Neurotransmitters are powerful chemicals that regulate numerous physical and emotional processes such as cognitive and mental performance, emotional states and pain response. Virtually all functions in life are controlled by neurotransmitters.
Interactions between neurotransmitters, hormones, and the brain chemicals have a profound influence on overall health and well-being. When our concentration and focus is good, we feel more directed, motivated, and vibrant. Unfortunately, if neurotransmitter levels are inadequate these energizing and motivating signals are absent and we feel more stressed, sluggish, and out-of-control.
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. Some of the more common neurotransmitters that regulate mood are Serotonin, Dopamine, and Norepinephrine. Serotonin imbalance is one of the most common contributors to mood problems. Some feel it is a virtual epidemic in the United States.
Serotonin is key to our feelings of happiness and very important for our emotions because it helps defend against both anxiety and depression. You may have a shortage of serotonin if you have a sad depressed mood, anxiety, panic attacks, low energy, migraines, sleeping problems, obsession or compulsions, feel tense and irritable, crave sweets, and have a reduced interest in sex. Additionally, your hormones and Estrogen levels can affect serotonin levels and this may explain why some women have pre-menstrual and menopausal mood problems. Moreover, stress can greatly reduce your serotonin supplies.
Dopamine and Norepinephrine are responsible for motivation, energy, interest, and drive. They are associated with positive stress states such as being in love, exercising, listening to music, and sex. These neurotransmitters are the one's that make you feel good. When we don't have enough of them we don't feel alive, we have difficulty initiating or completing tasks, poor concentration, no energy, and lack of motivation. Low neurotransmitter levels drive us to use drugs (self medicate) or alcohol, smoke cigarettes, gamble, and overeat. For many years, it has been known in medicine that low levels of these neurotransmitters can cause many diseases and illnesses. A neurotransmitter imbalance can cause Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, irritable bowel, hormone dysfunction, eating disorders, Fibromyalgia, obsessions, compulsions, adrenal dysfunction, chronic pain, migraine headaches, and even early death.
What causes neurotransmitter imbalance?
• Prolonged periods of stress can deplete neurotransmitters levels. Our fast paced, fast food society greatly contributes to these imbalances.
• Poor Diet. Neurotransmitters are made in the body from proteins. Also required are certain vitamins and minerals called "cofactors" If your nutrition is poor and you do not take in enough protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, or minerals to build the neurotransmitters, a neurotransmitter imbalance develops. We really do think and feel what we eat.
• Genetic factors, faulty metabolism, and digestive issues can impair absorption and breakdown of our food which reduces are ability to build neurotransmitters.
• Toxic substances like heavy metals, pesticides, drug use, and some prescription drugs can cause permanent damage to the nerves that make neurotransmitters.
• Certain drugs and substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, NutraSweet, antidepressants, and some cholesterol lowering medications deplete neurotransmitter levels leading to neurotransmitter imbalances.
• Hormone changes cause neurotransmitter imbalances
Neurotransmitter Testing is now available to detect
Basing a treatment on symptoms alone (traditional medicine) will not provide the information needed to address the underlying imbalance. A visit to a doctor or practitioners office for depression involves telling them how you have been feeling emotionally. The typical depressed person leaves the office with a prescription for an antidepressant without ever having any conclusive laboratory evidence of what is causing their symptoms. New sophisticated equipment and tests are now available to evaluate neurotransmitter imbalances using a urine or blood sample. This provides a neurotransmitter baseline assessment and is useful in determining the root causes for diseases and illnesses such as those mentioned above. Laboratory analysis can now provide precise information on neurotransmitter deficiencies or overloads, as well as detect hormonal and nutrient co-factor imbalances which influence neurotransmitter production. Individuals require individual solutions. Testing helps to determine exactly which neurotransmitters are out of balance and helps to determine which therapies are needed for an individualized treatment plan. It also helps in monitoring the effectiveness of an individual's treatment.
Nutrient therapies greatly increase the levels of neurotransmitters that a person has been found to be deficient in. Studies have shown that it is both safe and effective. These nutrients will cross the blood brain barrier into the brain where they will be synthesized into neurotransmitters and this will raise the number of neurotransmitter molecules needed by the brain. They are prescribed according to the results of laboratory testing giving the imbalanced person a more individualized plan of treatment. Prescription drugs such as antidepressants do not increase the overall number of neurotransmitter molecules in your brain, they merely move them around or stop the breakdown. If your levels are too low to start with, medication may work initially, then "poop out" or not work from the beginning. There is also the issue of side-effects and more recently the FDA warning that SSRI antidepressants could cause suicidal thoughts in some children, teens and adults. There are specialized nutrient formulas which help antidepressant medications work more effectively. Under the supervision of a trained practitioner these treatments may be used in addition to the persons existing medication to boost their effectiveness or to target another neurotransmitter that is also causing symptoms. Many antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications just target one neurotransmitter but many mental health disorders involve multiple neurotransmitters.
Valerie Balandra is a board certified psychiatric nurse practitioner and holistic health practitioner. Her integrative psychiatry practice focuses on identifying the cause of the chemical imbalance and provides natural treatments for depression and anxiety.