Last updated: Sep 22, 2010
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Im on an innovative program to lose weight and improve my type 2 diabetes. The program is the brainchild of Eric Braverman, MD, the clinical assistant professor of integrative medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and the director of the PATH Medical Center, in New York City. Dr. Braverman believes that deficiencies in your brain chemicals—specifically, the neurotransmitters dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, and GABA (short for gamma-aminobutyric acid)—can cause the problems we normally chalk up to aging, including energy loss, memory problems, and weight gain.


What became clear after meeting with Dr. Braverman and his staff over several visits was that weight and blood-sugar problems werent my only concerns. What I really needed to address was anxiety. I dont think of myself as anxious, but in retrospect, I cant believe I missed it—the insomnia, the worrying, the tension. Im not experiencing those simply because I have pressing deadlines and many responsibilities, as Id thought. Its a biochemical issue. Another revelation: My anxiety masks an underlying minor depression I never even realized I had.

The program Dr. Braverman put me on will lessen anxiety and improve my mood, and it will also help me lose weight. It has several key components.

Hormones.
My blood tests revealed that my levels of estradiol, an estrogen component, are so low as to be practically undetectable. Thats way lower than normal, even for a woman like me whos past menopause. My levels of thyroid hormone and progesterone are also lower than they should be. Deficiencies like these can lead to the problems Im dealing with. Part of the remedy: bioidentical hormones.

Now Id refused hormone replacement therapy when I entered menopause. Its a natural transition, I told myself, so why take drugs? I didnt want to increase my risks for heart disease or breast cancer, and Id never, ever take Premarin, the estrogen replacement made from pregnant mares urine. Making the stuff brutalizes horses. (I did take the herb black cohosh—it successfully lessened my hot flashes.) But unlike synthetic pharmaceuticals, bioidentical hormones are the same as those your body produces.

Im now taking natural estradiol, progesterone, and thyroid hormone, all of which are compounded specifically for me.

Supplements.
Frankly, my mind boggled when I saw the list of supplements Dr. Braverman recommended. There were six of them; plus, I already take several on my own, including fish oil, multivitamins, co-enzyme Q10, and extra vitamin D). The new supplements are supposed to increase my levels of deficient brain chemicals, balance my glucose, blunt my appetite, boost my metabolism, calm me down, and neutralize harmful effects of stress. I had never even heard of some before, though I was familiar with the herbs.

I looked up the stuff that was new to me—and then the supps made a lot of sense.

Safe calmers and mood boosters you never heard of before.
Inositol, one of the supplements Id never heard of before, is a kind of neurotransmitter. Its been clinically proven as a side-effect-free antidepressant in a few small studies. In other studies, when given in megadoses, it decreased panic attacks and improved obsessive-compulsive disorder and agoraphobia, when compared to placebo. Its a cheap fix—you can buy a bottle at GNC for about $10.

Im also taking a formula called Brain Calm, which contains passionflower, a gentle herbal sedative, and GABA. According to a paper published this year in the Alternative Medicine Review, GABA “acts like a brake during times of runaway stress.” Another supplement, Brain Energy, combines rhodiola, an herb that mitigates the harmful effects of stress, with phenylalanine. Your body uses this essential amino acid for making dopamine and thyroid hormones; deficiencies can lead to depression, lack of energy, and decreased alertness and memory.

Is it working?
Ive lost 5 of the 15 pounds Im trying to lose, though my blood-glucose levels are still high enough to require diabetes meds. My blood pressure has dipped to healthy levels for me—around 115/60 most days. Im consistently sleeping through the night. But heres the most convincing sign that its working: By 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving, with eight elaborate dishes in various states of preparation, my sweet husband pointed out an amazing fact. By this time last year, he reminded me, I was in high freak-out mode. I even snapped at him, which is like snapping at whomever the patron saint of patience is. In contrast, this year, I was calm, cool, collected, and organized. I even enjoyed myself the whole way through! So, yes, Id say this program is definitely working.