Tips For Living With Chemical Imbalance and Adrenal Fatigue

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dorine Lam, RDN, MS, MPH


Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Lifestyle NT Chemical Imbalance Correcting Tools

1. Gradually Decrease or Avoid Antidepressants

Antidepressants are important medicinal tools but effort should be made to wean off them if you have chemical imbalanceMost popular antidepressants are classified as SSRIs, which refers to the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors mentioned earlier. SSRIs cause short-term flooding in the brain of serotonin, and along with this, there is a quick degrading process of serotonin while it remains in the synaptic cleft. The result is that more and more serotonin is eventually needed since the receptors for serotonin become desensitized to the constant fluctuation of neurotransmitters, however the body is producing less and less serotonin naturally since it has started to depend on the medication which provides an external source of serotonin. When the brain does release naturally produced serotonin, it gets degraded way too quickly since the enzymes left in the synaptic cleft are now trained to quickly break down any serotonin. This may lead to a chemical imbalance.

Many taking antidepressants will need constant dosage increases. In doing so, the body is depleting a fair amount of the receptors in the brain for serotonin. Furthermore, the receptors for serotonin in your colon, kidneys and liver can be damaged. This can affect the sensitive balance between your gut and your brain, which regulates appetite, creating a vicious cycle.

Those who are already on SSRIs should not stop abruptly as that can cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

2. Minimize Coffee Intake and Other Stimulants

It has been shown that small amounts of caffeine can enhance mental performance and guard against the onset of Alzheimer’s so it need not be avoided entirely except for people who are at risk for or suffering from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Caffeine can affect the brain in a similar manner as antidepressants or other central nervous system stimulants such as ephedra or ephedrine. They can overwhelm the brain with excitation which can create a resistance and/or long term damage to neurotransmitter receptors. Chronic use of caffeine may lead to a chemical imbalance.

If you really must drink coffee, you should limit yourself to just one eight to ten ounce cup of black coffee a day. One week every two months you should switch to decaf coffee. People who rely on coffee, tea, energy drinks or even soda change their brain chemistry and certain physical characteristics over time. Coffee is water and fat-soluble and easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, so as you drink more and more coffee, the caffeine causes your brain cells to produce more neurotransmitter receptors for adenosine. What adenosine does is bring about a feeling of being tired. The structure of caffeine resembles that of adenosine very closely, which means that caffeine can readily fit into the receptors in your brain cells for adenosine. With caffeine always plugging the receptors for adenosine, then adenosine can’t bind to its own receptors any longer and bring about the feeling of tiredness. The problem is that the body will respond by creating more adenosine receptors which means you will need to increase your intake of caffeine in order to not feel tired, which causes you to build a tolerance over time.

You can avoid this and kick your caffeine habit by hitting your reset button regarding your adenosine receptors. You only need to survive seven to twelve days without caffeine and this is why the recommendation is to take a break from coffee and other stimulants for a week every few months.

Other metabolically stimulating compounds including but not limited to thyroid replacement hormones, DHEA, pregnenolone, testosterone, pituitary glandular, adrenal cortex, green tea, maca, rhodiola, ginseng, zinc, copper, selenium, iodine, kelp, should be carefully scrutinized for their need.

3. Diet

Carefully choosing what goes into your body is a crucial step in recovering from Chemical imbalanceThe building blocks of many neurotransmitters are amino acids, vitamin Bs, and various minerals. If you are deficient in any of these critical components, you can be left without the building blocks you need for healthy and balanced neurotransmitters.

Some of the best sources of high quality amino acids are almonds and almond butter, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, quinoa, raw organic dairy products, spirulina or sources of chlorella, and wild salmon. Healthy people with problems sleeping or with motivation that are linked to issues having to do with their neurotransmitters can often, but not always, benefit from using essential amino acids.

For the nervous system to function properly to synthesize and circulate the neurotransmitters being produced by the precursors to amino acids, you should be taking in adequate amounts of B complex vitamins, vitamin B6, B12, and folate from food sources. These are extremely important in the metabolic processes in nerves. Good sources of vitamin B6 can be found in bell peppers, spinach, and turnip greens. Good sources of folate can be found in asparagus, beets, broccoli, calf’s liver, lentils, mustard greens, parsley, romaine lettuce, and spinach. Good sources of vitamin B12 are found in calf’s liver and snapper. External supplementation is acceptable for those who are healthy if you are concerned about whether you have enough. Because of their excitatory nature, those who are weak or sensitive need to be very careful not to take too much.

4. Avoid Exposure to Environmental Toxins Causing Chemical Imbalance

Environmental toxins can detrimentally affect the production of NTs and cause you to be overly sensitive to NTs, which can lead to brain fog, fuzzy thinking and brain damage. These toxins can be found in the mycotoxins existing in moldy coffee, fragrances in perfumes and colognes, and/or the air freshener you spray around your home or have hanging in your car. In addition to damaging NTs, toxins also place excessive stress on the liver, causing congestion. The extracellular matrix becomes polluted as well. Both are not conducive to optimal health.

To avoid toxins here are a few tips:

  • Buy organic fruits and vegetables to avoid the pesticides if you can. Otherwise wash all fruits and vegetables in a solution of vinegar and water.
  • Use only natural cleaning products, such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice etc.
  • Use only natural products for personal care, avoiding dyes, fragrances etc.
  • Use filters in your home for air and water.

Because our body has an intrinsic system of toxin removal, you will start to feel better gradually as you take the steps to avoid further insult. Unfortunately, once you adapt to these changes you’ll find that you will be very sensitive when you find your neurotransmitters being under attack, like when strolling through the perfume section of a department store. You will notice the effect it has on you immediately. Avoiding toxins should therefore be a lifelong endeavor.

5. Avoid Excess Sensory Stimulation

In the 21st century we are constantly bombarded by rapid visual images, sounds, auditory input from television, computer games, movies, and electronic monitors that flicker so fast the eyes can hardly detect what’s in front of them. There are radio and EMF waves, LED and fluorescent lighting, and a hectic lifestyle to contend with. All of this stimulation requires a brain to modulate the constant sensory bombardment at a level that would have never been imagined by our ancestors.

The brain must find a way to calm itself down and only use its delicate supply of serotonin and GABA, the calming, inhibitory neurotransmitters. All of this overstimulation impacts neurotransmitters and their receptors significantly so think about the following activities you may be doing:

  • Listening to loud music while working out
  • Getting involved in exciting, fast-moving or violent video games or movies before going to bed
  • Playing computer games for several consecutive hours
  • Staring at a computer monitor for most of your workday
  • Listening to background music
  • Constantly using artificial, fluorescent lighting in your home or workplace

6. Repair and Protect Your Gut

Gut is the second brain and chemical imbalanceYour gut is only second to your brain in influencing bodily functions. Your gut actively uses over thirty different neurotransmitters as it contains your enteric nervous system. The truth is that 95 percent of your body’s supply of serotonin exists in your gut. Consider that in the distance from your esophagus to your anus there are approximately one hundred million neurons. This is more than in your spinal cord or your peripheral nervous system.

The lining of your gut produces neurotransmitters and the bacteria in your gut, numbering in the billions, are also creating neurotransmitters. What this means is that if the lining of your gut is damaged in any way, or the flora is not in balance, then you are certainly at risk for a chemical imbalance in your neurotransmitters or even at risk for deficiencies. The reason why so many people suffer from irritable bowel syndrome at one time or another is too much serotonin in their gut, which means they have a chemical imbalance of the neurotransmitters there. This explains why taking antidepressants can cause such serious gut problems. Maintaining healthy flora with probiotics is therefore an important part of a comprehensive NT balancing program as long as it does not trigger constipation.

7. Smother Nerves in Healthy Fats

Your NTs are only as good as their ability to help in the transmission of signals. This is largely the function of the myelin sheath. Myelin sheaths wrap around your nerves, and in order to have a healthy nervous system you should take in certain nutrients that help support the production of these protective myelin sheaths, and also support your nervous system in general.

A good quantity of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be helpful. DHA is extremely important in forming the structure of myelin sheaths and in the prevention of the breakdown and degradation of nerve cells. Excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flax seeds, kale, collard greens, walnuts, and winter squash. However, the quantity of DHA that the body absorbs from plants, nuts and seeds is really quite low.

There are better sources of omega-3 fatty acids and DHA that are more readily available, which include cloves, cod, halibut, grass-fed beef, salmon, shrimp, sardines, and tuna. For vegetarians or vegans algae-based DHA supplements are recommended, such as the ones from marine phytoplankton. Other sources of food that support the formation and health of neuronal membranes and myelin sheaths because of the high concentration of oleic acids include almonds, avocados, macadamia nuts, olive oil and pecans.

8. Mindfulness, Yoga and Breathing

Chemical imbalance can be eased with the use of proper use of yoga and breathing techniques and also by being mindfulMindfulness is the act of being more aware and conscious of the present moment, non-judgmentally. Or, in other words, making a conscious choice to be aware and experience the present moment to the fullest without judgment, in all your activities, without dwelling in the past or the future. The frequent use of mindfulness is one of the most effective ways for stress reduction, managing chronic pain, alleviating depression and anxiety, easing a chemical imbalance due to chronic stress, coping with life, overcoming addictions, and to top it off, it is a great avenue for spiritual development, self-actualization, and creativity.

Mindfulness helps boost and balance our feel good neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins and at the same time reduces excessive norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter responsible for chronic stress. Mindfulness and mindfulness based techniques, such as Yoga and Tai Chi, help the Nervous System rejuvenate and may aid in recovery from a chemical imbalance.

The Adrenal Breathing Exercise is an excellent clinically proven tool that brings mindfulness to calm the overactive autonomic nervous system when under stress. NTs responsible for breathing rhythm include GABA, glutamine, and glycine. Proper breathing not only re-balances NTs (healing chemical imbalance), but also prevents over excitation of the sympathetic nervous system that leads to excess release of norepinephrine and adrenaline. Adrenal Breathing Exercise is specific in accomplishing both and is invaluable. It should be an integral part of the NT balancing program and its power should not be underestimated.

Research has shown that practicing yoga may elevate brain GABA levels, the brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. This suggests that the practice of yoga be explored as a possible treatment for depression and anxiety disorders associated with low GABA levels. Yoga has shown promise in improving symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, chemical imbalance, and epilepsy. The Adrenal Yoga Exercise series is designed specifically to calm the autonomic nervous system and re-balance neurotransmitters without excitation of the sympathetic nervous system.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

© Copyright 2015 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Nor-Epinephrine is the chemical mother of epinephrine, so when you find one, you will find the other concurrently. The difference lies in the quantum. During normal daily activity, such as standing up, nor-epinephrine is predominant. During an emergency, epinephrine is dominant.

Chemical imbalance and Adrenal Fatigue can be eased with the use of proper use of yoga and breathing techniques and also by being mindful




9 Comments

  • Roy says:

    Dear dr. lam,

    I experience some degree of neurotransmitter depletion. After work with an orthomolecular therapist I restored most of the balance of NT’s. However, when riding my bike at a moderate pace I sometimes experience these ‘light flickering’ phenomanons when looking around. What could be the remedy / explanation to this? I already learned not to push myself in a state of fatigue but rather build up slowly.

  • Tina Rawlinson says:

    I have been taking anti depressants for approximately 25 years. I am suffering with severe depression and anxiety/panic disorder. I have many chronic health conditions…..fibromyalgia; osteoarthritis; cervical spondylosis; irritable bowel syndrome; asthma; sleep apnea; tinnitus; chronic migraines. I am also under investigation for Sjorgren’s syndrome and MS. I take antidepressants (trazadone), diazepam, painkillers and medication for asthma. I believe I am suffering from adrenal fatigue. Is it safe to come off the antidepressants? What treatment could you recommend?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      You should not come off any meds without the permission of your doctor. The longer you are on, the more time you need, and we are talking about months to even years. Always have a strong nutritional reserve and balanaced biological rhythm first as most tappering off journey are quite turbulant. Click Biological Rhythm Disruptions & AFS for more information. you have a lot of issues going on, and supporting a strong adrenal should be on your focus list of things to do as that is the foundation, without which it is hard to go very far.

  • Michael says:

    Great article ! I have a question. I have really bad leaky gut and also adrenal fatigue. Can I take glutamine for my gut once my adrenal fatigue improves?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Glutamine can be helpful. The key is dosage, and that has to be titrate to match your body. If you have AFS, you need to be more careful as this amino acid can be stimulating

  • Brian says:

    That’s encouraging. Thanks, Dr.Lam! I will take your advice to heart.

  • Brian says:

    This article verifies my feelings that staring at a screen all day isn’t helpful to my condition, but I work in IT, so that’s my job. Can someone overcome adrenal/neurotransmitter/stress issues while working a desk job? Do you have any recommendations for people like me, or is it just a matter of balancing computer work with more positive choices, diet, and supplements?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      NT rebalances itself when given a chance and as the body as whole recovers. Focus on the overall healing process to start. Avoid stimulants like herbs and glandulars unless needed. Reduce exposure to monitor screen is helpful. Perhaps the key is to take frequent breaks if you are constantly exposed. Stand up and walk around for 2 minutes regularly.

      Dr Lam