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NEUROTRANSMITTERS

Physical health is your platform for emotional and spiritual health, but what happens when your brain chemicals become unbalanced affecting your ability to be healthy?

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers used to communicate information throughout your brain and body and are crucial in regulating optimal brain function. When there is an imbalance in the levels of neurotransmitters, serious physical and mental effects can develop. They are linked to the immune and endocrine system, including the adrenal medulla component of the adrenal glands.

Importantly neurotransmitters are responsible for emotions, thought processes, joy, depression, fear, anxiety and addictive behaviours concerning food, alcohol, drugs and gambling. Neurotransmitter imbalance has been shown to cause depression, anxiety, addictions, insomnia, weight gain, fatigue and altered sex drive.

It is estimated that 86% of people in the western world have suboptimal levels of neurotransmitters. In Australia approximately 45% of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

HOW ARE NEUROTRANSMITTERS DEPLETED?

  1. Anti-depressant medications like SSRI’s and SNRI’s can eventually deplete neurotransmitters
  2. Inadequate nutrition and resulting amino acid deficiencies
  3. Alcohol will initially increase dopamine in the reward centre of the brain giving feelings of pleasure. Long term effects of alcohol result in the overall depletion of dopamine
  4. Recreational drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine have a similar biological action as alcohol but greatly increased, often making these substances extremely addictive
  5. Genetic variations such as MTHFR, COMT or MAO defects
  6. Gut function affects serotonin levels as 90% of this neurotransmitter resides in the gut. Leaky gut, candida, parasites and bacterial overgrowth can impact on the levels of serotonin in your gut.
  7. Caffeine

TYPES OF NEUROTRANSMITTERS

There are two types of neurotransmitters:

  1. EXCITATORY – They are stimulatory to brain function. The main excitatory neurotransmitters are known as catecholamines. They are actually released from the adrenal medulla component of the adrenal glands under times of stress resulting in the “fight or flight” response.

The three major catecholamines are:

  • Dopamine: The main focus neurotransmitter, it is responsible for our drive or desire to get things done – or motivation. Stimulants such as medications for ADD/ADHD and caffeine will cause dopamine to be released into the synapse so that focus is improved. Unfortunately, stimulating dopamine consistently can cause dopamine depletion. The amino acid tyrosine can help to support healthy levels of dopamine when taken in the correct dosage with other necessary amino acids.
  • Adrenaline: This is reflective of stress, insomnia and long term stress can deplete adrenaline. It is responsible for regulating heart rate and blood pressure, it even has an effect on memory and in PTSD.
  • Noradrenaline: Is responsible for stimulatory processes, it can cause anxiety at elevated levels as well as some mood dampening effects. Low levels of noradrenaline are associated with low energy, decreased focus and sleep problems.
  1. INHIBITORY – Calming to brain activity and helps to balance mood, they can become depleted when the excitatory neurotransmitters are overactive as with stress, alcohol or drug use both prescription and recreational.

The major Inhibitory neurotransmitters are

  • Serotonin: Adequate amounts are crucial to produce a stable mood and to balance the stimulating effects of the excitatory neurotransmitters. Drugs that act as stimulants such as caffeine or other medications will deplete serotonin causing carbohydrate cravings, disrupted sleep, pain sensitization, digestive problems and decreased immune function.
  • GABA: Natures Valium like substance, GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the cortex of the brain in humans and mammals. It helps to balance the stimulating effects of Glutamate which is the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the cortex and also opposes noradrenaline. Low levels of GABA will result in nervousness, anxiety, panic disorders, aggressive behaviour, ADD, alcoholism, drug addiction and cravings for carbohydrates and sugars as these substances temporarily and artificially increase levels of GABA.

    Interestingly, glutamate is the precursor to GABA, any excess of glutamate should be automatically converted into GABA. This is the mechanism through which balance is maintained. Anytime glutamate levels start to build up the excess is converted to GABA in order to calm down your nervous system.

    The glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) enzyme is needed for glutamate to facilitate the conversion to GABA. Problems with the GAD enzyme such as in genetic variations is thought to be one of the underlying reasons for too much glutamate.

    GABA is critical in speech and language function. The rubellavirus, found in the MMR vaccination can decrease the activity of GAD by as much as 50%. This is a reason that some children begin to show symptoms of autism immediately after vaccination as their speech and language becomes affected. Heavy metals and toxins from bacteria or candida can also affect GABA levels.

    Certain amino acids such as taurine together with vitamin B6 can help increase GABA levels. Care needs to be taken if certain genetic variants in CBS and SUOX exist.

  • Dopamine: Although predominately an excitatory neurotransmitter, it does have some inhibitory actions on hormones such as prolactin and its resulting effects on milk production in women and testosterone in men.
 

Imbalances in neurotransmitters can cause widespread health problems;

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Brain fog
  • loss of mental focus
  • panic attacks and mood swings
  • poor decision making and impaired memory
  • ADD and ADHD
  • Insomnia – problems falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Pain – fibromyalgia and migraines
  • Obesity –metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Compulsions, addictions, binge eating, gambling
  • Hormonal imbalances – PMS, estrogen dominance, hypo-thyroidism, androgen imbalance
 

THE PROBLEMS WITH TESTING NEUROTRANSMITTER LEVELS.

Accurately measuring the central nervous system (CNS) level of neurotransmitters has proven difficult. This is partly due to the fact that neurotransmitters are rapidly formed and broken down in the nervous system. Urinary testing for neurotransmitters is not accurate, Organic acid testing can provide far more valuable information. For example, Vanilmandelate (VMA) and Homovanillate (HVA) are the main metabolites of the catecholaminesdopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline. Low urinary levels of VMA and HVA have been associated with low CNS levels of these neurotransmitters.

5-Hydroxyindoleacetate (5-HIAA) is the end metabolite when serotonin is broken down. Elevated levels of 5-HIAA indicates a high level of turnover of serotonin potentially depleting the amino acid tryptophan.

Restoring correct levels of neurotransmitters together with the adrenal hormones can have a profound effect on your life.

The first step in addressing fatigue and mood disorders and is to undergo the necessary lab tests.

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