It would be hard to overstate the complexity of the vast network of specialized cells that make up your nervous system. The average human brain houses over 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) with each connected to 10,000 or so other cells which, if you do the math, equals approximately 1000 trillion connections in your brain. This means you have, even on a slow day, roughly 10,000 times more connections in your brain than there are stars in the Milky Way. Everything we do – all of our movements, thoughts, and feelings - is the result of these nerve cells talking with one another via electrical and chemical signals.
Neurons are not in direct contact with each other; in order to communicate with each other, they rely on highly specialized chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that coordinate the transmission of signals from one nerve cell (neuron) to the next. These all important brain chemicals 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. Thus, our brain is not only an array of wires (nerve cells/neurons) but also a highly evolved chemical soup (neurotransmitters). 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 such as:
The good news is that for each neurotransmitter we discover is out of balance, there are usually natural remedies such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, or homeopathy that can help restore proper balance.
If you are showing signs of neurotransmitter imbalance, the best thing to do is to get your neurotransmitter levels tested.
Neurotransmitter levels can now be determined by a simple and convenient urine test collected at home. Knowing your neurotransmitter levels can help you correct an imbalance today or prevent problems from occurring in the future.
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 everyday 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 to ones health 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 Norepinephrine.
When operating properly, your nervous system has natural checks and balances in the form of inhibitory (calming) and excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitters.
The Inhibitory System comprises mainly GABA and serotonin and serves to, among other things, "cool" your central nervous system engine.
GABA (Gamma amino butyric acid) is your major inhibitory/calming neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It is often considered to act as "mother nature's Xanax." Indeed, it is throught the GABA system that most sedatives, prescription sleep aids, and tranquilizers work. It helps the neurons recover after firing and thereby reduces anxiety, worry, and fretfulness. In addition, GABA regulates norepinephrine, adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, it is a significant mood modulator.
When neurotransmitter testing reveals unusually high levels of GABA, it often reflects your body's attempt to compensate for or balance out abnormally elevated excitatory neurotransmitter activity (stress for example). The extra GABA may "calm" things down but can lead to unwanted effects such as sluggishness, sleepiness, and brain fog.
Too little GABA, on the other hand, can be associated with high anxiety, impulsivity, inability to handle stress, restlessness, and irritability.
The other major inhibitory neurotransmitter, serotonin, is deemed to be the master neurotransmitter. Serotonin imbalance is one of the most often cited contributors to depression and other mood disorders. It is also intimately tied to many biological processes such as sleep, appetite, pain, digestion, and generalized well-being. Serotonin is critical to feelings of self-worth and happiness and helps protect against both depression and anxiety.
Sustain levels of high stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, inflammation, genetic mutations, and certain prescription medications can slowly erode your levels of serotonin leading to depression, worry, insomnia, obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, carbohydrate cravings, PMS, and exaggerated response to pain.
Our two principle stimulating neurotransmitters are dopamine and norepinephrine.
Dopamine functions as both an inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitter depending upon where in the brain and at which particular receptor site it binds to. Adequate dopamine levels are needed to allow us to focus our attention in the moment and attend to matters at hand (remember that attention deficit is at least in part due to low dopamine). Dopamine is the main player in regulating our reward circuitry and pleasure centers (hence dopamine's role in addictions). This all important brain chemical is also critical for memory and motor skills.
Problems can ensue if dopamine is too high or too low. For example, dramatically elevated levels, the so-called "dopamine storm," can be associated with hallucinations, delusions, agitation, mania, and frank psychosis. Such a state, fortunately rare, is clinically obvious and constitutes a medical emergency. Low dopamine states, on the other hand are quite common and sometimes go years without being identified let alone treated.
Dopamine is responsible for motivation, interest, and drive. It is associated with positive stress states such as being in love, exercising, listening to music, and sex . When we don't have enough of it we don't feel alive, we have difficulty initiating or completing tasks, poor concentration, no energy, and lack of motivation. Dopamine also is involved in muscle control and function. Low Dopamine levels can drive us to use drugs (self medicate), alcohol, smoke cigarettes, gamble, and/or overeat. Low dopamine states, on the other hand are quite common and sometimes go years without being identified let alone treated. Such states can cause memory, concentration, and attention problems. Stimulants such as prescription medications for ADD/ADHD, caffeine, and some street drugs temporarily address symptoms of low dopamine by pushing your existing (but dwindling) supply into the space between two neurons (synpase). This kind of approach can in the short run improve symptoms but if continued for any lenght of time inhibit natural transmission and actually cause/hasten dopamine depletion.
Norepinephrine, also known as Nor-Adrenaline, is widely distributed throughout your brain and body. It operates as a neuromodulator that boosts the function of many different cell types to optimize your brain's performance. This is accomplished via two modes of norepinephrine release: burst and tonic firing. Through burst firing, NE takes part in your ancient and elegant fight-or-flight survival mechanism providing rapid and accurate assessment of danger and opportunity. Excessive burst firing of NE, logically, especially if no actual life threatening danger exists, can leave you anxious, vigilant, hyperactive, miseable, and annoying to be around.
Conversely, tonic low grade NE firing exerts beneficial effects on sleep, sustainable concentration, stress resilience, inflammation, and many other important biological processes. Too little tonic firing of norepinephrine can leave you flat, apathetic, foggy, unmotivated, fatigued, miserable, and no fun to be around.
Epinephrine also known as adrenaline is a neurotransmitter and hormone essential to metabolism. It regulates attention, mental focus, arousal, and cognition. It also inhibits insulin excretion and raises the amounts of fatty acids in the blood. Epinephrine is made from norepinephrine and is released from the adrenal glands. Low levels have been can result in fatigue, lack of focus, and difficulty losing weight. High levels have been linked to sleep problems, anxiety and ADHD.
Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is required for learning and memory. Low levels can lead to tiredness and poor brain activity. Increased levels of glutamate can cause death to the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. Dysfunction in glutamate levels are involved in many neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, Huntington's, and Tourette's. High levels also contribute to Depression, OCD, and Autism.
Histamine is most commonly known for it's role in allergic reactions but it is also involved in neurotransmission and can affect your emotions and behavior as well. Histamine helps control the sleep-wake cycle and promotes the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine. High histamine levels have been linked to obsessive compulsive tendencies, depression, and headaches.Low histamine levels can contribute to paranoia, low libido, fatigue, and medication sensitivities.
PEA is an excitatory neurotransmitter made from phenylalanine. It is important in focus and concentration. High levels are observed in individuals experiencing "mind racing", sleep problems, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Low PEA is associated with difficulty paying attention or thinking clearly, and in depression.
Testing of neurotransmitters allows us to identify "upstream" causes of some of the most "downstream" symptoms encountered in contempory society. Without such testing, no matter how educated, we are merely guessing. Personalized treatment requires personalized evaluation of neurotransmitters, and, for that matter, hormones, adrenal output, and inflammation.
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