In this article, Dr. Doni demystifies neurotransmitters and explains how neurotransmitters can be balanced using nutrients and herbs.
Most people think of the nervous system as a mysterious, far-off, known only to few, part of the body. We are not all neurosurgeons after all! Meanwhile, whenever there is a symptom in the body that medicine can not explain with a blood test, it is considered to be “all in your head,” which can leave you feeling dismissed and stuck.
The nervous system exists throughout your entire body and is fully integrated with everything that you do: sleeping, talking, walking, feeling, eating digesting, and so much more. If you are not sleeping, feeling anxious, depressed, or tired, it is not “just in your head;” it is quite possibly in your nervous system, and there are natural solutions to balancing the nervous system. I’m happy to guide you with what I’ve learned by treating myself and hundreds of patients over the past decade.
Is mood a choice?
It is quite common to see statements saying that mood is something we choose or could change simply by looking at life from a positive perspective. While research does indicate that a positive outlook is associated with healthfulness, when there is an imbalance in your body, you are quite likely to experience a low mood.
I’d like to free you from feeling that it is “all in your head” and from being hard on yourself when you can’t quite get the dark cloud to lift.
While yes, there are ways to step back and observe thoughts and feelings in a way that allows them to be processed. For example, I’ve just been reading a wonderful book that explains emotions and how to experience them in a way that supports health; it is called “The One Thing Holding You Back: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Connection” by Raphael Cushnir. Another example is meditation, which can absolutely help decrease health concerns of all types and improve mood.
These tools, however, won’t be as effective when the neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers in the nervous system – and/or cortisol – the stress hormone – are out of balance. Might that be what is happening in your body?
Understanding the nervous system is actually far easier than you might think! And by understanding how it works, we can address the cause of many health issues, not by masking or taking over for the body, but by giving your body what it needs to function in a healthy way.
The way the nervous system works is via the neurotransmitters, each with it’s own message as to how the body is to respond. There are over 90 known transmitters (more are being discovered every year), some stimulating and others calming to our bodies. It is the combination of their messages that determines our experience in each moment.
A few common neurotransmitters are:
- Serotonin: a calming neurotransmitter that is best known for helping us “feel good” but is also involved in energy levels, sleep and food cravings. It is made from tryptophan, which becomes 5HTP before converting to serotonin.
- GABA: another calming neurotransmitter – I refer to it as our “stress buffer” or buffer to stress. Theanine, N-acetylcysteine and CoQ10 all support GABA production.
- Glutamate: the most stimulatory neurotransmitter, which is often elevated when we are under stress. The best way to lower glutamate levels is to support GABA.
- Adrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine): is a stimulatory neurotransmitter and a stress messenger. When we are stressed, adrenaline increases. It is made from tyrosine.
Why are my neurotransmitters out of balance?
Stress. The direct result of stress (which of course we all have) is that neurotransmitters are thrown out of balance. Read more in my article published in the Integrative Medicine Journal, June/July 2009.
Plus, neurotransmitters are made in the body from basic nutrients which could easily be deficient, especially when we are pushing ourselves to get more done with less sleep and on nutrient-sparse foods. Leaky gut leads to nutrient deficiencies and inflammation which affect the nervous system and genetic mutations can make it more likely that certain forms of nutrients are necessary for neurotransmitter production.
Put all these factors together and it is quite likely that an imbalance of neurotransmitter levels may develop.
How we can know and address your neurotransmitters?
Neurotransmitters can be effectively measured with a urine test to determine which are too high or too low.
Once we know the levels, it is possible to restore the levels to optimal by using nutrients and herbs* that gently guide your body back on track naturally.
This is accomplished by taking the specific nutrient that your body converts to the neurotransmitter we want more of, or by taking an herb that lowers a neurotransmitter that is too high. Pretty cool, right?
For example, a person who feels anxious or irritable may have elevated norepinephrine or glutamate, or both. Whereas another person with anxiety may instead have low serotonin and elevated histamine. The effective approach will be different for these two people even though they both experience anxiety.
Is it possible to feel better?
By addressing the nervous system in this way, you could feel better without the need for medications that have side effects and/or that create a dependency (of course there are situations when mediations are necessary and it is not advisable to discontinue medications without the recommendation of your physician).
I have observed patient after patient tell me how they are sleeping (finally!), feeling “themselves” again and having more energy (then when they were 20!) after identifying the nutrients and herbs that were needed to help their nervous system back on track. Patients report that it is much easier to process emotions healthfully when neurotransmitter levels are balanced.
What makes this even more exciting is that scientists have discovered that neurotransmitters communicate with other areas of the body, including the immune system, digestion and hormones too. So shifting neurotransmitter levels, has the potential to positively influence health all over your body. To read more about how food and mood are interrelated, click here.
How to get started?
If you think your neurotransmitters need some calibrating (my way of saying that they could be adjusted toward optimal with the right nutrients and herbs), let’s meet soon to arrange for your neurotransmitters to be tested.
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.