Treating neurotransmitter imbalances can help cure mood problems such as anxiety and depression

Neurotransmitters passing between nerve cellsDid you know that many experts believe that an imbalance of neurotransmitters in our brain can cause mental health problems?

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers between nerve cells. They affect mood, behavior, sleep and more. Perhaps the best known neurotransmitter is serotonin, however this is just one of over 50 in the brain.

How do we know if we have an imbalance and how can we treat it?

What are neurotransmitters?
How do neurotransmitters affect us?
What are the symptoms of a neurotransmitter imbalance?
What are some key neurotransmitters that affect our mood?
What can cause a neurotransmitter imbalance?
What can we do to help prevent or treat a neurotransmitter imbalance?
How can we test whether we have a neurotransmitter imbalance?
Summary

What are neurotransmitters?

Our brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells called neurons. Neurons receive, process and transmit information to other cells.

Between each neuron there’s a gap, called a synapse. For neurons to pass messages onto each other, they need chemicals called neurotransmitters to cross the synapses. Neurotransmitters are made of amino acids – the building blocks of proteins.

How do neurotransmitters affect us?

Neurotransmitters affect many aspects of our lives including behavior, emotions, memory, learning and sleep. Studies show that neurotransmitters have a huge impact on our mental health. Many health experts believe that if our neurotransmitters are out of balance, vital information will not be passed along properly between neurons. This means we can show signs of mental health problems.

What are the symptoms of a neurotransmitter imbalance?

The symptoms of neurotransmitter imbalances depend on various factors, including which neurotransmitters we are too high or too low in.

Symptoms of an imbalance can include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • aggression
  • poor concentration
  • poor memory
  • lack of motivation and energy
  • mood swings
  • hyperactivity
  • ADHD
  • panic attacks
  • impulsive behavior
  • learning problems
  • sleeping problems
  • schizophrenia
  • bi-polar disorder (manic depression)
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder

What are some key neurotransmitters that affect our mood?

There are hundreds of different neurotransmitters in our brain and body. Key ones that affect our mood include:

  • acetylcholine – keeps our brains sharp and enhances memory and alertness
  • epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenalin) and dopamine – make us feel good by motivating us and helping us cope with stress
  • GABA – relaxes us
  • serotonin – helps keep us happy, and affects sleep, appetite and many other aspects of our lives
  • tryptamines – melatonin, for example, keeps us in sync with night and day and the seasons

What can cause a neurotransmitter imbalance?

Many things can cause a neurotransmitter imbalance, such as:

  • chronic stress
  • an imbalance of vitamins/minerals in the diet
  • diets low in dietary protein
  • poor absorption of dietary protein
  • diets low in omega-3 fat
  • diets high in high glycemic index (GI) foods
  • some medication and drugs
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • high amounts of caffeine
  • hormone imbalances
  • chemical toxicity, for example from industrial solvents and pesticides
  • heavy metal toxicity
  • genetics

What can we do to help prevent or treat a neurotransmitter imbalance?

Here are some ideas to help prevent or treat a neurotransmitter imbalance:

  • Keep stress levels low.
  • Balance vitamin and mineral intake – boost nutrients that we may be low in, and reduce the level of nutrients that we may have in excess.
  • Do enough exercise.
  • Drink little or no alcohol.
  • Consume little or no caffeine.
  • Eat enough high-protein foods with every meal. Remember, neurotransmitters are made of amino acids, and we get amino acids from protein in our food. Good sources of animal protein include meat, fish, eggs and cheese. Quinoa, lentils, nuts, seeds, chick peas, soybeans and tofu are good sources of plant protein.
  • Take amino acid supplements. These include L-tyrosine, L-glutamine, L-tryptophan and GABA. Take them under the guidance of a suitable health professional and use with caution; high levels of L-tyrosine, for example, can encourage mania in some people. Amino acid supplements can interact with some orthodox medicine.
  • Eat enough omega-3 fat. Our brain cell membranes are mainly made of fat. Omega-3 fat stabilizes these membranes and is needed for proper brain cell function. Diets low in this fat can badly affect the quality of the neurons and lead to faulty signals. Omega-3 fat is high in fatty fish, linseeds (flaxseeds), pumpkin seeds and walnuts.
  • Eat a diet low in high GI foods.
  • Do not take illegal drugs.
  • If taking a medication that negatively affects neurotransmitters, if possible change to one that causes less side effects. Talk to a relevant health professional before changing the dose of any medication.
  • Test for heavy metal toxicity, chemical toxicity and hormone imbalances and, if detected, get suitable treatment.

How can we test whether we have a neurotransmitter imbalance?

A blood or urine test can detect a neurotransmitter imbalance. These tests are covered by most insurance plans.

By identifying the neurotransmitter imbalance that’s causing health problems, we can help ensure we’re getting the right treatment and feel better as soon as possible, says psychiatric nurse Valerie Balandra.

Summary

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that pass on information between nerve cells. A neurotransmitter imbalance can possibly cause all sorts of mental health problems. Take a neurotransmitter test if you think you might have such an imbalance, and try ideas in this article to help prevent and treat imbalances.

written by Nyomi Graef

updated 13 February, 2013

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8 Responses to “Treating neurotransmitter imbalances can help cure mood problems such as anxiety and depression”

  1. andrew says:

    hi, who can i receive testing off for my neurotransmitters ?
    I live in melbourne.
    Thanks….Andrew

  2. Nyomi Graef says:

    Hello Andrew,

    Thanks for your comment. Try calling PathLab on 1300-660-968. They are located in Melbourne and will post a test kit to you. Their website is http://www.pathlab.com.au

    I have read that there are different types of neurotransmitter tests available, e.g. Neurotransmitter Metabolites, Monoaminergic Activity and Neuroendocrine Panel.

    There are also other tests that may be helpful such as tests for kryptopyrroles, histamine levels and essential fatty acids.

    All the best,
    Nyomi

  3. If a person suddenly develops panic attacks in particular circumstances, stress could be the leading cause, and developing an stress assault remedy that involves tension management might be all you would need.

  4. Emma Marston says:

    Great information. Just had to tweet about it. You have my support :)

  5. s.ravikumar says:

    DEAR SIR,
    I AM SUFFERING FROM NEUROTRANSMITTER IMBALANCE FOR SEVERAL YEARS. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHETHER MEDITATIVE THINKING OF PERSON WILL INFLUENCE THE PROGRAMMED GENETIC CODE OF MAN.

    THANKING U
    S.Ravi kumar

  6. Nyomi says:

    Hi S. Ravi Kumar,

    I’m sorry to hear you have a neurotransmitter imbalance. Unfortunately they are quite common, and unpleasant.

    If you are asking whether meditation can affect our genes, the answer is apparently yes, it can. Here are just a few links to articles and more on the web about how meditation can alter our genes:

    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/113735.php

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/apr/24/meditation-ageing-shamatha-project

    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2010/12/16/795-relaxation-response/

    Personally, I really like meditating, and I recommend it. For about 2 years I’ve been meditating about 4 days-a-week at home, for about 40 minutes to 1 hour each session. I think it benefits me; I feel calmer, happier and more at peace.

    Thanks for your comment.

    I hope you feel better soon.

    All the best

    Kind regards,
    Nyomi

  7. Lynn says:

    Nyomi,

    I’m having trouble locating any research articles that support the rebalancing of neurotransmitters approach and how its done.

    I can find lots of companies that talk about their products and tout “research shows” but having difficulty finding specific research. We are currently using a specialist for our son and having a measure of success. I need this information for a dis-believing friend. Any help you could direct our way would be greatly appreciated!

    Lynn

  8. Nyomi says:

    Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for your comment and question. Here are some online articles that might be of help to you:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurotransmitter
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_imbalance
    http://allpsych.com/psychology101/neurotransmitters.html
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100930101543.htm
    http://www.minddisorders.com/Kau-Nu/Neurotransmitters.html
    http://www.anandbalan.in/Neurotransmitters.html

    I hope this helps. I agree that many articles don’t specify the research, including a number of the articles above.

    Kind regards,
    Nyomi
    P.S. I’ve just made some minor updates to my article on neurotransmitters, based on, e.g., some of the information in the above web pages.

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