What is a neurotransmitter?

What is a neurotransmitter?

It is a chemical messenger from the nervous to nerve tissue as well as to the organs and glands of the body. They regulate many emotional processes; cognition as well as response to movement, pain, energy and stress.  It occurs primarily in the central nervous system which communicates from the brain to the rest of the body. They are released from the neurons and travel across a small space called a gap junction that occurs between nerves and the cells on organs, glands and muscles. Inadequate amounts of neurotransmitters will create an altered pain response and other imbalances.

What are the symptoms of neurotransmitter imbalance?

  • Mood disorders: depression and anxiety, mood imbalance
  • Adrenal Dysfunction: fatigue and insomnia
  • Loss of Mental Focus:  ADD, ADHD, cognitive function and mental fog
  • Addiction and Dependency
  • Hormonal Imbalances: Estrogen Imbalance, Androgen dysfunction
  • Loss of Appetite Control: obesity and insulin resistance

* Symptoms often worsen with the addition of bioactive substances like: caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and prescription medications.

What are the different types of neurotransmitters?
The body is like a finely tuned machine that has a system of checks and balances which occur when functioning properly. The neurotransmitters  also balance each other out by using both inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters that regulate our system and are classified by their effect on the post-synaptic neuron or the neuron that is receiving the signal.

  • Excitatory neurotransmitters cause the depolarization of the cell and thus a signal is sent from the neuron.
  • Inhibitory neurotransmitters cause a hyper-polarization of the cell and thus prevents the neuron from sending any form of signal.

How do I know that my neurotransmitters are out of balance?

A urinary HLPC Mass Spec Technology test is done using one of two laboratories based on a patients specific need.  They usually test the following 6 main neurotransmitters as they are most significant in the symptomatic conditions:

  1. Serotonin
  2. GABA
  3. Dopamine
  4. Norepinephrine
  5. Epinephrine
  6. Glutamate

What are the functions of the different neurotransmitters?

  1. Serotonin – is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is responsible for the regulation of sleep, appetite and aggression.  Common imbalances of serotonin will lead to mood disorders, anxiety and depression .  It is also commonly altered by pharmaceutical agents, stress,  stimulate medications  and caffeine.
    • Out of Balance = depression, anxiety, insomnia, carbohydrate cravings, PMS, difficulty with pain control and sleep disturbances.
  2. GABA (gama-aminobutyric acid) –  is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that resides mostly in the Central Nervous System (CNS) and is responsible for calming most of the excitatory neurotransmitters. Low levels may suggest adrenal dysregulation and high levels of stress where as high levels of GABA suggest an excitatory overload on the system in an individual and create sluggishness. Alcohol mimics the sedating GABA like effect on the body.
    • Out of Balance = GABA low – impulse control or a hyper-reactiveness in response to stimulus – even seizures.  GABA high – sluggish energy, feeling of sedation, and mental fogginess.
  3. Dopamine – is both an inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitter and is associated with the pleasure/reward pathway, memory and motor response in the body.
    • Out of Balance =  Dopamine low – will often cause issues of decreased motor control (conditions such as Parkinson’s and others), addictive behavior, impulse control, (ADHD and ADD) loss of satisfaction and cravings.  These individuals will self medicate by overeating, drinking caffeine, taking ADD and ADHD medications, drugs, smoking in an attempt to raise their dopamine levels.  Continual stimulation of Dopamine by caffeine and medication will cause depletion over time.  Dopamine high – will result in hyper-activity, anxiety (conditions such as schizophrenia  and other disorders), mood swings, psychosis and attention disorders.
  4. Norepinephrine (noradrenaline) –  is an excitatory neurotransmitter  produced in the CNS and in the adrenal medulla as a stress hormone.It’s associated with actions including attention, focus, inflammation regulation and regulating heart rate.  Also it is associated with arousal and stimulating  the sympathetic nervous system which is the fight or flight reaction.
    • Out of Balance = Norepinephrine high –  will cause anxiety, stress, elevated blood pressure and hyperactivity.  Norepinephrine low – lack of energy, memory loss, lack of focus and decreased motivation.
  5. Epinephrine (adrenaline) – is an excitatory neurotransmitter produced from norepinephrine in the CNS and the adrenal medulla; its conversion is stimulated by cortisol.  Associated with muscle contraction, heart rate and glycogen break down, blood pressure and the stress response.
    • Out of Balance = Epinephrine high – hyperactivity, ADHD, sleep issues and low adrenal function.  Epinephrine low – fatigue, depression, low cortisol, chronic stress and low recovery from illness.
  6. Glutamate – is an excitatory neurotransmitter and the most abundant in the  neurotransmitter in the nervous system.  It is involved in the higher areas of the brain including learning, memory and most cognitive functions.
    • Out of Balance = Glutamate high – panic attacks, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, OCD and depression.  Glutamate low – agitation, memory loss, sleep issues and low levels of energy.

How are neurotransmitters tested?

Neurotransmitters are done by a urine sample taken in the morning  after the first void of the bladder then waiting 1 hour without drinking anything to create a concentrated urine sample.  The sample must reach the lab within 7 days so the sample doesn’t degrade.  We have a lab that will not accept samples older than 7 days to assure the quality of the neurotransmitters in the sample.

How do we balance neurotransmitters?

This is a complex process that occurs when you add in things like enzymes and cofactors to allow either the stimulation of inhibition of the neurotransmitters or reduction of excitatory neurotransmitters so that all things in your body are brought into balance.  We balance the neurotransmitters through herbal and botanicals as well as lifestyle modifications.  These modifications include stress reduction, exercise and things like hormone balancing.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?


SAD is a type of depression that develops during the dark and cloudy grays days of winter.  Surprisingly, this depression doesn’t surface until the spring and early summer, after the winter months have sapped our energy and lowered our moods.


What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?


While loss of energy and depression are most common, other symptoms can include:


  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Heavy feeling of arms and legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Social withdrawal
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed



What causes SAD and what are the theories behind it?


The specific cause of SAD is still unknown. Generally it seems to affect certain patients more than others. A person with a genetic predisposition or mental health issues is most vulnerable. The common theories explaining SAD are:


  • Biological clock (circadian rhythm):  Reduced levels of light will disrupt the body’s internal clock which can lead to depression.
  • Serotonin levels:  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that effects mood and gets a boost from sunlight. These levels may drop in the winter and trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels: Melatonin is a hormone that helps control our sleep patterns and moods. Production of this hormone can be reduced during the winter months which can disrupt sleep and trigger low moods.


Who is most at risk?


  • Females
  • Those with a family history of SAD
  • Those with clinical depression or bipolar disorder
  • Those living very far away from the equator


How to know if you meet the criteria for suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder?


You might be diagnosed with SAD if:


  • You have experienced a depression or fatigue in at least two consecutive years around the same time of the year
  • The depression seemed to go away suddenly when the season changed
  • There are no life-related explanations for your depression or mood changes


What are the treatment options for SAD?


  • Light therapy:  A very easy way to see if you have this disorder is to buy an inexpensive full spectrum light bulb that fits in your vanity and note whether your mood improves somewhat or completely.  This may be adequate treatment for some people.  If your mood only improves slightly then you may want to talk to your doctor about a high-quality light therapy box.
  • Medication:  Herbal supplements like 5HTP can increase serotonin and melatonin levels for maintaining a healthy sleep pattern. Other vitamins and herbs can assist in depression disorders.  Pharmaceuticals options include Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac and Effexor.
  • Talk therapy:  Helps teach coping mechanisms for SAD.
  • Get a massage! The healing power of touch has been shown to lift some of the symptoms of SAD while giving much needed relief to tired achy muscles.


What can I do to prevent SAD?


  • Exercise regularly 4 times a week for a minimum of 30-45 minutes.
  • Getting outside in the sun for as little as 10 to 15 minutes can help prevent SAD.
  • Replace your traditional vanity light with a full-spectrum bulb to reap its advantages while getting ready for school or work in the morning.
  • Supplement with Vitamin D 2,000 iu daily. Increased dosages should only be taken if recommended by your doctor.  Vitamin D supplements are especially important if you wear sunscreen regularly.