Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body. They pass signals between nerve cells, called neurons. The brain will use neurotransmitters to control your heartbeats, your breathing, and your digestion. Indirectly through the endorine system it will also control your mood, sleep, concentration, weight. When out of balance, the neurotransmitters can cause adverse symptoms. Neurotransmitter levels can become depleted, and estimated 86% of Americans live with suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Stress, poor diet, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine use will cause neurotransmitter levels to go out of optimal range. We recognize two types of neurotransmitters Excitatory and Inhibitory. Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate and Inhibitory calm the brain. Inhibitory neurotransmitters tend to balance your mood and when the excitatory neurotransmitters are too high you will tend toward imbalance.
Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is required to balance any excessive excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitters firing in the brain and to balance your moods. Any stimulant medications or caffeine can cause a depletion of serotonin over time. Serotonin regulates many processes including carbohydrate cravings, sleep cycle, pain control and appropriate digestion. Low serotonin levels are associated with depressed immune system.
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is often referred to as natures chill-pill . When GABA is out of range (too high or too low), it suggests 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 is a special case, it can be both excitatory and inhibitory. Dopamine will lift depression, improve your focus.
Dopamine improves your ability to focus your attention. When dopamine is either high or low you will experience focus issues – not remembering where you put the remote control, forgetting what you just read, leading you to daydreaming and not being able to stay on task. Dopamine is responsible for your drive and desire to get things done, your motivation. Stimulants including medications for ADD/ADHD and caffeine cause dopamine to be pushed into the synapse so that focus is improved. Unfortunately, stimulating dopamine consistently can cause a depletion of dopamine over time.
Norepinephrine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is responsible for stimulatory processes in the body. Norepinephrine also helps to make epinephrine. It can cause anxiety when high and Mood Lowering effects when low. Low levels of norepinephrine will cause Low Energy, Decreased Focus and Sleep Cycle Disturbances.
Epinephrine is associated with stress. Epinephrine will be elevated when you are not able to focus. Long term stress or sleep deprivation will cause epinephrine levels to be depleted (low). Epinephrine regulates your heart rate and blood pressure.
Histamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter associated with allergy and inflammation. It is mostly produced in the gut. Elevated histamine will trigger excess stimulation of catecholamines (dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine).
Definition of Neurotransmitter
A chemical or peptide substance that transmits nerve impulses across synapses (space between two neurons), that effect motor coordination, mood, behavior, and other physiological activities. Psychotropic medications alter the levels of specific neurotransmitters in the synapse or alter neurotransmission itself. For example SSRIs act by blocking reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin from the synapse, increasing the ability of serotonin to bind to serotonin receptors. An example of altering neurotransmission can be seen in antipsychotic medications, these medications antagonize (block) dopamine receptors in the brain, making it near impossible for dopamine transmission to occur.
|Neurotransmitter||Physiologic Action||Effect of Excess||Effect of Deficit|
|GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)|
|Endorphins (endogenous opioid peptides)|
Adapted from Stahl S. Stahls Essential Psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific Basis and Practical Applications. 3rd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2008. @ www.medscape.org