Neurotransmitters are a group of at least forty water-soluble hormones (proteins) formed within nerve cells called neurons. These hormones relay messages between nerve cells throughout your body. Understanding the numerous neurotransmitters, their locations and interactions with one another has been central to the design of medicines for mental illness.
This knowledge over time has led to the development of medicines for many brain disorders including epilepsy, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, depression, anxiety disorders and migraine.
I have been studying Australian nutritional expert Henry Osiecki’s ground breaking work in nutrition and the mind for the past several years, and frequently use his Moods Disorders Appraisal (MDA) form in the clinic.
The patient answers a list of 58 questions, and grades each answer from 0 to 4, depending on the severity. For example, a question maybe “Are you impatient”, etc. Each question will point towards a neurotransmitter, and the scores are then entered into a specific computer program which will calculate which neurotransmitter/s are imbalanced. The results are often remarkable, and we treat the biggest imbalance first.
Osiecki’s work is groundbreaking indeed, and has helped many people off antidepressants and other drugs which affect the mind and which can leave one feeling “less than human” over time.
The primary neurotransmitters involved in stress, anxiety, depression and aggression include:
- Stress – dopamine, nor-adrenaline, serotonin and acetylcholine
- Anxiety – serotonin, GABA, opiods
- Depression – serotonin, opiods and dopamine
- Aggression – serotonin, GABA
The most abundant neurotransmitter in your brain is called acetylcholine, and amazingly, acetylcholine is also produced in the intestines. Acetylcholine levels are affected a lot by stress – and so is your digestion.
I have often found that many people with mood disorders such as chronic stress usually have some type of digestive disturbance, and many have chronic gut complaints (especially liver), particularly if they stay on a pharmaceutical drug like Prozac or Aropax for several years.
So, if you suffer from a mood disorder and are particularly if you are taking any drug – then it may pay dividends to get your digestion in good shape. You may well need to reduce your drug dosage with your improved digestion, as you will be absorbing not only your foods more efficiently, but potentially also the drug. If in doubt, see your health-care professional for diagnosis of symptoms and itreatment please!
In the old days in naturopathy, we just used to give the patient St John’s Wort for depression, or recommend B Vitamins or magnesium, etc, and find it more difficult to treat other mood disorders. Thanks to people like Henry Osiecki, today we have much better tools and can be more targeted and fine tune our approach to specific mood disorders.
St John’s Wort increases the brain’s content of serotonin (St John’s Wort functions in a similar fashion to Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI drugs), such as Prozac, in that it inhibits the reuptake of serotonin. It is this mechanism which is responsible to a large extent for St John’s Wort’s ability to alleviate depression.
It is interesting to note that St John’s Wort will also have an effect on stress, anxiety, aggression as well as depression because a serotonin imbalance is generally implicated in all of them. All neurotransmitters require co-factors for their essential functioning, and these include Vitamin B6, Vitamin B5, Vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, zinc and copper. This is often why B Vitamins can help you when you are under stress – they help to support the neurotransmitters. It is not the scope of this article to go into too much more detail about neurotransmitters – it is simply too complex !