I am feeling really good these days. 2014 has been very good to my health; physically, mentally and spiritually. While I am heading in the right direction, I know I can function at an even higher level. I want to learn more so I can live it and then offer the experience and the information to those I work with and come in contact with.
Why am I mentioning this, you ask? In my quest to grow I am continuing my education by working towards a Masters FDN® Certification. It consists of multiple parts and I plan to finish by late spring ’15. Part of the current curriculum is Neurotransmitter Testing (with a simple urine test) and the art of Rebalancing them naturally.
I want to offer to you some information that may prove helpful to you in your health journey.
Everyone wants to feel good, be happy and full of vitality, but not everyone does or is. It is common to find people feeling sad, depressed, lonely, or anxious, manic and always on edge. While these feelings are very common and a part of being human, they can be a problem when you get stuck feeling one way or bounce back and forth between extremes.
There is a huge market and growing demand for methods to deal with what I see as Mental Fragility. So many people know they don’t “feel right” but they can’t seem to make any progress initiating change or get stuck doing the same self-destructive behavior over and over.
The use of psychotropic pharmaceuticals is growing, and the market is expanding as parents are readily allowing these harmful drugs to be prescribed to teenagers and even children. Even when drugs are not prescribed people are self-medicating to find a way to function within a life out of balance. There are an awful lot of people just trying to survive on a day-to-day basis.
Personally and most likely not a surprise to readers, I am not a fan of drugs or surgery or most allopathic medical treatments unless it is a life or death situation or one that may result in paralysis. This is my opinion and not everyone will agree with it, and I am okay with that.
I would like to think that when people have mental fragility or mood imbalances we could agree that the problem is not a lack of pharmaceuticals or stimulants. Rather, a problem very likely exists within the realm of neurotransmitter (NT).
Neurotransmitters (NT) are brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. They relay signals between nerve cells, called “Neurons.”
NTs are used throughout the body. They tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe and your stomach to digest. Problems develop when they are out of balance. NT imbalances can manifest in many ways:
- Depression, moodiness
- Anxiety, unfounded worry
- Focus or memory problems
- Lethargy or chronic fatigue
- Addiction Weight control issues
- Migraines, headaches
- Chronic Pain PMS, hormonal symptoms
These are just a sample of problems arising from NT imbalances. It is estimated that 86% of Americans have sub-optimal NT levels. Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted in many ways:
- Poor lifestyle including diet (insufficient protein intake, alcohol and caffeine ingestion), rest (poor sleep habits), exercise (too little or too much), chronic stress and the wrong supplements
- Gut dysfunction, poor assimilation of nutrients (increased mucosal permeability or “leaky gut”)
- Prescription medication, recreational drug use
- Toxin exposure, environmental pollutants, heavy metals
- Trauma or injury (physical and mental/emotional)
- Pregnancy, other hormonal issues
- Family history, age
There are two kinds of neurotransmitters, inhibitory and excitatory. Excitatory NTs stimulate the brain. Inhibitory NTs calm the brain. Optimal brain and body function occurs when there is a balance between the NTs.
Some NTs are complimentary to others while others are antagonists. What is important is not so much the amount of any one neurotransmitter rather it is how they relate to each other. The proportions and ratios are key along with the ability to interpret these relationships relative to the signs and symptoms that a given individual has.
Let’s take a look at the neurotransmitters. This is just a general overview and not meant to diagnose anything, though I am sure you will find some correlations with yourself. Remember that correlation does not mean causation. True health comes from treating the individual, not the lab results!
Inhibitory Neurotransmitters (do not stimulate the brain, have a more calming effect)
Serotonin – Adequate amounts are needed for a stable mood and to balance out any excessive excitatory NTs. If you use stimulants or caffeine on a daily basis it can deplete Serotonin levels over time. It also regulates other functions such as carbohydrate cravings, sleep cycle, pain control and appropriate digestion. Low Serotonin is associated with decreased immune system function.
GABA – Often referred to as “nature’s valium.” When GABA is out of range, either high or low, it is likely that an excitatory NT is firing too often. GABA will be used to attempt to balance this over-firing.
Dopamine – is rather special. It is considered both inhibitory and excitatory.
Excitatory Neurotransmitters (tend to stimulate the brain)
Dopamine – When too high or low we can have focus issues, not remembering where we placed something, forgetting something you just read, daydreaming or not being able to stay focused on a task. Dopamine is responsible for our drive, or desire to get things done, our motivation. Stimulant medications such as those for ADD/ADHD and caffeine cause Dopamine to be pushed into the nerve synapse (space between two nerve endings) so that focus improves. The challenge is that stimulating dopamine can cause reserve levels to deplete over time.
Norepinephrine – Is responsible for stimulatory process in the body. It also helps make epinephrine. This NT at elevated levels can cause anxiety as well as have mood dampening effects. Low levels are correlated with low energy, decreased focus and poor sleep habits.
Epinephrine – Is correlated to stress. It is often elevated when ADHD symptoms are present. Long term chronic stress or insomnia can deplete epinephrine levels. It also regulates heart rate and blood pressure.
Glutamate – Can be damaging when excreted in excess (harmful to nervous tissue, causing excitotoxicity, neuron damage and death). Is manufactured from L-glutamine. Can be consumed as MSG (very popular and excessively used flavor enhancer) or DSG. It is often elevated with seizure activity. Glutamate plays a role in learning and memory.
Histamine – Has a role in the response to allergy and inflammation. High levels can cause agitation, irritability and altered sleep cycles. Low levels are associated with feeling tired or focus issues. Histamine also promotes the excretion of dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
As you can see, neurotransmitters can have an impact on much more than just mood. Plus, to achieve proper health and function the NTs must be present in adequate amounts and be balanced. It the relationships between these NTs and the interpretation of the relationships relative to the individual that is important.
A proper interpretation requires, knowledge, skill and time. It is not just about the test results. You have to take into consideration that lifestyle choices and environmental factors play a significant role in NT balance or imbalance.
You have to leave no stone unturned if you want to truly create balance and health that is manageable for the rest of your life. One heck of a coincidence is that my program “Your Health Solution” is designed to do just that…leave no stone unturned. I use functional lab testing including a Neurotransmitter urine test option that can done at home to get an understanding of what HIDDEN Stressors / Dysfunction are present and the healing opportunities that are available.
H – ormones
I – mmune
D – igestion
D – etoxification
E – nvironmental
N – eurotransmitters
A plan using the DRESS for Health Success® Lifestyle Program is then designed to take advantage of these healing opportunities relative to your unique needs and abilities.
D – iet
R – est
E – xercise
S – tress management
S – upplements and hormones
The allopathic approach to dealing with a neurotransmitter imbalance (emotional fragility) is through prescription medication, drugs. The most common is Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors or SSRIs. This drug prevents the re-uptake of serotonin in the presynaptic neuron to make it appear as if more NT is available.
SSRIs do nothing to correct the underlying imbalance. Nor do most doctors bother to discover what is not working and ask why. Not all the drugs work the same and some have significant side effects:
- Nausea, vomiting
- Drowsiness, headaches
- Bruxism (teeth grinding), light sensitivity
- Vivid or strange dreams
- Dizziness, changes in appetite
- Insomnia and/or changes in sleep
- Excessive diarrhea (yes, excessive as diarrhea on its own is not bad enough)
- Weight loss/gain
- 1.7x increase in risk of bone fractures
- Changes in sexual behavior (will get to this)
- Increased feelings of depression and anxiety
- Mania, tremors, sweating
- Autonomic dysfunction including orthostatic hypotension (significant decrease in blood pressure upon standing)
- Suicidal ideation
- Paresthesia (feelings of burning, numbness, tingling etc of skin), cognitive disorders
If you thought that these effects are bad, lets take a look at SSRI caused Sexual dysfunction:
- Anorgasmia (an inability to achieve orgasm), erectile dysfunction, diminished libido, genital numbness and sexual anhedonia (pleasureless orgasm)
- In recent studies, doctors have specifically asked about sexual difficulties and found that they are present in most patients
- Symptoms may persist after discontinuing SSRIs, including loss of genital sensation and other effects for years..yes, years later!
- There is no FDA approved treatment for SSRI induced sexual dysfunction (and if there were, I would hate to see what those effects were, if this wasn’t bad enough)
There are always at least two, if not more approaches to building health or in this case balancing Neurotranmitters. You can treat the symptoms, hope for the best and then treat the side effects, or, you can test the neurotransmitters, discover the imbalance, change your lifestyle and support the NTs with the intelligent use of supplementation.
You know where I side in this discussion. True health is the result of self-love and respect that permeates all aspects of your life and how you interact with other people places and things.
I think we covered enough for the moment and hopefully gave you a few things to consider. Do stay tuned as I will post updates as get my lab results back. I am looking forward to this!!