Why You Should Care about Neurotransmitters
What are neurotransmitters?
They’re chemical messengers that relay information from one neuron to the next. The majority of drug therapies work by increasing or inhibiting specific neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters most relevant to the brain are GABA, dopamine, acetylcholine, glutamate, norepinephrine and serotonin.
Why should I care about neurotransmitters?
They are crucial to our mental and physical health. GABA plays a role in anxiety, how long we sleep, and influences our levels of anger and aggression.
Dopamine is connected to our reward pathway and influences our motivation and pleasure seeking behaviours. Dopamine also Influences the musculoskeletal system by regulating our ability to move in a coordinated manner. Deficiencies in dopamine are associated with Parkinson’s disease.
Acetylcholine increases in the brain during the REM stage of sleep. REM is believed to be particularly crucial for the storage of memories. People with Alzheimer’s disease are found to have damage to the cells that play a role in producing acetylcholine.
Glutamate is critical for learning and memory, at normal levels. Excess glutamate production or excessive cell receptor sensitivity to glutamate can cause cell death and is implicated in conditions such as ALS.
Norepinephrine influences heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Due to its role in the “fight or flight” response it may play a role in panic attacks.
Please note that there are a wide array of intersecting factors which influence the amount of a neurotransmitter(s) present in your body and the likelihood of experiencing any of the listed symptoms. Neurotransmitters interact together in a complex and delicate way that is still not completely understood and still being studied by researchers. If you can relate to any of the symptoms listed, remember that there are several factors at play.
What’s the deal with serotonin?
Low serotonin levels are linked to depression. When your serotonin levels are high or stable you feel happy and relaxed. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin meaning that it is required in order for the body to be able to produce serotonin. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that can be found in various meats, dairy, and some fruit. Serotonin is also required in order to make melatonin which regulates our sleep cycle. Melatonin is typically produced in the evening around dusk, but our constant exposure to light and other stimuli has affected melatonin production in many people.
Serotonin also regulates sleep, dreaming and arousal. Very low levels of serotonin are correlated with reduced inhibition, impulsivity, and overreacting to situations. Low levels have also been associated with aggression, suicide, extreme sexual behaviour, and impulsive overeating.
The majority of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Approximately 90% of serotonin is stored in the enterochromaffin cells of the intestinal mucosa. The enteric nervous system (ENS) oversees the GI system; it encompasses the beginning of the esophagus to the anus, and is ingrained in the mucosal lining of the GI system.
How are neurotransmitters related to the gut-brain-axis?
The gut-brain-axis is the two-way communication that occurs between the brain and the GI tract, although the exact mechanism is unknown. Significant research has been conducted to show that acute or chronic stress can create a dysbiotic gut microbiome which may then induce anxiety and depression. Chronic stress can reduce your levels of dopamine and serotonin.
Ways to stop depleting my neurotransmitters:
Stop dieting! Not only can dieting cause changes in your metabolism and blood sugar fluctuations, but low calorie diets that are reduced in fat and carbohydrates have been found to result in decreased tryptophan levels in the body.
Meditate as often as possible. Research has shown that meditation can significantly increase dopamine levels in our bodies. This makes us more relaxed and less reactive. You don’t need to meditate for an hour a day (but if you are, good for you!), even a few minutes every day can have beneficial effects on our brains and cardiovascular systems.
Exercising substantially increases tryptophan availability in the brain. Exercising also releases endorphins which gives us that euphoric state of being.
Laugh! Giggle! Smile! Chuckle! Laughter increases the strength of your immune system, increases pain tolerance and decreases the severity of your stress response. Daily laughter is also believed to help ensure a restful sleep.
Consume a high quality nutrient dense diet. Proper nutrition is crucial for obtaining enough amino acids, vitamins and minerals all of which influence the chemistry of your gut and your brain.
Wishing you Good Mood & Good Health,
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