Neurotransmitters 101

Neurotransmitters 101

Consistent with our philosophy at the Blend Institute, neurotransmitter balancing addresses the symptom at its cause in an effort to correct the problem while providing the body with the resources for optimal health and longevity. Let’s start with some basics.

What are neurotransmitters? Through a highly regulated electro-chemical chain of events, the brain uses neurotransmitters to communicate with both itself and other organs and tissues in the body. In this manner information is transmitted, neuron to neuron, from one area of the brain or body to another. When this information eventually reaches its final destination, the message is translated into action, initiating or preventing a certain action in the target tissue. This can be anything from the contraction of a muscle, to a thought in our head, to a message to produce a specific hormone. Of course, this is a simplified description of the actual events. In reality there is an intricate system of modulation and control in the transmission of electrical and chemical impulses in the brain.

Why do we care? Because the nervous system is always active, the process of neurotransmission depends on a constant and adequate supply of the various neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are required for proper brain and body function, without them, our nervous systems would fail and we would lose the ability to think, feel, act, and function in a way that keeps our bodies healthy and our mind alive.Medical research has shown that many factors associated with today's fast-paced lifestyle can be linked to imbalances in neurotransmitter and hormone levels. Keep in mind that proper communication within the body is paramount to optimum function, and that many clinical conditions may result from miscommunication in the nervous system. This miscommunication has downstream effects on our immune system, endocrine system, and other important health-regulating systems within our bodies. These resultant imbalances can cause us to have difficulty sleeping, feel anxious, depressed, or fatigued. We can experience pain, migraines, PMS, a lack of focus or concentration or the opposite effect, we can be over focused and find it difficult to turn off our thinking off.

So what can we do? First it is important to know what the imbalances are. Our path to restoring communication within the nervous system begins with identifying imbalances through testing neurotransmitter levels. Once identified, programs can be developed that specifically target those imbalances. Challenging symptoms such as low mood, anxiety and sleep difficulties are incredibly complex, and fall under the control of many different neurotransmitters and hormones. Neurotransmitter testing allows us to pinpoint which of the many parameters related to a condition may be responsible. Neurotransmitter testing is simple, affordable, and requires only urine collection. The neurotransmitter test is not diagnostic for any particular condition. However, certain neurotransmitter imbalances are associated with various clinical symptoms. The value of testing urinary neurotransmitters has a long medical history and is rapidly becoming an increasingly accepted method of assessing a patient’s health. After a patient’s neurotransmitter imbalances have been identified through testing, the next step is to address the imbalances. There are a number of ways to go about manipulating neurotransmitter levels in the interest of symptom resolution and neurochemical rebalancing. Two effective approaches include pharmaceutical intervention and amino acid supplementation.

Pharmaceutical intervention The pharmaceutical industry has developed hundreds of drugs designed to treat a whole host of nervous system and psychiatric disorders. The vast majority of these drugs work directly on the process of neurotransmission. These medications have been proven to be effective for reducing or eliminating symptoms in many clinical conditions, however, they fail to address low neurotransmitter stores long-term. A major drawback of many neuro-active drugs is that they only affect the transportation or release of existing pools of neurotransmitters in the body. If the diet does not provided sufficient amounts of neurotransmitter precursors, then there may not be enough neurotransmitters to properly relay signals within the nervous system even if drugs are used.

Nutritional Neuromodulation Another means of addressing neurotransmitter imbalance is with amino acid precursors. This method significantly differs from the pharmaceutical approach, and the concept is rather simple. Considering that many clinical conditions maybe the result of a neurotransmitter deficiency, amino acid therapy directly addresses this issue by supplementing the diet with specific neurotransmitter precursors, enabling the body to synthesize its own neurotransmitters. While the concept appears simple, the application is somewhat more complex. Simply introducing a broad-based amino acid supplement into the diet does not significantly affect neurotransmitter levels. Successful outcomes are dependent upon a more targeted approach, one that employs sufficient doses of the necessary precursors at the right time and in the absence of amino acids that would affect absorption. Neurotransmitter-related diseases are complex. They are dependent on nervous system function as a whole, rather than any one particular component of the system. The key to achieving successful outcomes with amino acids is in knowing which neurotransmitters to target and what ingredients to target them with. We have found this treatment to be very effective not only in relieving symptoms but in promoting optimal health and functioning. Our goal in working with our patient partners is to offer an integrated team approach to health and well being, allowing all to feel their best while protecting their long term physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Author
Kim Blend, ARNP Ms. Blend is certified as a psychiatric nurse practitioner practicing Integrative Psychiatry, lecturing nationally while also serving as a consultant regarding neurotransmitter evaluation and therapy.

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