By Sandra K. Cox, M.D.
As a physician and psychiatrist, my work is to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who come to me with various difficulties, primarily depression, anxiety, Bipolar Disorder and addictions. I love my work as it fosters a uniquely intimate relationship with my patients and that relationship in turn demands that my approach to assisting them with their health be guided by the values espoused by the Hippocratic Oath which includes this paragraph:
“I will prevent disease whenever I can
but I will always look for a path
to a cure for all diseases.”
Throughout the history of Western Medicine, physicians have found themselves increasingly and unduly pressured by payor sources to prescribe only conventional and pharmaceutical treatments for disease, rather than natural approaches through nutrition and exercise. The pharmaceutical industry has become so enormous and powerful that it now influences the insurance industry in ways that tend to dictate treatment of patients. Additionally, physicians aren’t adequately trained in the areas of nutrition and exercise, therefore, default to the areas in which they feel competent. As a result, traditional medicine revolves around diagnosing and prescribing a treatment which almost exclusively, involves pharmaceuticals or surgical intervention. Many physicians have just passively gone with the pharmaceutical flow. The problem is that pharmaceuticals that treat depression and anxiety can become ineffective over an extended period of use. Additionally, whether or not we like to acknowledge it, human beings will take the easiest route to comfort rather than choosing one that requires more effort, thus patients want a quick and easy fix to their problems.
So, I’m here to talk to you about the one that requires more effort, and can give you not only lasting results, but control over your brain functioning, cognition, mood, energy and your life. Few patients hear about nutrition and supplements from their physicians, so let’s give you some lessons in nutrition and supplements that could change your life.
First of all, Vitamins (or supplements), serve as catalysts in chemical reactions in the body. They either assist in the construction of molecules and proteins or in the breakdown of them. They are vital to all areas of our body’s functioning. Today, we’re going to talk about Folic Acid.
Folic Acid is a substance found in dark, green, leafy vegetables such as spinach.
Functions of Folic Acid
- Repair of damaged DNA;
- Recycling of Homocysteine, an inflammation-causing breakdown product of DNA
- Production of Serotonin and Dopamine in the brain which function to protect against depression and maintain cognitive functioning
Deficiency found as low levels of the metabolically active form of Folic Acid (5-MTHF) can lead to:
- Cognitive impairment
- Mood and behavioral disorders
- Immune dysfunction
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Compromised Detoxification
- Susceptibility to addiction
Folic Acid and Addiction
The vital role of Folic Acid in treating addiction has recently come to light to such an extent that even the pharmaceutical companies have gotten on board and begin manufacturing a pharmaceutical grade, concentrated form of 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), the active metabolite of Folic Acid that crosses the brain/blood barrier and helps to create Serotonin and Dopamine. Dopamine is deficient in the brains of people who easily become addicted. The substance to which they become addicted releases Dopamine in the brain which in turn releases Endorphins that induce a euphoric feeling. When we feed the addicted brain more 5-MTHF, more Dopamine is produced, thus reducing cravings and relieving the depression which often results in withdrawal from the addictive substance. Because Folic Acid is the molecularly stable form of the supplement that can be supplied in an over-the-counter form and requires this conversion in the body to 5-MTHF in order to become active, it is of vital importance that a) enough Folic Acid is acquired through the diet or supplementation and b) the individual requiring more Dopamine and Serotonin production has the appropriate enzyme in Methyltetrahydrofolate Reductase to reduce Folic Acid to 5-MTHF.
Reasons why we are deficient:
There are a number of reasons humans can be deficient or at least insufficient in Folic Acid. First, surprisingly, studies show that 50% of the population is at risk for insufficiency in Folic Acid due to a genetic defect called a SNP polymorphism (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) in the gene that codes for Methyltetrahydrofolate Reductase, an enzyme that breaks Folic Acid into its’ two active forms, one of which is 5-MTHF. There is a subset of the population which tend to be of Italian, Hispanic or Asian ethnicity that are much more likely to be deficient in Methyltetrathydrofolate Reductase, therefore, unable to convert Folic Acid to 5-MTHF.
Second, our produce is now being grown on soils that are increasingly depleted of nutrients, thereby the food we buy is also depleted. Therefore, acquiring an adequate amount of Folic Acid in the diet is difficult with supplementation.
Improve your brain with supplementation and nutrition:
These are ways you can introduce more Folic Acid into your diet, which require supplementation. I recommend using a form called Folinic Acid which is more easily broken down into the components your brain can receive through the brain/blood barrier. And of course, it’s always great if you can eat a healthy salad made from a dark, green leafy vegetable at least once/day. Choosing greens such as Leaf Lettuce; Kale and Spinach will add Folate to your diet.
Personally, I get my Folinic Acid from a company called Life Extension. Life Extension is a physician and scientist owned and operated nutritional supplement company. Their products are developed out of careful research designed to offer alternatives to pharmaceuticals. I am in no way endorsed by Life Extension, so this is not a paid advertisement. I’m just sharing with you my personal and professional experience.