Benzodiazepines have numerous side effects, including poor sleep, seizures, mania, depression, suicide, ringing in the ears, amnesia, dizziness, anxiety, disorientation, low blood pressure, nausea, fluid retention, sexual dysfunction (decreased desire and performance), weakness, somnolence (prolonged drowsiness or a trance-like condition that may continue for a number of days), headaches and tardive dyskinesia. A mind boggling 40% of adults, 60 or older experience drug-induced tics or tardive dyskinesia (tremors or uncontrollable shakes) from taking a benzodiazepine drug. Sadly, for many, these tremors are permanent. Over 61,000 older adults have developed Parkinson’s disease from using antipsychotic drugs (benzodiazepines and antidepressants). The crippling side effects and addictive nature of these drugs has been known for at least 40 years, yet doctors continue prescribe them at an ever-increasing rate. Surveys show that over 5.6 million adults over the age of 65 are now taking benzodiazepines.
A mouth dropping 50% of all women 60 and older will be prescribed a benzodiazepine drug. And since addiction often occurs within 2 to 4 weeks of starting these drugs, the majority of folks are now dependant on these drugs. Tolerance to the hypnotic (sleep) effects of these drugs may occur within one week.
Symptoms of tolerance are identical to drug withdrawal symptoms and may include anxiety, panic, severe insomnia, muscle pain and stiffness, depression, suicidal thoughts, rage, heart and lung problems, and agoraphobia (extreme fear of public or crowded spaces). Tragically, only 10 to 30% are able to successfully stop taking these drugs, most are addicted for life.
Neurotransmitters and Essential Nutrients Our patients and the public at large should know that the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) come from the vitamins, minerals and amino acids contained in our foods. A deficiency in any of these nutrients can cause an assortment of health related illnesses, especially mood and sleep disorders.
Inhibitory or relaxing neurotransmitters include serotonin and gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). The neurotransmitter serotonin is produced from the amino acid 5-hydroxytryptophan (5HTP). GABA is mainly produced from the amino acid glutamine. GABA, 5HTP, and L-Theanine Both GABA and 5HTP, have a calming effect on the brain. Benzodiazepines work by increasing the effectiveness of GABA. But, as we’ve learned these drugs have potentially lethal side effects.
Instead of using a GABA additive loaded with potentially dangerous side effects, why not use an over-the-counter GABA or 5HTP supplement to reduce anxiety, stress, or help with sleep? Both work rather quickly, have few side effects, and can be found at the local health food store. Usually only a small dose of GABA is needed, 500–1,000 mg. taken twice daily on an empty stomach. The brain doesn’t readily absorb GABA, but another amino acid known as L-theanine, can boost GABA levels.
I often recommend L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea. It has a calming effect on the brain. For anxiety related disorders the usual dose is 50-100mg taken on an empty stomach, two to three times daily. Research with human volunteers has demonstrated that L-theanine creates its relaxing effect in approximately 30 to 40 minutes after ingestion.
Supplementing with the supplement 5-hydroxytrryptophan (5HTP), a form of the amino acid tryptophan, helps raise serotonin levels. Studies show that 5HTP is as effective in normalizing moods as antidepressant drugs. 5HTP also boosts melatonin levels by 200 percent. The recommended dose is 100mg three times a day.
Amino acid therapy offers a safe and effective way to reduce anxiety-without the numerous side effects associated with benzodiazepines.