The more I have educated myself about the biology of health and medicine, the more embittered and disgusted I have become as I have witnessed the consequences of the perverse incentives which emerge from the Unites States' profit-driven medical system. While there is unquestionably a valuable place for some of it, the unfortunate truth is that most patients are victims who pay exorbitant fees only to have their health slowly destroyed while the system profits and manifests only the best of intentions. I have learned that we could be doing so much better.
doctor, please go get it . . . because that is NOT what I have, or wish, to offer.
Please keep the disclaimer above in mind as you consider the following visitor-supplied questions and my “educated health researcher” replies:
Our brain's neural circuitry functions like 86 billion individually delicately balanced see-saws, with each neuron's activity coupled to and being simultaneously pushed up or down by its many interconnected neighbors. It is the most complex biological machinery known. To keep the whole system operating properly―in balance―its neurochemistry must be tightly regulated. Through decades of research and experimentation we have learned that sometimes that delicate neurochemical balance may be a bit off. And we have learned that we can often do something to improve it.
Serotonin is one of the many chemicals our brains use to interlink neurons, and its effect is generally inhibitory, meaning that it tends to calm our brains to reduce anxiety, cycling thoughts, and obsessive or compulsive feelings and behavior. Broadly speaking, more serotonin makes people more happy, relaxed and less worried. If a person's individual neurochemistry is ever so slightly serotonin shy, their brain may be “turned up” a little too high, resulting in too much neural (nervous) activity.
When neurons fire they emit their particular neurotransmitter, whichever one it might be. “Sertonergic” neurons emit serotonin, which tends to calm the neighborhood. The same synaptic cell wall from which neurotransmitter chemical is released, is also covered with active “reuptake transport proteins”. Think of them as little vacuum cleaner suction holes that are continuously trying to suck up any of their neurotransmitter that's floating about. Therefore, immediately after a serotonergic neuron releases a packet (a vesicle) of serotonin molecules, those same neurons' reuptake transporters begin sucking it right back up so that its neurotransmitter exerts the effect of a brief calming impulse on its neighbor.
With that bit of background, now consider what a drug called a “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor” (SSRI) might do. If an externally supplied drug were to selectively interfere with the vacuuming reuptake of serotonin by its emitting neurons, that less quickly vacuumed-up serotonin would have the opportunity to hang out in the neural synapse longer, thus exerting its calming inhibitory effect longer and more strongly.
This all sounds wonderful, and might lead one to ask why the government hasn't added SSRIs to the water supply the way fluoride once was. The trouble is, to obtain one type of potential benefit we have powerfully interfered with a crucial aspect of our brain's built-in neurotransmitter regulation. While it's true that some aspects of calming our brains can be a good thing, the activities of other aspects should not be inhibited, and undesirable side effects can result when they are. Our serotonin-amplifying SSRI tool is a bit too blunt. It's everything, everywhere, or nothing.
There's one final problem that bears upon the question this essay set out to answer: What's the interaction between an SSRI and dietary supplementation such as the Healthy Sleep Formula?
A crucial aspect of the use of SSRI or MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) pharmaceuticals in the context of dietary supplements is that those pharmaceuticals deliberately weaken the regulatory negative feedback built into our brains to prevent the possibility of excess serotonin buildup. Serotonin is synthesized from the 5-HTP molecule which is, in turn, synthesized from the dietary amino acid L-Tryptophan. The amount of L-Tryptophan available through diet is low enough that there is virtually no danger of overwhelming our less-regulated brain with serotonin. But bottles of L-Tryptophan or 5-HTP remove the dietary limitation. Therefore:
You are strongly encouraged to look up the consequences and symptoms of “Serotonin Syndrome” if you are tempted to ignore this caution.
None of the standard Healthy Sleep Formula supplements contain serotonin or any precursor. So it should be completely safe for use by anyone taking pharmaceutical antidepressant drugs. I have deliberately shied away from amplifying serotonin because, in my experimentation, increasing serotonin activity (which is quite simple to do) has resulted in highly entertaining and engaging nights of vivid dreaming. But I never felt completely asleep. The tradeoff for having such vivid dreaming seems to be a “lightening” of the night's sleep and I fear that it might not be fully restorative.
Having said that, I am learning from feedback that melatonin, being a “scary” hormone, is tightly regulated in some non-US countries and is not legally available. It may be that a melatonin-free (MF) variation of the HSF will needed for use where melatonin is unavailable . . . and that MF variant may have no choice other than to rely upon L-Tryptophan or 5-HTP. If so, that MF formula will clearly note that, out of an abundance of caution, no one using antidepressant medication should use the MF variation.
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