Is there a time in your life where you felt out of control, shopaholic, addicted to caffeine, or much worse? Do you feel unhappy or stressed for no possible reason, face sleeplessness, or have negative thoughts that you just can’t move ahead?
If your answer is “yes” to any of the above questions, it can be because of a neurotransmitter imbalance!
The imbalance of neurotransmitters in our bodies can lead to several issues like mood disturbances, memory problems, harmful addictions, loss of energy, and sleep disturbances.
Let us see how and why this happens, what we can do about it in this blog.
First thing first, we will look into: what are neurotransmitters and why are they important?.
Our brain is made of approximately 80 billion neurons or nerve cells. These cells communicate through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters which are found and produced inside the brain. Neurotransmitters regulate our mood, cravings, energy, and sleep. They control our cognitive abilities like learning, memory, focus, concentration, and ways of handling stress. They also send messages to our autonomic nervous system, controlling involuntary actions like eye reflexes, digestion, breathing, heart beating, and breathing.
Our sense of happiness and sadness, well-being, understanding pain, function of our immune system, ability to think clearly, and behaviors are all dependent upon a healthy neurotransmitter balance. Abnormal neurotransmitter activity or imbalance in neurotransmitters can cause serious issues like panic attacks, anxiety, obsessive cleaning disorder, etc. But we should also know that neurotransmitter imbalance is extremely common, and we can always work on it and take it back to normalcy. It is usually caused by trauma (emotional or physical) or stress, or even an unhealthy lifestyle.
Our brain is constantly working to keep our neurochemical systems in balance against ongoing internal and external needs. This is done by constant neurobiological and synaptic shifts, which modify the levels of neurotransmitters. For example, at night, when we need to sleep, the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA will block the activity of other neurotransmitter systems, shifting the balance in its favor and so that we get a good night's sleep. In contrast, when we need to think and be attentive, the brain rebalances itself by increasing a neurotransmitter called glutamate so that our system gets active.
Too much or too little change in any of the neurotransmitters can upset the entire balance of the brain. This imbalance can change how we think, feel, and behave - the mental highs and lows of our daily lives.
The consequences of neurotransmitter imbalance depend on how extreme the imbalance is. Generally, most clinical issues like mood disorders or depression, anxiety have some degree of neurotransmitter imbalance. For example, shortage of dopamine is seen in Parkinson’s disease, serotonin deficiency is seen in depression, GABA depletion in anxiety, acetylcholine deficiency in Alzheimer's disease, and glutamate and GABA is imbalanced in epilepsy.
In addition, momentary variations in neurotransmitters can cause changes across a wide range of behaviors, including mood, ability to sleep properly, attentional focus, and ability to remember information or motivational state.
Now that we have understood the basics, we will look into what causes our neurotransmitter imbalance.
It is estimated that nearly 75% of us may have deficient neurotransmitter levels at some point in life. Lifestyle factors inevitably play a major role in this. Persistent stress, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol consumption, caffeine, and smoking, can affect our neurotransmitters. In addition to that, health issues such as diabetes, blood pressure, chronic inflammation, and thyroid issues can also be major culprits. And lastly, few medications and drugs can also disrupt the brain's neurotransmitter balance or compensate for its imbalance. It helps to mimic the effects of the neurotransmitter; for example, benzodiazepines drugs give a calming effect as they are similar in action to GABA receptors.
The first thing to manage our neurotransmitters is to follow a healthy lifestyle, have a balanced diet, control the consumption of alcohol, smoking, balance blood sugar and manage stress through meditation and breathing techniques. This can help in balancing a neurotransmitter at a basic level. Further through continuous research in this area, studies have mentioned a few of the conventional ways to balance neurotransmitters:
We know that exercise is good for our body and our brain. It alters the levels of monoamine neurotransmitters ( helps in sleep, maintaining body temperature, gastrointestinal control, mood-stabilizing) such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Serotonin and dopamine are involved in “central fatigue” - the process by which our brain feels tired after exercise.
Studies conducted at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences in Taiwan showed that doing high-intensity exercise can increase the availability of tryptophan chemicals in our brain. This chemical promotes the synthesis of serotonin and other monoamine neurotransmitters that help mediate fatigue's behavioral sensations and increase positive mood changes.
Balancing Blood Sugar
Keeping blood sugar in balance throughout with healthy snacks, vitamins, and essential minerals is important.
Low and unstable blood sugar levels starve the brain of the large amounts of energy it needs, leading to neurotransmitter imbalance.
It may also cause issues with memory, focus, increased poor decision-making, and irritability.
A study carried out by the endocrine society at Chicago in 2014 showed that patients with high blood sugar levels also showed increased levels of neurotransmitters associated with depression.
Deep breathing is a very beneficial, simple relaxation technique.
Whenever we feel angry, moody, or stressed, taking a deep breath, holding it for one or two seconds, then slowly exhaling for about five seconds can immensely help.
Doing this ten times and we can start to feel more relaxed. It’s much easier to achieve a balanced mood when we slow down and become more efficient with our breathing.
Few other medical techniques like targeted amino acid therapy, which means the supplements of a particular neurotransmitter are given to an individual to try and combat any perceived imbalances in the brain's neurotransmitter systems. Then light therapy which is one of the most commonly used methods. In this, the “lux” level of light is artificially stimulated. Mark A. Oldham and his colleagues at the Department of Psychiatry, Boston University Medical Center, showed that to prevent a decline in mood, exposure to light therapy improved the supply of tryptophan - the primary precursor to the formation of serotonin. And serotonin plays a positive role in our mood, emotion, and appetite.
To summarize, neurotransmitters play a role in nearly every function in our body. Balanced neurotransmitters are crucial to prevent several health conditions, such as panic attacks, addictions, mood disorders, depression, anxiety, OCD, and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. There is no proven way to ensure that neurotransmitters are balanced and working correctly. Nevertheless, practicing a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, proper sleep, and meditation can help in a few cases. Health issues that arise from an imbalance of neurotransmitters always require treatment from a professional. See a doctor regularly to discuss physical and mental health concerns. Do not forget that every imbalance can be balanced with healthy and regular practices.
Blusztajn, J. K., et al. (2017). Neuroprotective actions of dietary choline. https://www .mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/8/815/htm
Boonstra, E., et al. (2015). Neurotransmitters as food supplements: The effects of GABA on brain and behaviour. https://www.ncbi .nlm.nih .gov/pmc/articles/PMC4594160/
Enkephalins & endorphins. (n.d.). https://headaches.org /2007/10/ 25/enkephalins-endorphins/
Fisher, B., et al. (2013). Treadmill exercise elevates striatal dopamine D2 receptor binding potential in patients with early Parkinson's disease [Abstract]. https://journals.lww.com/neuroreport/Abstract/2013/07100/Treadmill_exercise_elevates_striatal_dopamine_D2.3.aspx
Gupta, A., et al. (2013). Role of serotonin in seasonal affective disorder [Abstract]. https://www.europeanreview.org/article/1251
Hinz, M., et al. (2012). 5-HTP efficacy and contraindications. https://www.ncbi.nlm .nih.gov/pmc/ articles/PMC3415362/
Hryhorczuk, C., et al. (2015). Dampened mesolimbic dopamine function and signalling by saturated but not monounsaturated dietary lipids. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4707827/
High blood sugar causes brain changes that raise depression risk Date: June 23, 2014 Source: Endocrine Society
McMahon, B. et al. (2016). Seasonal difference in brain serotonin transporter binding predicts symptom severity in patients with seasonal affective disorder. https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/139/5/1605/2468755/
Trinko, J. R., et al. (2016). Vitamin D3: A role in dopamine circuit regulation, diet-induced obesity, and drug consumption. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4875352/
Young, S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/