With daylight diminishing and winter approaching, November is a wonderful time to find out if you have neurotransmitter imbalances, as the neurotransmitter, serotonin, is normally at its lowest in the winter.
NTs are molecules that regulate brain function and send messages from nerve to nerve both within the brain and outside the brain. They also relay messages from nerve to intestinal tracts, muscle and lungs.
The following symptoms are common with neurotransmitter imbalances: mood disorders, for example, panic attacks, depression, anxiety; eating disorders such as food cravings and inability to control appetite; memory and pain disorders; and metabolic problems, such as fatigue and hypoglycemia; and insomnia.
It is estimated that 70% of all Americans have low serotonin levels. The six NTs that naturopathic doctors commonly measure are: serotonin, GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine (NE), epinephrine (EPI), glutamate.
GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid) is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Its main job is to counter the brain’s most common excitatory neurotransmitters: NE, Epi and glutamate. Too much excitation without enough GABA can even lead to seizures.
Serotonin works with GABA to prevent over-excitation, induce: relaxation, pain reduction, quality sleep, good mood, and calmness under stress. Optimal serotonin levels provide balance, equilibrium both biochemically and emotionally. Living a stressful lifestyle, high sugar diet, using stimulants like caffeine, can contribute to the symptoms listed above, as well as blood sugar swings, rage and bulimia.
Dopamine has many brain functions, including the motivation and good mood experienced from positive reinforcement and reward, the pleasure system, focus, cognition, sleep and learning. Low dopamine can contribute to: loss of motivation to pursue dreams, social anxiety, attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder and depression.
Norepinephrine is found within the central nervous system and functions as an excitatory neurotransmitter, responsible for our drive, ambition, alertness, focus and long-term memory (learning).
Epinephrine (adrenalin) functions as both a neurotransmitter and as a hormone. It is a “fight or flight” hormone, and plays a central role in a short-term stress reaction. Chronic stress may initially raise EPI, but over time, exhausts the adrenal glands.
Glutamate is an amino acid neurotransmitter – the most common excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, powerfully stimulating neuronal tissue. It is also involved in learning and memory. Excess glutamate is dangerous to nervous tissue, causing excitotoxicity, neuron damage and death.
A symptom questionnaire combined with a simple neurotransmitter urine test is the most effective way to detect a NT deficiency.