Neurotransmitters & Mental Health. Understanding the connection to support our mental well-being

Have you ever experienced a sudden mood shift or felt anxious for no apparent reason?

Our mental health is intricately linked to our body’s chemical messengers.

Our neurotransmitters play such a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions, including mood, appetite, sleep, and stress response.

As a result, imbalances in these can lead to anxiety, depression, fatigue, inability to focus and more.

In this blog, I will explore the complex relationship between neurotransmitters and mental health, and how understanding this connection can help us better manage our mental wellbeing.

I will also discuss three neurotransmitters that can have an impact on our mental health:

  1. Serotonin,
  2. Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid (GABA) and
  3. Dopamine

and how nutrition and lifestyle factors can help.

Neurotransmitters are chemical signalling molecules which transmit messages from one nerve cell to another and communicate with the rest of body.

They can have an excitatory action (e.g. Adrenaline) or inhibitory action (e.g. GABA).

Balance is essential when it comes to neurotransmitters.

Excess or deficiency can exacerbate the stimulatory or calming action and it can affect our ability to regulate moods, respond to stress, initiate and maintain focus, learn and retain information.

Let’s look at things in details:

Serotonin: Also called the Happiness Neurotransmitter/Hormone, as it is usually associated with wellbeing, satisfaction and popularity.

You might have heard its name before as it is often the target of antidepressant medication, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), e.g. Prozac.

Serotonin is mainly made in our gut, where it regulates our guts motility but also in our central nervous system, where it can affect mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning.

Deficiency of Serotonin can lead to anxiety, depression, low mood, cravings, increased pain sensitivity, migraines and insomnia.

However high level of Serotonin can also lead to anxiety, alongside irritability, restlessness, headache, fatigue, gut sensitivities.

How can we support Serotonin?

– Ensuring appropriate intake of foods rich in tryptophan (amino acid, precursor to serotonin): poultry, nuts and seeds, fish, oat and eggs.
– Working on our stress level and our inflammatory status, to minimise interference in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. We can achieve this by increase anti-inflammatory foods like oily fish, berries, flaxseeds and chia seeds etc while reducing the inflammatory foods like crisps, biscuits, sugary drinks. Reduction of cortisol and stress level is also key. Introducing meditation and breathing practice to our routine alongside gentle exercise / yoga, walk in nature and giving time to ourselves are some examples.
– Supporting our Mineral and Vitamin status, in particular Magnesium, Zinc, Iron and Vitamin B6 and Vitamin D.

GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid), also known as the ‘OFF switch’, our Calming Neurotransmitter.

It is associated with relaxation, sleep, rest, mood & memory improvement. It is made mainly in our brain cells from Glutamate, our ‘ON switch’ = our major excitatory neurotransmitter.

Deficiency of GABA can lead to anxiety, panic attack and low energy.

However high levels can also lead to anxiety, low energy and migraines.

How can we support GABA?

– Supporting our Nervous system: Work on the reduction of cortisol and stress level with the measures mentioned above and limiting excitatory activities and drinks like coffee. Herbal teas like valerian, lemon balm, rosemary are great substitutions.
– Introducing Glutamate rich foods: Fish, Eggs, Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Broccoli, Walnuts
– Alongside foods needed for the conversion of Glutamate to GABA
which are typically foods high in Zinc and Vitamin B6.

Dopamine, our Reward Hormone

It is associated with motivation, pleasure, attention but also movement and coordination. And it is often found to be low in people with addictive personalities.
It is made in different parts of our brain, including the substantia nigra (which is the area most impacted in Parkinson’s disease).

Low level of Dopamine have been associated with lack of motivation, fatigue, insomnia, addictions, cravings, mood issues, inability to focus, ADHD, Restless Legs Syndrome and Low Libido.

However it is also important to note that also high level of Dopamine can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, heightened stress and inability to focus.

How can we support Dopamine?

– Ensuring appropriate intake of foods rich in Tyrosine and Phenylalanine rich foods (amino acids, and precursors to dopamine). Food sources include: Avocado, Pumpkin seeds, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds, Cashew nuts, Brazil nuts Bananas, Tuna, Chicken, Prawns, Salmon, Herring, Eggs, Oats, Eggs, Cheese
– Supporting our Vitamin status to aid conversion, in particular Vitamin B6, C, D and Folate (B9).
Soothing our brain with regular sleep, exercise, and meditation.

How do we know whether our symptoms are linked to low or high levels of certain neurotransmitters.

Functional testing can help.
Our genetic makeup plays a huge role in defining our predisposition to production, sensitivity, and reuptake of the different neurotransmitters. This is one of the report often use with my clients. Understanding our genes is key to understand our symptoms.

As a qualified Nutritional Therapist and Nutrigenomic Practitioner, I love understanding and addressing the root causes of my clients symptoms and I can help you unveil your genetic predisposition by conducting specific nutrigenomics DNA tests.

Book your free discovery call today.

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