Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. They relay signals between nerve cells, called “neurons.” The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance.
Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted many ways. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Stress, poor diet, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine usage can cause these levels to be out of optimal range.
Neurotransmitters interact with target sites called receptors located throughout the brain (and body) to regulate a wide variety of processes including emotions, fear, pleasure, joy, anger, mood, memory, cognition, attention, concentration, alertness, energy, appetite, cravings, sleep, and the perception of pain.
Additionally, neurotransmitters chemically link the brain and spinal cord with the rest of your body: muscles, organs, and glands. Neurotransmitters affect every cell, tissue, and system in your body. And because neurotransmitters are functionally integrated with the immune system and the endocrine system (including the adrenal glands), neurotransmitter imbalances can cause widespread health problems.
Proteins, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, and fats are the essential nutrients that make up your body. Proteins are the essential components of muscle tissue, organs, blood, enzymes, antibodies, and neurotransmitters in the brain. Your brain needs the proper nutrients ever day in order to manufacture proper levels of the neurotransmitters that regulate your mood.
Disrupted communication between the brain and the body can have serious effects both physically and mentally. Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders are thought to be directly related to imbalances with neurotransmitters.
The four major neurotransmitters that regulate mood are Serotonin, Dopamine, GABA and Acetylcholine. When operating properly, your nervous system has natural checks and balances in the form of inhibitory (calming) and excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitters.
Those that calm the brain and help create balance are called inhibitory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters balance mood and are easily depleted when the excitatory neurotransmitters are overactive.
- Serotonin: Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, it does not stimulate the brain. Adequate amounts of serotonin are necessary for a stable mood and to balance any excessive excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitter firing in the brain. If you use stimulant medications or caffeine in your daily regimen, it can cause a depletion of serotonin over time. Serotonin also regulates many other processes such as carbohydrate cravings, sleep cycle, pain control and appropriate digestion. Low serotonin levels are also associated with decreased immune system function.
- GABA: GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is often referred to as “nature’s valium-like substance”. When GABA is out of range (high or low excretion values), it is likely that an excitatory neurotransmitter is firing too often in the brain. GABA will be sent out to attempt to balance this stimulating over-firing.
- Dopamine: Dopamine is a special neurotransmitter because it is considered to be both excitatory and inhibitory. Dopamine helps with depression as well as focus.
Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate the brain.
- Dopamine: Dopamine is our main focus neurotransmitter. When dopamine is either elevated or low, we can have focus issues such as not remembering where we put our keys, forgetting what a paragraph said when we just finished reading it or simply daydreaming and not being able to stay on task. Dopamine is also responsible for our drive or desire to get things done.
- Histamine: Histamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is reflective of allergy or inflammation in the system, often gut mediated. Elevated histamine will trigger excess stimulation of the respective catecholamine’s (dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine).