What Is a Neurotransmitter?
A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that regulates physical processes. Neurotransmitters are responsible for movement, pain, stress, emotions, cognition, energy, cravings, and more. If the body has a lack of neurotransmitters, disruptions from the signal to the target tissue will appear and heavily influence overall health and well- being. Neurotransmitters function mainly in the Central Nervous System and communicate between the brain and the body’s glands.
Neurotransmitter imbalances are not only found in the brain but they are excreted outside of the Central Nervous System as well. Neurotransmitters play a role in influencing our digestion, nutrient absorption and impact our musculoskeletal system.
Types of Neurotransmitters
Serotonin: This is one of the most known neurotransmitters and although responsible for mood, serotonin also controls our obsessions and compulsions. 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced and housed in the gastrointestinal tract, leaving only a small amount to actually be in the brain.
Dopamine: Drives pleasure, reward, and motivation. Dopamine is heavily triggered when the reward is greater than expected. For example, the excitement you feel when you pay for one thing and you get an additional for free.
GABA: This neurotransmitter is so large that it can not pass through the blood-brain barrier. However, there are natural supplements that are derivatives of GABA that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Glutamate: Glutamate is involved when it comes to the repetitive behaviors of addiction. Additionally, those who feel sick may need to evaluate their diet as glutamate is a common flavor enhancer used in foods. Individuals may be receiving too much glutamate if they eat foods like soy sauce, frozen pizza, and even chicken broth.
Norepinephrine/ Epinephrine: Responsible for fight or flight. Additionally, these neurotransmitters act as regulators of carbohydrates. When the body feels threatened by the cold, low blood sugar, exercise or something scares us, these two neurotransmitters are released by the adrenal medulla.
Labrix is a company that provides a neurotransmitter test that we use in our clinic to assess neurotransmitter function. If we suspect a patient is producing too little or too much of a neurotransmitter, a take-home Labrix kit is issued to them.
Physical symptoms of a neurotransmitter imbalance include pain, sweating, dizziness, addiction, trouble sleeping, anxiety, IBS, mood swings/disorders, low social interest, depression, appetite change, brain fog, fatigue, cold hands, headaches, and the inability to relax.
When a patient comes in for chiropractic care feeling distressed because they are unable to sleep or relax, have headaches, and pain, manual adjustments, as well as neurotransmitter testing, may be appropriate.
Neurotransmitter testing allows us to understand the route cause of these symptoms. Additionally, testing provides data leading us in the direction of what all-natural supplements patients will benefit from depending on their level of neurotransmitter deficiency.
Treating Neurotransmitter Imbalances Holistically
The treatment of neurotransmitter imbalances heavily relies on if you are over or underproducing a neurotransmitter. Secondly, the neurotransmitter you are needing to correct depends on the supplement as well.
L-Theanine is a great supplement to correct neurotransmitter imbalances. L-Theanine comes from green tea and produces a calming effect on the brain. It has been shown to increase cognition and alertness. L-Theanine can be used for high or low neurotransmitter imbalances.
Vitamin D is another supplement that has been shown to have many clinical benefits. Not just for neurotransmitters bur for cancer risk reduction and blood sugar stabilization. In terms of neurotransmitters, Vitamin D activates the gene expression of tryptophan hydroxylase which regulates the production of serotonin and dopamine.
Fish oil that contains DHA and EPA possesses anti-inflammatory factors and contributes to the fluidity of a cell membrane. This supplement helps with the function of the brain and nerve cells.
Research has been overcovering the connection between the gut and brain axis. The state of the flora and what we feed our gut has a direct relationship on our mood and neurodevelopmental disorders. This being said, probiotics will help feed the good bacteria in the gut and improve mood. Considering so much of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, we need to remember that everything starts in the kitchen, leads to the gut, and ultimately our genes.
Lastly, remember that stress plays a significant role in the body’s internal actions. Reducing stress by exercising, yoga, meditation, or deep belly breathing are good additional ways to bring your body back to homeostasis. The relationship between hormones and brain chemistry strongly increases the severity of neurotransmitter symptoms.
Neurotransmitters clearly play a vital role in everyday mood and functions. When patients come to our clinic seeking help for headaches, pain, and depression we have to look in the direction of neurotransmitters and the gastrointestinal tract. With serotonin being such a large factor when it comes to mood and being primarily made and stored in the gut, we need patients to understand this deep connection. Additionally, our genetics impact our gut and how we break down certain foods. By feeding our guts healthy foods, we are not only altering our digestion and microflora but positively impacting our mood and genes as well! -Kenna Vaughn, Senior Health Coach
For more information regarding our diets and genetics, please read the published research study below:
Genetic and Epigenetic Contributions to Human Nutrition and Health: Managing Genome-Diet Interactions
“As the field of nutritional genomics matures, which will include filling fundamental gaps in knowledge of nutrient-genome interactions in health and disease and demonstrating the potential benefits of customizing nutrition prescriptions based on genetics” – Stover
Ferris, Lylen. “Neurotransmitter Primer.” Functional Medicine University . 2020, www. Functionalmedicineuniversity. com/members/1040.cfm.
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The information herein on "Neurotransmitters: What Are They & Why Are They Important?" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*
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