NEUROTRANSMITTERS are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. They relay signals between nerve cells, called “neurons.” The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance. Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted many ways. It is estimated that 86% of North Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Stress, poor diet, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine can cause these levels to be out of optimal range.
There are two kinds of neurotransmitters (INHIBITORY and EXCITATORY) Excitatory neurotransmitters are not necessarily exciting, they are what stimulate the brain. Those that calm the brain and help create balance are called inhibitory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters balance mood and are easily depleted when the excitatory neurotransmitters are overactive.
So what does this have to do with THOUGHTS and FOOD?
There are as many kinds of receptors as there are neurotransmitters, hundreds of types, with numerous subtypes of receptor for any given neurotransmitter. Although each receptor is supposed to recognize and accept only a particular neurotransmitter molecule, we have evolved our world so quickly and filled it with new compounds that compete for receptor sites. The overabundance of new chemicals we are exposed to usually win out with even slight imbalances or suppression of our own intelligent system .
The neurological effects of many natural and pharmaceutical drugs are due to this tendency of receptors to accept molecules that resemble their corresponding neurotransmitter. These substitute molecules can either imitate a neurotransmitter and create a similar response, or they could simply occupy and block the receptor, making it unavailable to neurotransmitters. Addictive substance interact with the brain's receptors in this manner. This can come in the form or chemicals, prescription drugs, and FOOD!
So what might they do for us and what feeds us to build them?
Excitatory Neurotransmitters DOPAMINE is our main focus neurotransmitter. When dopamine is either elevated or low, we can have focus issues such as not remembering where we put our keys, forgetting what a paragraph said when we just finished reading it or simply daydreaming and not being able to stay on task. Dopamine is also responsible for our drive or desire to get things done, or motivation. Stimulants such as 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.
One of the most vulnerable key neurotransmitters, dopamine, levels are depleted by stress or poor sleep. Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar all seem to diminish dopamine activity in the brain. It's also easily oxidized.
Age-related cognitive decline is associated with dopamine changes in the brain. People whose hands tremble from Parkinson's disease have a diminished ability to synthesize dopamine, which is crucial to fine muscle coordination.(2) Attention deficits are also connected to dopamine.
We all love dopamine, some of us more than others but it is appreciated throughout our lives as the best of both the wind ups and wind downs. So eat a diet in tyrosine-rich foods that help increase dopamine levels are almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
More and more healthcare professionals recommend supplementing with vitamins C and E and other antioxidants. Astazanthin, a pigment that give creatures from the sea their pinkish hue, when algae is stressed, astazanthin is what changes a deep green to a pinky red colour. There have been many studies on this compound and it's health benefits and it may be 500 times more powerful as an antioxidant in the brain than vitamin E. (3) This can have interactions with drugs so please talk to a health care professional before starting any vitamin or supplement.
A typical human contains 4.4 pounds of glutamate or Glutamic acid. It is a main component of proteins and peptides, and present in most tissue. Virtually every food contains glutamate. Glutamate or Glutamic acid is also ubiquitous in grain, beans, vegetables, mushrooms, fruits, nuts, sea vegetables such as kombu, and even mother's milk.
EPINEPHRINE is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is reflective of stress. Long term STRESS or INSOMNIA can cause epinephrine levels to be depleted. Epinephrine also regulates HEART RATE and BLOOD PRESSURE.
NOREPINEPHRINE is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is responsible for stimulatory processes in the body. Norepinephrine helps to make epinephrine as well. This neurotransmitter can cause ANXIETY at elevated excretion levels as well as some “MOOD DAMPENING” effects. Low levels of norepinephrine are associated with LOW ENERGY, DECREASED FOCUS ability and sleep cycle problems.
Your brain requires norepinephrine to form new memories and to transfer them to long-term storage. This neurotransmitter also influences your metabolic rate.
Both norepinephrine and dopamine are manufactured from the amino acids tyrosine or phenylalanine in the presence of adequate oxygen, vitamins B3, B6, and C, folic acid, iron, and copper. So Again, food sources of tyrosine include almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
Mmm, Mmm, Lima beans and coconut butter!
Unlike other key neurotransmitters, acetylcholine is not made from amino acids. Its primary building block is choline, which doesn't have to compete for entry into your brain. Therefore, the more choline you consume, the more acetylcholine you can produce.
Choline belongs to the B family of vitamins and is a fat-like substance that's necessary to metabolize fats. It is found in lecithin as phosphatidyl choline. Foods high in lecithin include egg yolks, wheat germ, organic fermented soybeans, organic whole wheat products, and my fav, collard greens.
You can boost your acetylcholine levels by taking supplements of phosphatidyl choline, which is also the form of choline most important to the structure of your neural membranes. Vitamin C and B5 are needed for your brain to synthesize acetylcholine, in the presence of choline acetyltransferase, a key brain enzyme.
Acetylcholine levels tend to decline with age, in part because of a decreased ability to synthesize this enzyme. There also may be an increase in acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine.
An organic, whole food, plant protein based diet with a variety eaten throughout the seasons should keep all the amino acids needed to create these nuerotransmitters in balance and help lower exposure to excitotoxins found in standard agricultural herbicides and pesticides, certain halides found in tap water, different chemicals found in everything from processed foods to body care products.
Serotonin is the calming neurotransmitter important to the maintenance of good mood. It promotes contentment and is responsible for normal sleep. In addition to the central nervous system, serotonin is also found in the walls of the intestine (the enteric nervous system or 'other brain') and in platelet cells that promote blood clotting.
Serotonin plays an important role in regulating memory, learning, and blood pressure, as well as appetite and body temperature. Low serotonin levels produce insomnia and depression, aggressive behaviour, increased sensitivity to pain, and is associated with obsessive-compulsive eating disorders. Serotonin also regulates many other processes such as carbohydrate cravings, sleep cycle, pain control and appropriate digestion. Low serotonin levels are also associated with decreased immune system function.
Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan in the presence of adequate vitamins B1, B3, B6, and folic acid. The best food sources of tryptophan include brown rice, seeds, nuts, and beans.
Serotonin in the gut (the second brain) is produced from enterochomaffin cells in the epithelial lining . Over 90% of the bodies serotonin resides in the gut.(4) And as you have read has may different function, in the gut and brain. The enteric nervous system (brain the 2nd) has direct contact with the big one up top through the vagus nerve which has shown to be more of a conduit from the gut to the brain than the other way around.
So most of our serotonin is used in the gut, what's the deal?
What feeds these endogenous (inside) pathogens? The tables are clearly laid after antibiotic use as these are opportunistic in nature and antibiotics usually wipe out almost all bacterium, the good along with the bad and the bad will multiply at a quicker rate to try and stake there claim to the inside of you gut! Processed foods, foods with high nitrate levels, heavy meat consumption, and chlorinated water can also set the stage for disbiosis (unbalanced bacterium).(5)
So what do we do for us and friendlies?
An Organic, whole food, plant based diet. Did I already say that? Hum, seem to be a repeating thought. If you feel you are out of balance or have had to take antibiotics it is important to supplement with some probiotics and then feel the smiles coming on. Not from the relieve that you don't have to hide your toots at the office anymore but the true smile of a happy balanced gut brain chemistry.
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is often referred to as “nature’s VALIUM-like substance”. When GABA is out of range (high or low excretion values), it is likely that an excitatory neurotransmitter is firing too often in the brain. GABA will be sent out to attempt to balance this stimulating over-firing. Stimulants and over firing is all too common in our over burdened, overeaten, over fired culture. Foods that support GABA; olive oil (omega 3s)maybe in hummus, cherry tomatoes, and fermented foods like kefir or kimchi.
DOPAMINE is a special neurotransmitter because it is considered to be both excitatory and inhibitory. Dopamine helps with depression as well as focus, which you read about in the excitatory section.
The gut brain connection is so important for our general well being and for our colony health, if you won't do it for “you”, do it for the trillion or so bacteria that are really trying hard to keep themselves and YOU, HAPPY!
1) Dr. Deborah Cornah, Consultant to the Mental Health Foundation, based on research by Courtney Van De Weyer, P; Mental Health.org.uk; Feeding minds; The impact of food on mental health, Pg. 38
2)A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. Parkinson's disease, Paralysis agitans; Shaking palsy; PubMed:PMH0001762
3) Dr. Mercola; Mercola.com Astaxanthin—Nature’s Most Powerful Antioxidant; February 10, 2013
4) Girish P. Laddha1 G.Vidyasagar2, Sunil R. Bavaskar3, Sunil B. Baile3 and Sachin. S. Suralkar3; Scholars Research Library; ISSN 0975-5071 USA CODEN: DPLEB4; Serotonin: A Dive of Pleasure and Misery
5) PMID:19018661 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] PMCID:PMC2586385; The pervasive effects of an antibiotic on the human gut microbiota, as revealed by deep 16S rRNA sequencing.