This is a great piece on the basics of brain chemistry and herbs, from herbalist Gail Faith Edwards. The subject is as you likely know by now, dear to my heart and close to home. I've written more than several times about various neurotransmitters' effects on our daily lives - from fat and fasting to push dopamine production - to early highlights of science's bettering understanding of mental disorders stemming from our stomachs. Know it’s a conversation we'll continue to follow closely.
Herbs for Mind and Spirit
Love, joy and happiness are primary issues of life. It is what we all want. But depression and sadness are just as fundamental to the human experience as the more positive states of mind.
What influences how we feel? Our genetic make-up has a lot to do with it, so does our past personal history, environmental factors, lifestyle, food choices and thought processes. All these factors affect our brain chemistry.
Feelings of hopelessness and negativity, inability to focus, compulsive thought processes and behaviors, are all symptoms of altered brain chemistry.
Antidepressant and mood altering medications do not change negative behaviors or feelings, the effect they have on our brain chemistry is what changes them. This means that changing our brain chemistry is what changes our feelings and behaviors. The assumption that we need medications to do this is faulty thinking.
For some (not all), the best way to change brain chemistry is the safe, healthy, and long-acting method of using natural whole foods and herbs. The key to using herbs and foods to nourish healthy brain chemistry lies in knowing which specific brain chemicals need to be enhanced or reduced, and what herbs and foods, activities and attitudes will do that.
Basic Brain Chemistry 101
The mediators of mood are neurotransmitters. When neurotransmitters become unbalanced it causes a variety of psychological conditions, including sadness, compulsive thoughts, inability to concentrate, mood swings and depression.
Neurotransmitters – are hormone-like chemicals that work on the central nervous system and affect not only the brain, but the entire body. Neurotransmitters are messenger chemicals that create feelings, stimulate thoughts and trigger memories. There are three important neurotransmitters to know about. Serotonin – norepinephrine – dopamine.
Serotonin – Key words are well being and peacefulness. Serotonin boosts feelings of optimism, self esteem, relaxation, and security. Adequate levels ensure good concentration and deep sleep. The more serotonin you have, the less pain.
Dopamine - and its derivative, norepinephrine - are considered a single chemical. This is the energizing, “gas petal” chemical that promotes increased feelings of alertness, wakefulness, assertiveness and aggressiveness. This chemical heightens energy, speeds up thoughts and improves muscle coordination. Too much norepinephrine causes anxiety and aggression, stimulates violent behaviors, and causes schizophrenia, paranoia and psychosis.
One of the most powerful and fastest ways to alter these neurotransmitters is by your herb and food choices.
Dopamine Foods rich in protein boost dopamine and norepinephrine within minutes, causing increased alertness, speeding up thoughts, and increasing assertiveness. A three ounce serving of fish, red meat, chicken, turkey or eggs boosts dopamine/norepinephrine in less than 30 minutes. Beans and legumes, fermented soy like tempeh and miso, and beverages like coffee (found to speed up transmitters, speed thoughts, improve reaction time and mental functioning and enhance mood after a 20 year study.), black tea, green tea and milk all boost dopamine and norepinephrine. Seeds and nuts such as sunflower, pumpkin and milk thistle also boost dopamine and norepinephrine levels.
Herbs that raise dopamine levels include ginseng, nettles, red clover, fenugreek, dandelion and peppermint.
Activities that enhance these “gas pedal” neurotransmitters include listening to rock & roll music, the louder the better, any rush of activity, tennis or any action sport like rock climbing, and attending a fair or exciting show.
Serotonin Foods rich in complex carbohydrates which help sustain and boost serotonin levels, and thus a sense of well being and calm and increased concentration, confidence and relaxation. Other foods that boost serotonin levels include fresh vegetables, especially root crops, squash and fresh fruits. Apples are noted for bringing oxygen to the brain and being rich in complex carbohydrates and B vitamins, critical nutrients for balanced serotonin levels. Serotonin-boosting snacks include popcorn, tortilla & corn chips, and natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey and rice syrup. Chocolate beans contain PEA, called the molecule of love. Chocolate stimulates the central nervous system and acts like a natural antidepressant.
Herbs that help boost serotonin levels include oatstraw, which is loaded with B vitamins, and the roots of angelica, burdock, dandelion, ginseng, wild yam and black cohosh. Cannabis, long called the “giver of joy”, significantly raises serotonin levels.
Activities that enhance serotonin levels include gentle yoga or tai chi, walking, stretching, being in nature, sunshine, clear skies, mild wind, prayer and meditation. Rain and dark wintry weather cause a decline in serotonin levels. Talking with a compassionate person or writing to oneself in a journal is very healing and boosts immunity as well as serotonin levels.
Among the acknowledged side effects of pharmaceutical antidepressant drugs such as Prozac and the SSRI medications, and clearly listed in the marketing literature, is dehumanization and depersonalization. Prozac interferes with the neurotransmitter action that connects the frontal lobes of the brain with the rest of the brain, thus creating a chemical lobotomy effect. The frontal lobe is the seat of higher human functions such as love, connection, empathy, creativity, initiative, autonomy and willpower. By reducing human self-consciousness these drugs may rob us of our spirituality, our very souls.
Here are some safe, time-tested herbal and nutritional alternatives to pharmaceuticals:
Brain Nourishing Herbs
Oat straw is a restorative, nourishing nervine and high in B-vitamins which are important for those with generalized anxiety or an especially taxed nervous system. Oat straw is also known for soothing low mood, sadness, or grief - especially if caused by stress. (Oat seed extract is a key ingredient in our herbal gummies, HRBLS.)
Roses and rose hips may nourish the brain and nervous system, as well as our ability to give and accept love. They’re often used to alleviate pains of the emotional heart, to lift spirits and enhance vitality. Also very high in antioxidants, both parts of the plant are used in skincare for calming and brightening effects.
Lavender is well studied as an antidepressant, tranquilizing and stress relieving herb. I refer to it as a plant for peace. (Lavender and skullcap, below, are also ingredients in HRBLS.)
Skullcap is one of nature’s finest nervines - an herb used before we had pharmaceutical tranquilizers, for deep calm and sleep. Some of the active compounds in skullcap bind to the same receptor sites in the brain as benzodiazepines, giving this plant the closest natural action to Xanax that I’ve found yet.
Red clover may nourish the entire body - providing protein, B vitamins, calcium, and also helping to balance hormones. (Red clover is considered a phyto-estrogen.)
Chamomile is considered mildly sedating, excellent for digestion, and especially good for children or anyone with a fussy constitution when tired or stressed.
Sage may inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine, thus protecting against Alzheimer’s disease. It is also been highly regarded as a brain tonic around the world and for thousands of years.
Rosemary is another excellent herb for the brain - especially known to increase alertness, circulation, strengthen memory and acts as an all-around brain tonic.
Garlic may stimulate the brain and have a positive effect on brain functioning, increasing alertness and energy.
Ginkgo helps bring blood to the brain, improves mood and sociability, sharpens concentration and intellect, and eases tension and anxiety.
Ginseng is rejuvenating, restorative, boosts energy and vitality and is tonic to the brain. Antidepressant, adaptogenic, an excellent ally for anyone under physical, emotional, mental or spiritual stress. Promotes strong nerves, sound sleep, improves memory, clear thinking and enhances concentration.
Angelica is revitalizing, restorative and offers rich stores of B vitamins, including B12, calcium, magnesium and iron, all necessary nutrients for healthy brain and nervous system functioning.
Lemon Balm is an effective natural tranquilizer and antidepressant. It is anesthetic, pain easing and called a safeguard against senility. Lemon balm nourishes the brain.
John’s Wort is a beautiful nervine, effective against mild to moderate depression, alleviating anxiety, insomnia, and irritability and eases pain. It was used traditionally as a nerve-pain reliever before a mood support.
Motherwort can help support us emotionally. Motherwort offers emotional stability while she teaches us what is necessary for strong emotional health. Our sharp prickly parts need to be acknowledged and accepted as well as our soft fuzzy parts. Motherwort displays both proudly.
B Vitamins - cooperate as a team to insure good health and a well functioning brain and nervous system. The entire B complex, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, folic acid, choline, inositol, biotin, PABA & pantothenate, are critical for healthy brain functioning. A deficiency of these nutrients is implicated in many mental dysfunctions, including schizophrenia. An abundance of B vitamins lifts depression and relieves stress and anxiety. B vitamins can be found in whole grains, liver, milk products, lean meats, vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Herbal sources of B complex vitamins include angelica, peppermint, burdock, sage, yellow dock, red clover, fenugreek, raspberry leaves, nettles, yarrow, roses and rose hips, bee pollen, hops, raspberry leaves, red clover, slippery elm, Echinacea, licorice, rose/rose hips, nettles.
When I returned home after those long couple of weeks away, which I'll share about in due time, I'd received more than a couple of articles about this topic - the Pineal Gland, what it may do for spiritual sight, and how to detoxify it for improved clarity. While not something I'm through researching yet, the detox tips are great for more than just our minds, and I found this writeup to be a fair 101. Highlights here and the rest of the story at thehealersjournal.com:
Rapid Detoxification of the Third Eye (Pineal Gland)
By Estella Hoad | Rise Earth
(from wikipedia): “The pineal gland (also called the pineal body, epiphysis cerebri, epiphysis, conarium or the third eye) is a small endocrine gland in the vertebrate brain. It produces the serotonin derivative melatonin, a hormone that affects the modulation of wake/sleep patterns and seasonal functions. Its shape resembles a tiny pine cone (hence its name), and it is located near the centre of the brain, between the two hemispheres, tucked in a groove where the two rounded thalamic bodies join.”
"This pineal gland is activated by light, and it controls the various bio-rhythms of the body. It works in harmony with the hypothalamus gland which directs the body’s thirst, hunger, sexual desire and the biological clock that determines our aging process. When it awakens, one feels a pressure at the base of the brain.
To activate the ‘third eye’ is to raise one’s frequency and moving into higher consciousness – all is a consciousness experience perceived through the Eye of Time or Third Eye.
While the physiological function of the pineal gland has been unknown until recent times, mystical traditions and esoteric schools have long known this area in the middle of the brain to be the connecting link between the physical and spiritual worlds. Considered the most powerful and highest source of ethereal energy available to humans, the pineal gland has been seen as a gateway that leads within to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness. Awakening the third eye acts as a 'stargate.'
"Meditation, Visualization Yoga, and all forms of Out of Body travel, open the Third Eye and allow you to ‘see’ beyond the physical.
Calcification of the Pineal Gland
"Most people’s pineal glands are heavily calcified by the time they are 17 years old, so much so that they show up as a lump of calcium during an MRI.
"The pineal gland begins to calcify due to the harmful effects of artificial substances such as fluoride chemicals found in public water systems and toothpaste, hormones and additives put into processed foods and sugars and artificial sweeteners dumped into soft drinks. Cell phones are also being pinpointed as being harmful to the pineal gland due to high concentrations of radiation."
Benefits of Detoxifying and Activating Your Pineal Gland
"Detoxification and Activation of the third eye can bring vast improvements of our life. An open third eye brings clarity, concentration, perspicuity, bliss, intuition, decisiveness and insight as well as:
- Vivid dreams.
- Lucid dreams.
- Easier to astral project.
- Better sleep.
- Enhanced imagination.
- Enabling Aura viewing, seeing energy, seeing beings, and seeing with eyes closed.
- Clear channels and ablitly to feel energy.
"A closed third eye or “Ajna Chakra” in Hindu tradition brings with it confusion, uncertainty, cynicism, pessimism, jealousy, envy and one sidedness."
How To Decalcify Your Pineal Gland
"The idea of having a calcified pineal gland can be likened to a door being glued shut. Although the pathway is unable to be used while it is glued shut, it is still a doorway never the less! With constant pushing the door will eventually break open."
- Avoid all things fluoride: Tap water, cooking with tap water, fluoridated toothpaste, inorganic fruits and vegetables, showers with out filter, red meat, and any sodas and artificial food and drinks."
(Still using fluoridated toothpaste? Try my natural remineralizing, whitening tooth-powder instead. Not only is it natural and fluoride-free, but it's mineral content can actually help rebuild teeth that have been worn away or stripped of enamel by carbonated drinks, or even lemon water. I found that it completely eliminated severe tooth sensitivity within just the first couple of weeks' use.)
- Pineal gland detoxifiers and stimulants: Hydrilla Verticillata, Chlorella, Spirulina, blue-green algae, Iodine, Zeolite, ginseng, borax, D3, Bentonite clay, chlorophyll, blue skate liver oil.
- Foods: raw cacao, goji berries, cilantro, watermelon, bananas, honey, coconut oil, hemp seeds, seaweed, and noni juice.
- Essentials oils can be used to help stimulate the Pineal Gland and facilitate states of spiritual awareness, meditation, astral projection, etc.: Lavender, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Parsley, Davana, Pine, Pink Lotus, and Mugwort. Essential oils can be inhaled directly, burned in a diffuser or nebulizer, and added to bath water.
- Citric acid (lemons); Garlic (about half a bulb a day); Raw apple cider vinegar.
- Sungazing (Gazing at the sun during the first 15 minutes of sunrise and last 15 minutes of sunset will do wonders for your pineal gland)
- Regular Meditation and Chanting.
"Chanting causes the tetrahedron bone in the nose to resonate which causes the Pineal Gland to be stimulated and when it is stimulated it secretes more beneficial hormones, and remember: these beneficial hormones keep your appearance youthful."
The sound “OM” resonates with the Fourth Chakra, known as the Heart Center, the seat of Unconditional Love. Chanting OM opens you up to Universal and cosmic awareness.
- Crystals: Amethyst (wand), Laser Quartz (wand), Moonstone, Pietersite, Purple Sapphire, Purple Violet Tourmaline, Rhodonite, Rose Aura, and Sodalite. However, any indigo, violet, or dark purple gemstone or crystal can be used to stimulate the Pineal Gland and open/balance/align the 6th and 7th Chakras. Placed directly on the 3rd eye or brow chakra for 15-30 minutes a day or every other day will help to open/balance/align the 3rd Eye (Brow) chakra and prevent/remove calcification of the gland.
- Magnets. Attaching a magnet (that sticks by adhesive) to the part of your skin above your 3rd eye (located between your two physical eyes but slightly higher or slightly above the eyes) for a few hours throughout the day will also stimulate the Pineal Gland and help to decalcify it. Magnets cause the body to become alkaline, especially the part of the body where the magnet is attached. Any strength (gauss) magnet will work, but only use magnets on the head area during waking hours. The energy from Ra (Sun) will magnify the strength of the magnet’s effect on the Pineal Gland.
- Natural Entheogens (not for everyone): Ayahuasca, Psilocybin Mushooms, peyote, changa, cannabis, salvia, DMT and more.
Like with most things, finding a 'remedy” for something that is not quite so straight forward isn’t the answer. The search for a “remedy” in itself is a train of thought that is lazy, mechanistic, and not one in line with the specific goal here. What is required is dedication, time, and work.