By Nurse Mark
The tragic death of comedian Robin Williams underscores the importance of maintaining a healthy neurotransmitters (brain hormones). Although Williams’ death was reportedly caused by hanging (suicide), Dr. Myatt and Nurse Mark know differently. The facts of Williams’ life and death support our thesis — that Robin Williams suffered from a severe but quite likely correctable neurotransmitter imbalance. Here are the facts of the case:
Neurotransmitters (NT’s) are chemicals that affect the brain in addition to numerous other physical functions. Think of NT’s as "brain hormones," because they are. A dopamine deficiency leads to depression and is also the primary problem in Parkinson’s. Alcohol and cocaine further deplete dopamine; Williams was known to have a substance abuse problem with both. Prescription "head meds" (SSRI’s, SNRI’s and other anti-depressants) further deplete dopamine.
Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter because it regulates physical actions such as movement. It is also a "feel good" brain hormone. When it’s deficient, either because we don’t have enough of the chemical or because our damaged neurons require higher-than-normal amounts to function normally, we feel bad – typically depressed, and movement suffers – Parkinson’s disease.
A primary cause of dopamine deficiency is lack of appropriate precursor amino acids in the system. Nutrients involved in the production of dopamine may also be deficient. Alcohol, cocaine and even prescription anti-depressants stimulate and then deplete dopamine stores.
Poor Robin was in a "perfect storm" for the travails that led him to commit suicide.
The recent tragic death by suicide of Robin Williams has touched us all.
Robin was a comedic genius – but like many who have the gift of genius, Robin had a dark side as well.
It is well-known that Robin Williams struggled with drug and alcohol use for many years, and wrestled with the demons of depression.
His widow has revealed that he had recently been diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease.
It is easy to say, as some have suggested, that in his sixties, still struggling with alcohol and drug problems, and suddenly given a bleak diagnosis of a debilitating neurological disease, the demons of his depression became too powerful and he sought relief in suicide.
It is easy to say that, but we here at The Wellness Club don’t believe it.
We believe that there is more to it than simply the despair of addiction, depression, and illness and that while Robin Williams may have succumbed it need not have happened. The story could have had a much different ending, and perhaps Robin’s great legacy will be a life-saving change in the way we look at the relationship between drugs and alcohol and depression and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Consider these points:
Dopamine is essential to much of our brains workings – but most importantly it is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. When we have plenty of it we feel good. When we are deficient, either because we don’t have enough of the chemical or because our neurons don’t use it right, we feel bad – depressed.
Chronic alcohol use or abuse – alcoholism – depletes the brain chemical dopamine.
Drug abuse stimulates dopamine release. When dopamine remains in the synapse longer, it is degraded.
Here is a quote from a noted expert in brain chemistry, Dr. Marty Hinz:
All drugs of abuse target the brain’s reward system by increasing dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, cognition, motivation and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system, which rewards our natural behaviors, produces the euphoric effects sought by people who abuse drugs and teaches them to repeat the behavior. When some drugs of abuse are taken, they can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do. The effect of such a powerful reward strongly motivates people to take drugs again and again.
So here is a possible scenario for someone like Robin Williams:
Feeling a little “down” (depressed) as everyone does at some time or other, Robin doesn’t know that his dopamine levels are not what they might be. He just knows that he feels down. “Have a drink – that’ll cheer you up!” says a well-meaning friend, and Robin does, and the friend was right – he felt better. That worked so well in fact that the next time he felt a bit down he had another drink – and felt better. And the next time, and the next time…
After a while though, the alcohol is depleting his stores of dopamine and there just isn’t enough of the “feel-good” chemical available even with a few drinks to “help.” Not even with a lot of drinks…
So, another well-meaning “friend” says “Here – try a little cocaine – it’ll make you feel great!” Robin tries it and his friend was right – he felt great! On top of the world! He suddenly flooded his brain so much dopamine that he felt better than he had for a long time – and able to face whatever problems were bedeviling him. Who wouldn’t want to experience that, over and over again…
Meanwhile, Robin might be concerned enough about feeling depressed that he would see a doctor. The doctor would most certainly prescribe antidepressant drugs. Unfortunately, antidepressant drugs also deplete dopamine. Robin might have felt better briefly, but the antidepressant drugs don’t work well for long – and he would likely have entered into an endless search for “the right drug” – the one that would bring him some long-term relief to the depression that was making life a misery. But in the end, all the antidepressant drugs do is further damage neurotransmitter function – especially dopamine.
But our human bodies are tough, adaptable, and forgiving organisms. All these insults to our neurotransmitters – especially to that important feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine – we “deal with” and carry on, compensating, adapting, managing. Like a boxer who becomes inured to being hit, bruised, concussed, and worse, or a rodeo cowboy whose profession provides him with more trauma, bruises and broken bones than anyone should have to bear, people battering their neurotransmitters with alcohol, recreational drugs, and prescription head-meds ride the ups and downs of neurotransmitter depletion and they adapt and they manage – often by self-medicating with more alcohol and drugs. For a while.
But like the boxer or rodeo cowboy, there comes a time when there just aren’t any more reserves.
There comes a time when the neurotransmitters – like dopamine – just aren’t there any more, or what is left isn’t working.
They are tapped out – empty.
Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which dopamine, which in addition to being the “feel-good” neurotransmitter is also a neurotransmitter that is important to regulating movement, is either not there or the nerve cells are unable to use it properly.
For someone who has spent many years abusing their neurotransmitters with alcohol, recreational drugs, and prescription psychiatric drugs like SSRI’s, “early Parkinson’s” may be their warning that they have reached the end of their rope when it comes to their ability to “bounce back.”
Many people regard affliction with Parkinson’s disease to be only slightly less devastating than Alzheimer’s disease. To be given a diagnosis of “early Parkinson’s” conjures up visions of shaking, shuffling, helpless people, ultimately unable to speak or care for themselves. I remember one patient who said to me “Give me a clean death – not that!” when we were discussing his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s. I found myself agreeing with him.
Robin Williams knew about Parkinson’s, and about the mainstay drug used to treat it – L-dopa; a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine or adrenaline – our catecholamines. As a skilled actor who had a starring role in the film “Awakenings” (1990) he would have researched his character and the drug and he would have known that while L-dopa has a miraculous effect on Parkinson’s and other such movement diseases, the side effects are serious and the benefits are not all that long-lasting. Sufferers are given a reprieve, not a cure, and when the drug stops working the disease symptoms return with a vengeance.
Running out of dopamine is a bad business, and Parkinson’s is a very visible, tangible result of years of abusing one’s dopamine stores.
But must this always be what happens? Is there no hope for someone who becomes depressed and self medicates to feel better? Must the results always be this tragic?
Our bodies, and our brains, are very well-designed organisms; resilient and hardy. Things don’t usually “go wrong” for no good reason. When things do “go wrong” it is often an outside influence – a stressor – to our systems. Infection, injury, mental stress, can all precipitate unwanted changes to our finely balanced biology. So can the failure to provide our bodies with the nutrients needed to sustain and heal and grow.
The neurochemicals that our brains rely on to function are made by our bodies from raw materials called amino acids – from proteins.
When we deprive our bodies of the essential amino acids required for the manufacture of vital hormones and neurotransmitters we can compensate for a while – but not forever. We need to begin to supply these essential amino acids in generous quantities or we set ourselves up for serious problems.
The standard answer of conventional doctors for problems such as those experienced by Robin Williams is to prescribe drugs. Those drugs either hide the symptoms or, in the case of SSRI drugs, make the few remaining supplies of neurochemicals work a little better for a while. But as Robin discovered, not for a long while. Like the drug L-dopa for Parkinson’s sufferers, the helpful effects of antidepressant drugs wear off all too soon and the symptoms, those dark demons of depression and despondency, return with a vengeance to torment the sufferer.
A better approach is to ensure that the person has plentiful supplies of amino acids for his (or her) body to work with in creating vital neurotransmitters such as dopamine. If the body is able to make plentiful dopamine – the “feel-good” neurotransmitter – then there is less need, less desire for the person to seek the dopamine rush that comes from alcohol or drugs. Many cases of “addiction” can be “cured” by careful replenishment of amino acids in the diet.
Although neurotransmitter balancing or repletion is best accomplished through natural means, it is NOT a do-it-yourself project. There are too many intricacies best managed by a natural physician who is highly trained in NT restoration. Primary treatment for these brain-hormone disorders include diet modification, supplementation and other lifestyle interventions. This is not a theory; the statistics for long-term treatment of Parkinson’s (dopamine depletion), depression and addiction show that these are are known to be little-helped by drugs while natural methods of neurotransmitter support have much higher success rates.
Had we only known, we could have helped.
Godspeed Robin Williams – you are loved and you are missed. If your untimely passing spurs even one person in similar circumstance to seek natural help then your death will not have been in vain.
|If you, or someone you care for is experiencing depression or battling addiction PLEASE, seek the help of a doctor qualified to test and replete neurotransmitters naturally.
Q. Which comes first: depression then neurotransmitter depletion, or is it neurotransmitter depletion then depression?
A. It doesn’t matter – all that really matters is that when neurotransmitters are plentifully replenished the demons of depression and addiction seem to go away and the sunny days of life return.
PLEASE SEEK HELP – a Brief Telephone Consultation with Dr. Myatt is the easy way to get started.
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