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As you may know, I often opt for natural treatments and supplements as a first line of defense for brain disorders, such as anxiety and depression, rather than prescribing medication. Two supplements that I commonly recommend to my patients with anxiety and/or depression are St. John's wort and kava kava. I have even used kava kava myself.

Several years ago I went through a painful time of grief. For the first time in my life, I experienced panic attacks and had trouble sleeping. Of all the supplements I tried, kava kava helped me the most. Kava kava is recommended by some alternative medicine practitioners to promote healthy sleep, calm anxiety, and reduce the physical and emotional effects of stress.

Kava kava is thought to work by enhancing the production of GABA in the brain. It comes from the root of a South Pacific pepper tree and is widely used as a social and ceremonial drink in the Pacific Islands. The herb is so widely used that it is thought to be, in part, responsible for the laidback island lifestyle.

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a plant located in the subtropical regions of North America, Europe, Asia, India, and China and has been used for centuries in the treatment of mood disorders and depression. The biologically active ingredient in St. John's wort is hypericin, which functions to inhibit the reuptake of various neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and glutamate. The mechanism of action for St. John's wort is similar to that found in popular antidepressants, including Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. These drugs and the herb work to maintain elevated levels of serotonin, which has a mood-enhancing effect.

Stress depletes the brain of serotonin. St. John's wort combats that and may actually be the most potent of all the supplements at increasing serotonin availability in the brain. I have seen dramatic improvement for many of my patients on St. John's wort and Dr. Amen of New Port Beach, California has SPECT scan studies of patients before and after treatment with St. John's wort that document its effectiveness.

St. John's wort decreases anterior cingulate gyrus hyperactivity (which can make you rigid and stressed out when things don't go your way) for many patients and decreases moodiness.

To Your Brain Health,

Dr. L. E. Masula, DC

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