Neurotransmitters

In Blog, Health, Podcasts by Wendy Christien

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers or molecules that the nervous system uses to send messages throughout the body.

Structure of a typical chemical synapse. neurotransmitter release mechanisms. Neurotransmitters are packaged into synaptic vesicles transmit signals from a neuron to a target cell across a synapse.

Neurotransmitters influence neurons and can either initiate an inhibitory, excitatory, or modulatory action on the neurons.

Neurons are information carriers, and they use electrical impulses and chemical signaling to transmit information to the various areas of the brain as well as to the rest of the nervous system. 

Medical chart human neuron structure. Anatomy of nerve cell diagram.

Excitatory neurotransmitters generate electrical signals in the neurons whereas inhibitory neurotransmitters prevent signals between neurons. Modulatory neurotransmitters influence large numbers of neurons simultaneously and have a regulating effect.

Neurotransmitters play a vital role in numerous functions related to the nervous system as well as many bodily functions.

Neurotransmitters can be amines, amino acids, or neuropeptides.

The most predominant neurotransmitters include acetylcholine, GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. 

We’ll go into more detail on each one over the next few weeks, but here is a summary:

Acetylcholine

This is released by the motor neurons and neurons in the autonomic nervous system and influences the processing speed of the brain. The autonomic nervous system regulates our stress response. It is also involved in the function of the peripheral nervous system which communicates between the brain and the organs, skin, and limbs. In the central nervous system, it helps with the maintenance of cognitive function. Acetylcholine is necessary to process sensory input such as smell, taste, touch, vision, smell, and sound. When there is an imbalance in this neurotransmitter, we can’t respond to stimulus quickly enough.

GABA

This is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and amino acid that helps to calm the nervous system. GABA controls the brain’s rhythm so that the body can function at a steady pace. Disruption to this rhythm can result in anxiety, nervousness, irritability, or anger.

Serotonin

This is involved in functions surrounding sleep, appetite, mood, and memory.  Serotonin helps to produce the electricity required for rest and sight. At night, serotonin is needed to recharge and rebalance the brain. Low levels of serotonin can make you feel over tired, out of control and unable to have restful sleep. The precursor for serotonin, tryptophan, is produced in the digestive tract which is why you may crave carbohydrates when your mood is low.

Dopamine

Dopamine influences the power of an individual’s body and mind. There are multiple pathways in the brain that require dopamine. Dopamine is involved in motivation, reward and reinforcement and motor control. Without enough dopamine we lose power, our minds slow down and we feel unmotivated and dull.

We all have a dominant neurotransmitter nature which means that we would need more support for that specific neurotransmitter during times of stress or if we are experiencing health challenges.

Imbalances in any of these neurotransmitters will have consequences on our health, mood, ability to concentrate and focus and how we feel daily. When one neurotransmitter is out of balance it can influence the others too.

What we eat and our hormonal fluctuations will also influence how the neurotransmitters function. Imbalances, or poor dietary choices, can lead to deficiencies or overproduction which can result in unpleasant symptoms. Correcting the balance can be done through dietary changes and various lifestyle practices.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 3 February 2022 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am