Question: After reading your report on diabetes, I got tested for insulin resistance. My results were positive and I tried following a low-carb diet, as you suggested. However, I found that my mood was terrible the whole time I was on it. It got so bad I stopped eating that way. I’d really like to go back to it, though, since it helped my blood sugar so much (not to mention that it helped me lose 15 pounds). Is this normal? And is there anything I can do to prevent it?
Dr. Wright: Every once in a while, I come across a patient who clearly has the criteria for success with a low-carbohydrate diet, but who has developed depression — anything from mild to serious — while following it. Like you, some of these people are ready to quit the high-protein diet just to escape the depression, even though they feel much better physically. But I usually ask them to try another approach first — replacing something their body may not be getting enough of.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase "fat and happy." Well, it’s not just folklore. The same carbs that make you fat (and contribute to diabetes and other problems) also make you happy. It’s simple science: Carbs allow more of the amino acid L-tryptophan to penetrate your brain. The L-tryptophan triggers your brain to make more serotonin, and the serotonin makes you feel happier. But if you’re following a low-carb diet, it’s possible that not enough L-tryptophan will penetrate your brain, and you could wind up depressed.
The solution can be as simple as taking supplemental tryptophan so there’s more of it to penetrate the brain. I typically recommend either 1,500 milligrams twice daily or, if that causes drowsiness (which is rare but possible), all 3,000 milligrams can be taken at bedtime. Just make sure not to take it when you’re eating protein. It’s best to take tryptophan with whatever small amount of carbohydrates you do eat.
L-tryptophan has been available by prescription for two to three years now, but it also very recently became available over-the-counter once again (as it used to be until about 1989). At present, over-the-counter L-tryptophan can be found in a few natural food stores and compounding pharmacies. But if you have trouble finding the over-the-counter version, a physician skilled in natural medicine should be able to help you obtain a prescription for it.
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