Paavo Airola - Health Forum - Vegetarian Times - May 1983 Index

Tryptophan as a Sleeping Aid

Q. I am a night worker; several books I've read suggest taking three tablets of the amino acid tryptophan a half hour before bedtime to induce sleep. Although I am not in favor of a dietary restriction of tryptophan because the body uses it in the manufacture of niacin, I worry about adding extra tryptophan supplements after reading Secrets of Life Extension by John Mann. This book states that serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan and that the neurohormone serotonin has been implicated as one of the substances involved in triggering the "death hormone" response of the hypothalamus and pituitary. Would you advocate tryptophan supplements for sleep inducement, or its restriction to prevent the excessive conversion of tryptophan to serotonin? - C.N.C., Curdsville, PA

A. First, the "death hormone" theory is just that - an unproven theory, a speculation. Even if it turns out to be true, and even if serotonin is one of the triggering substances, the aging process and death are timed by the "aging clock," which is totally independent of the serotonin levels in the brain.

Second, although it is true that tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin and plays a part in its synthesis process, 3 tablets of tryptophan (approximately 1,500 mg. total) is entirely too small a dose to result in excessive conversion to serotonin. It has been shown that in order to increase serotonin levels (as in the treatment of depression), tryptophan must be taken in large doses, three to nine grams a day. Small doses of tryptophan do not seem to affect serotonin levels at all, or only insignificantly.

Consequently, if you have to use anything at all for sleep inducement, tryptophan would be my recommendation. Perhaps even one or two tablets will be sufficient in your case. Tryptophan is a natural substance, one of the essential amino acids which is normally present in most foods that contain complete proteins, and is totally harmless in reasonable doses.

Natural Vs. Synthetic Vitamin E

Q. I have read contradictory statements regarding the value of synthetic vitamin E. You, and some other health writers, claim that natural vitamin E, which is labeled d-alpha tocopherol or mixed tocopherols, is superior to the synthetic form of E, which goes under the name of dl-alpha tocopherol. My doctor says that there is no difference. Who is right? I tend to agree with you, but how can I prove to my doctor that he is wrong? - K.J., Albuquerque, NM

A. First, it would be wise to give your doctor some hard facts in support of your views rather than trying to prove him wrong. This is a more positive approach and the actual scientific facts definitely support the view the vitamin E derived from natural sources has a higher biological activity than the synthetic forms of vitamin E.

Here are the officially-accepted levels of biological activity (in International Units per milligram) of natural and synthetic forms of vitamin E:

As can easily be seen from this chart, the biological activity of synthetic vitamin E (dl-alpha) is approximately 30% lower than that of the natural form of vitamin E (d-alpha).

If vitamin E is taken in large doses for therapeutic purposes, as in the treatment of various diseases, such as heart disease for example, I usually recommend taking the isolated form of natural d-alpha tocopherol or tocopheryl, since they have the highest biological activity.

However, for those who take rather small maintenance doses of vitamin E, primarily for preventive purposes - i.e. to optimize the diet, maintain health and prevent disease - I recommend taking vitamin E in the form of mixed tocopherols. Contrary to the widely-held view that tocopherols other than alpha (such as d-beta, d-gamma and d-delta, which are always present in nature combined with the alpha tocopherol as the E-complex) have no vitamin activity in the body, the truth is that non-alpha forms of vitamin E have recognized therapeutic value and their vitamin activity is considerable. For example, the biological activity of d-beta tocopherol is 0.75, which is about half that of d-alpha, which is 1.49. Some researchers, myself included, also feel that even though we may not know all the valuable properties of some of the fractions of the natural complexes at our present level of enlightenment, it is wise not to fragmentize, isolate and throw some parts away. Invariably. nature teaches us a lesson that we should "let no man put asunder what God, in his wisdom, has joined together." For instance, when we isolated wheat germ, the most nutritious part of the wheat kernel, and gave it to the animals, we left the less nutritious part of the grain for human consumption.

Fasting for Pets?

Q. I want to fast my dog. He is an 11 year-old German shepherd in stupendous physical condition. He weighs about 90 pounds. I want to fast him on spirulina plankton tablets (for vitamins and minerals), bran tablets (for elimination) and water (for liquid). Can it be done? Would he know that he is not being starved? What recommendations do you have? - A.L., New York, NY

A. All animals fast (refuse to eat) instinctively when they are not feeling well. And here you have the key word: instinctively. Animals must decide for themselves when they wish or need to fast. You cannot force them to do it. You must be aware of this since you question whether your dog would be able to handle the mental stress of fasting and realize that he is not being starved. He will not be able to tell the difference. Fasting can be beneficial, cleansing, and healing only if it is initiated through free will and a strong intellectual conviction and belief that it will not cause harm but will be of great benefit. Without such an understanding, it will not be fasting but starvation, which is always conceived consciously and subconsciously as a negative condition and will cause nothing but harm. This is the same reason why fasts are not recommended for small children when they are healthy. When children are sick, they, like animals, refuse to eat-instinctively. And, since your dog is in such good shape, he doesn't need to fast anyway. If and when he needs it, he will do it on his own initiative. When it comes to his welfare, his instincts are more to be trusted than his master's intellectual reasoning and speculations.

Depression & Diet

Q. Can sufferers of mental illness look to natural medicine for any hope? A friend of mine has been fighting with severe depression for ten years. Her doctors tell her that she has an unusually difficult case; they continue to experiment on her with drugs. The last time I talked to her I was amazed at what she told me: her doctor had her taking dexadrine for narcolepsy and a tranquilizer for depression, plus a few other drugs. It sounded as though her body was a battleground for warring medicines. She gains and loses weight radically, and she is emotionally miserable. Doctors say the root of her problem is a chemical imbalance in the brain, but does swallowing a wide array of other chemicals seem like a logical way to cure it?

Is there any hope from natural medicine? Could you tell us where to look? Where could we look for a doctor that treats naturally, possibly nutritionally, rather than with strong, potentially harmful chemical drugs? - R.E., Chicago, IL

A. Much progress has been made in the last few years in treating severe depression and mental illness with a metabolic and nutritional approach. Depression is a new American epidemic; it is estimated that over 20 million Americans now suffer from depression, twice as many women as men.

You are right: the main cause of most cases of depression seems to be a chemical imbalance in the brain. Brain impulses are transmitted by neurotransmitters. Certain hormones and chemicals must be present for effective neurotransmission. Some scientists believe that chronic deficiency of norepiniephrine (NE) causes depression. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter vital for proper transmission of nerve impulses in the brain and, thus, for mental health.

Doctors who specialize in metabolically-oriented treatment of mental illness and depression have been using such biological medicines as adrenal and thyroid hormones, lithium carbonate or orotate, and tryptophan. Vitamins with specific therapeutic value for depression are B-complex vitamins, especially niacin (a "mood elevator"), and vitamin C. The Optimum Diet, supplemented with all vitamins and minerals, is important to give the body total nutritional support for its own healing activity.

To find a specialist in the nutritional approach to mental illness and depression, write to the International Academy of Biological Medicine, P.O. Box 31313, Phoenix, AZ 85046, and ask for the Directory of Doctors. Enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope and it will be sent free of charge. Your friend may also wish to read some excellent books on the subject, including Nutrition and Your Mind by Dr. George Watson (Harper & Row, New York: 1975), and Psychodietetics by E. Cheraskin (Stein & Day. New York: 1974). My own Everywoman's Book (Health Plus Publishers, Phoenix: 1979) contains a whole chapter of documented research on depression, with a complete holistic program of treatment outlined, including all suggested vitamins and supplements.