Over 40 million Americans suffer from debilitating mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, insomnia and addictions. Based upon the most recent data collected from testing over 25,000 subjects, approximately 84% of the U.S. population suffers from neurotransmitter imbalances. Pharmaceutical intervention is often the first choice of treatment for many of these conditions. While temporarily helping individuals with mental illness, pharmaceuticals don’t often cure the underlying biochemical or physiological imbalance taking place. To attempt to get to the root cause of your mental illness, naturopathic physicians run a specialized laboratory test called a neurotransmitter test.
Neurotransmitter testing is a very simple, one-time urine collection (and/or saliva depending on the test) that provides great information about chemical messengers found in your brain and nervous system that contribute to feelings of pleasure, happiness and calmness. When neurotransmitter levels are balanced, individuals also have better attention/focus, increased memory, decreased pain, less frequent headaches, less cravings and normal gastrointestinal functioning. Neurotransmitter testing is a great first step to determine which specific neurotransmitters are imbalanced.
Neurotransmitters affect the entire human being mentally, physically and emotionally.
- Learning ability
- Cardiac Function
- Metabolism and weight
- Social attitude
Factors that Affect Neurotransmitters:
- Poor nutrition and chronic stress are the most important factors that lead to neurotransmitter imbalance. You need protein for proper amino acid development. A diet high in sugar and fast food does not provide the proper building blocks.
- Our brain chemistry is directly dependent upon the nutrients we consume, the ability of our digestive tract to assimilate nutrients, the concentration of toxins consumed as well as the toxic metabolic byproducts of incomplete digestion. Our liver’s ability to assemble biochemical building blocks required by the brain for its normal functionality is critical and may easily become undermined by carrying too high a toxic load.
- Industrial cleaners, air and waste pollution and heavy metals are neurological toxins, which disrupt neurotransmission and destroy brain cells that contain the neurotransmitters.
There are different types of neurotransmitters, both excitatory and inhibitory. Excitatory neurotransmitters such as glutamate, epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine and beta-phenylethylamine (PEA), stimulate the nervous system and send out signals that are energizing, motivating and provide focus.
- The major excitatory neurotransmitter
- Plays essential role in motor behavior and secretion of pituitary hormones
Epinephrine (Epi; Adrenaline)
- NT and hormone essential for metabolism
- Increases free fatty acids in blood as well as decreases insulin excretion
- Most active in the awake sate and supports focused attention
- Contributes to anxiety and its turnover increases during stress
- Lower levels are commonly seen in those with depression
- Derived from amino acid phenylalanine
- Found to increase mental acuity and elevate mood
- Involved in depression, ADHD, Schizophrenia and psychopathic behavior
On the contrary, inhibitory neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin and glycine, slow down the nervous system and prevent signals from continuing, thus causing calming, relaxing and sleep inducing effects.
- The major inhibitory neurotransmitter, occurring in 30-40% of all synapses
- Deficiency is associated with anxiety and sleep-related problems
- Synthesized from tryptophan and/or 5’-HTP
- 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut and exerts considerable influence on normal intestinal functionality
- Involved in depression, compulsive disorders, anxiety, insomnia and migraines
Glutamine, dopamine and histamine are other neurotransmitter modulators.
- Most prevalent amino acid in the body
- Precursor to glutamate and GABA
- Precursor to Epi and Norepi
- Plays significant role in cognition and emotion
- Has a role with cardiovascular, renal, CNS and hormones
- Responsible for allergic reactions
- Relevant in the control of sleep and wakefulness
- Influences secretion of hormones from pituitary gland
Symptoms Linked to Neurotransmitter Imbalances
Most common symptoms include…
- Low serotonin levels, one or more elevated neurotransmitters and hormonal imbalances such as low melatonin or high cortisol are trends associated with sleep disturbances. For cases associated with insomnia, salivary cortisol will be tested in addition to neurotransmitters.
- Neurotransmitters play a role in appetite control, fat storage, carbohydrate storage and metabolic rate
- Overweight people are typically low in one or more of the following neurotransmitters: serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine
- Serotonin plays a big role in appetite control. Low serotonin levels cause carbohydrate cravings. People with healthy serotonin levels typically do not crave carbohydrates.
- Epinephrine plays a big role in fat metabolism. Low epinephrine levels do not allow the body to burn fat efficiently. People with healthy epinephrine levels typically have plenty of energy and lower body fat percentages.
- Neurotransmitters also play a big role in the body’s energy levels- motivation, enthusiasm, stamina and cognitive function.
- People who have low energy levels, are constantly fatigued or do not have any motivation are typically low in epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin and PEA.
- Epinephrine plays a big role in energy and motivation. Low epinephrine is typically found low in sedentary people and higher in athletes.
- PEA plays a big role in cognitive function. Low PEA levels are associated with brain fog and unclear thinking whereas adequate PEA levels allow the brain to process information quickly.
Other symptoms include depression, migraines, PMS, fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), ADD/ADHD, autism, anxiety, OCD and behavioral issues.