In a classic experiment, rats in a partitioned cage were subjected to hundreds of low-level electric shocks (annoying but harmless) from a wire grid they were on.1 Then the wall preventing their escape from the grid was removed. Instead of trying to escape, as they had earlier in the experiment, the rats remained where they were, having accepted defeat. They were shackled by their "learned helplessness."
In the aftermath of September 11, some of us may experience something similar: learning to feel helpless about our loss of security. Like the rats, some of us may be inclined to accept defeat. But we need not and must not let events get the better of us.There are many ways to cope and carry on and enjoy life - including the use of certain nutritional supplements that enhance our brain chemistry.
In the experiment, the defeated rats were found to suffer from depletion of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline. Surprisingly, if their diet was then supplemented with precursors to noradrenaline, such as the amino acids phenylalanine or tyrosine, they would quickly "unlearn" their helplessness and start trying to escape again. And if they were given this supplemented diet to begin with, they became much more resistant to defeat, even when the shocks continued for a much longer time. They persisted in trying to escape.
Unlike rats, we can do something about our own noradrenaline levels, and other aspects of our brain chemistry as well. We can use our knowledge of nutrition to fight the demons of depression and despair and escape from our own self-imposed "cages." We can supplement our diets with mood-enhancing and persistence-building nutrients, such as phenylalanine and DHEA and 5-HTP. And let us not forget arginine for strengthened immune function, because the immune system is known to decline under stress.*
*For more information, see the following Life Enhancement articles: "Feed Your Head"(January 1999); "DHEA: A Better Antidepressant" (July 1999); "5-HTP: Enhance Your Mood, Your Sleep, and a Lot More" (November1999); and "Arginine Puts the Force Within You" (January 2000). See also "Good Grief" in this issue.
Success in life - no matter how stressful it may be - depends far less on our ability than on our persistence. And persistence, as well as mood, can be bolstered by taking the right nutrients. Bon appétit!
- Wurtman R, Ritter-Walker E. Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function. Birkhauser, Boston, 1988.