Is there an area of your life where you feel out of control?
Are you a shopaholic, chocoholic, caffeine addict, alcoholic or drug addict?
Do you get depressed for no apparent reason, feel overwhelmed by life, have trouble sleeping, or have negative thoughts that you just can’t shake?
Then it’s very possible you have a neurotransmitter imbalance.
The Role of Neurotransmitters
There are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain and these cells communicate with each other via brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Scientists have found just over 100 of these communication chemicals, but it’s believed they will ultimately discover thousands.
Neurotransmitters control your ability to focus, concentrate, and remember, as well as mood, cravings, addictions, sleep, and more.
It’s estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Our modern lifestyle is to blame. Stress, poor diet, environmental toxins, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine can cause neurotransmitter depletion.
There are two main kinds of neurotransmitters — excitatory and inhibitory. Read the description of the top four neurotransmitter types to determine which one sounds most like you. Then you can take the appropriate steps to optimize your neurotransmitter balance.
Excitatory neurotransmitters keep you productive.
Dopamine helps you get focused. Signs that you need more dopamine are low energy and motivation, low libido, needing pick-me-ups to get through the day like caffeine, sugar, chocolate, or other stimulants. People low in dopamine have a tendency towards depression or apathy, but get a buzz from shopping or gambling. Their illicit drugs of choice are cocaine, amphetamines, or Ecstasy.
A protein-rich diet is an excellent source for the amino acids needed to create more dopamine. Foods that promote dopamine include avocado, beef, fish, pork, and coffee.
Exercise boosts dopamine levels naturally.
Try supplementing with the amino acid tyrosine which converts into dopamine.
Acetylcholine is for learning and remembering. When you are low in this brain chemical, you can’t remember, become forgetful, can’t focus, can’t follow plots, and can’t find the right words. You may crave fatty foods.
You probably have poor muscle tone and find it difficult to exercise.
Acetylcholine deficiency is associated with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and multiple sclerosis. Acetylcholine activity is the target of Alzheimer’s drugs, which block the breakdown of this brain chemical.
A choline-rich diet will help to produce the acetylcholine the brain needs to stay sharp. Some acetylcholine-rich foods include almonds, blueberries, cruciferous vegetables, cheese, eggs, fish, and chicken.
Supplements that naturally increase acetylcholine levels include alpha-GPC, CDP-choline, and vitamin B6.
Inhibitory neurotransmitters keep you feeling happy and relaxed.
If you’re low in GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), you may be easily stressed, over-stimulated and overwhelmed. You have a hard time relaxing and slowing down and have trouble sleeping. You may experience heart palpitations, cold hands, and shortness of breath.
Individuals low in GABA often self-medicate with food, alcohol, or tranquilizing drugs to relax.
They could benefit from taking the amino acids l-theanine, the calming compound found in green tea, and taurine, which activates GABA receptors. B vitamins reduce the wear and tear of stress, while relaxing herbs like hops, passion flower, valerian, and lemon balm promote a sense of calm and help you sleep. The probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus markedly improves GABA levels.
GABA-rich foods are bananas, broccoli, fish, organ meats, spinach, and nuts.
It’s been shown that GABA levels can be increased by doing yoga.
GABA supplements are sold, but there is some concern that it doesn’t readily cross the blood-brain barrier.
Serotonin plays an important part in learning, mood, and sleep. People low in this substance suffer from anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem, negative thoughts, OCD, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). These people feel better with exercise and when taking serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs, such as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro. Signs you are low in serotonin are that you crave sugar, bread and pasta, have trouble sleeping, and are prone to anxiety, negativity, and depression.
One of the most amazing things about serotonin is that 90% of it is produced in the intestines, not your brain! That is why people who fit this profile should definitely add a probiotic supplement to their diet to establish healthy gut flora. An overabundance of bad bacteria leaves toxic byproducts called lipopolysaccharides which have numerous negative effects on your brain including lowering levels of both dopamine and serotonin. Learn more about how digestive health affects your brain here.
To make serotonin, your brain needs enough of the essential amino acid tryptophan, found in bananas, beets, cheese, salmon, and poultry of all kinds, especially turkey.
Daily exercise, sufficient sleep, and exposure to sunshine will increase serotonin levels, too.
If you are low in serotonin, you should consider taking 5-HTP, B-complex vitamins, magnesium, and a probiotic supplement.
The Problem with “Brain” Supplements
Many supplements designed to improve brain functions — like focus, memory, and concentration — include amino acids, herbs, and vitamins that are designed to boost the production of one or more neurotransmitters.
But there is a big problem with this approach!
If you don’t know which neurotransmitters need boosting, you might well be making your imbalance even worse!
But now that you know your neurotransmitter type and which supplements will help, you can make better decisions about which supplements to take and which to avoid.
To learn which supplements are recommended for each neurotransmitter type,
see the original version of this article at my site BeBrainFit.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. She teaches the best ways to stay mentally sharp for life at her website BeBrainFit.com. Brain fog, “senior moments”, and fuzzy thinking are signs your brain is not working as well as it should. Discover how to nourish your brain and optimize your brainpower — sign up for her email series 21 Days to a Brighter Brain here.
Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being at ScientificAmerican.com
What Are Neurotransmitters at Neurogistics.com
Yoga Increases GABA Levels in Brain at BrainBlogger.com