdom and USA after pressure by the big pharmaceutical companies who seek to make a profit from it.
Its mechanism of action is somewhat different from traditional anti-depressants, for it stimulates the production of the the neurotransmitter serotonin as opposed to inhibiting its re-uptake as prescription drugs such as Prozac often do. This works in much the same way as the consumption of foods in which tryptophan is naturally occurring, such as eggs, but on a more potent level.
5-HTP is also considered a good remedy for insomnia and for this reason it is strongly recommended to be taken at bedtime. There is a debate as to what extent 5-HTP can also act as an appetite suppressant, with some recommending its use for that purpose. However, increased serotonin in the gastrointestinal tract is also associated with a reduction in digestive problems. Indeed, many serotonin-based drugs are marketed as a treatment for anorexia and mood-induced loss of appetite.
This can be bought from most health food shops, as aforesaid. It comes in 50mg capsules and you can safely take one or two before bedtime. Increasing the dose any further than this is not recommended, particularly for those prone to stress or anxiety as it could potentially exacerbate these symptoms.
Note/disclaimer: If you are feeling severely depressed to the point of wishing yourself harm, seek medical advice from a qualified practitioner as soon as possible.