Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental disabilities afflicting mankind. The current scientific position tells us that the most likely cause of these conditions is a combination of both a genetic predisposition along with acute environmental stress (such as the consumption of harmful junk food, or the ordeals of a divorce). Whatever the actual reasons for a certain episode of melancholy, there are several known brain mechanisms that engage in the regulation of mood, stress, and motivation. I can assume most of us have heard of the infamous neurotransmitters Serotonin, Dopamine, and Norepinephrine. Taking antidepressants (such as Prozac) affect the receptivity of our nerve cells to these molecules, and by doing so these drugs reprogram our brain to behave differently — hopefully, in a more healthy manner.
Recently, other mood-regulating neurotransmitters have been discovered. One of them is Orexin, a peptide which was traditionally mentioned in the field of hunger-regulation. It’s also important in maintaining a state of wakefulness, as can be evidenced by a drug called Modafinil that is used to increase brain levels of Orexin in order to treat people with narcolepsy.
Later this month, a group of researchers in Israel will pronounce the discovery of yet another mood-regulating neurotransmitter. It is called IA (Incensole acetate), and it activates an ion channel named TRPV3. Ion channels are specially-designed proteins that sit on the membrane (the outer layer) of nerve cells, and control the flow of electrically charged particles into and out of the cell — a process that determines whether a certain nerve cell is activated at a certain moment, or not. In other words, molecules (neurotransmitters) that can alter the function of TRPV3 channel change the patterns of our brain activity — and as just mentioned, cutting-edge research from Israel indicates that this pattern of change adjusts the levels of mood and stress.
More specifically, a group of scientists from The College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel, led by Prof. Ester Fride, conducted experiments with the Boswellia plant, which contains the IA molecules. They’ve discovered that this plant does indeed reduce anxiety, without all the pesky side effects of ordinary antidepressants, such as sexual dysfunction and weight gain.
It is interesting to note that the ancient Israelites burnt incense made of the Boswellia plant in the Temple in Jerusalem, since it created a relaxing atmosphere, suited for prayer and rituals. Perhaps as we revert back to ancient remedies, we’ll discover healthier – more organic – solutions to modern maladies.
Picture by Garnet’s Book of Shadows