Neurotransmitters play a major role in everyday life and functioning. Nerve cells, called neurons, don’t physically connect with each other, but have a gap called a synapse between them. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that relay messages across this gap between nerve cells.
Neurotransmitters are made from vitamin and mineral co-factors and amino acids.
What Do Neurotransmitters Do?
Neurotransmitters attach to the receptor sites of neurons, profoundly affecting mood and metabolism.
Neurotransmitters also communicate vital, fundamental information throughout the brain and body, such as telling the lungs to breathe, the heart to beat and the stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and contribute to significant negative changes when they’re out of balance.
What Depletes Neurotransmitter Levels?
Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted in many ways, and because nerves affect the functioning of all cells in the body, neurotransmitter-related issues are common. In fact, it is estimated that 86% of Americans have some degree of neurotransmitter deficiency or imbalance. These imbalances can be generated by a wide range of causes, such as prolonged stress, poor diet, genetic predisposition, lack of sleep, or the overuse of alcohol, drugs or caffeine.
Two Main Types of Neurotransmitters
There are two general classifications of neurotransmitters; inhibitory and excitatory. The excitatory neurotransmitters, epinephrine, dopamine and nor-epinephrine stimulate the brain and body, in part by improving energy and activity. The inhibitory neurotransmitters, serotonin and gamma-amino-benzoic acid (GABA), calm the brain and body and help balance mood. These can be easily depleted or otherwise imbalanced when the excitatory neurotransmitters are dominant. In a healthy metabolism there is a steady, stable, optimal balance between the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters.
Optimize Neurotransmitters with Nutrition and Sleep
Optimizing neurotransmitter function and balance with key ingredients and specific supplement blends can help support balanced neurotransmitter synthesis and utilization, which can then support memory, focus, concentration, mood, a sense of calm, energy, physical performance, healthy sleep and hunger cycles.
Lack of proper sleep or imbalanced sleep can have significant impact on the brain and body. The body restores, regenerates, detoxifies and rebuilds its tissues during the deepest, most restful stages of sleep. Supporting optimal sleep patterns is critical for the optimization of neurotransmitter health, balance and maintenance.
Disrupted sleep cycles, too little sleep or excessive sleep can interfere with the body's normal processes of rebuilding and repair. Depression, fatigue, irritability, lack of focus, decreased energy and increases in body fat are common in people who are chronically sleep deprived or imbalanced. A lack of sleep paired with stress also really effects your adrenal glands.
In a study with 44 college students, eating a diet high in sodium, saturated fat, and calories correlated with a negative mood, even as much as two days later. The dietary pattern corresponding with a more positive mood included consuming fewer calories, less saturated fat, and reduced sodium.
Nutrients That Support Rest, Relaxation and Restorative Sleep
Supplement blends with ingredients that support the normal, natural cycle for rest, relaxation and restorative sleep can include a blend of plants, plant extracts, amino acids and melatonin.
- The herbal extracts of Valerian, Skullcap, Gamma Oryzanol, Chamomile and L-Theanine support a calm, peaceful, relaxed brain and nervous system. These nutrients can prepare the brain and nervous system for healthy, restful sleep patterns.
- The amino acid 5-HTP is a direct precursor to the inhibitory neurotransmitter serotonin, which supports a relaxed, calming effect on the brain and nervous system.
- Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone from the pineal gland that supports deep, restful sleep, healthy sleep cycles and circadian balance.
Nutrients That Support Brain Health and Neurotransmitter Levels
There are many nutrients essential to the synthesis and regulation of neurotransmitters levels, brain health, mental focus and physical energy.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS), found in high concentrations in the brain, is important for cell membrane structure and function. Studies have shown supplementing with PS can support cognitive function and memory, in part by supporting a healthy brain and nervous system response to the stress hormones.
- Amino acids are crucial for neurotransmitter balance, so be sure to include plenty of protein in your diet everyday.
- N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that supports healthy levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter dopamine, as well as the other excitatory neurotransmitters nor-epinephrine and epinephrine.
- Acetyl L Carnitine (ALC) has demonstrated powerful benefits on brain structure and function and also supports healthy levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter dopamine, which, as a result, can support healthy focus, concentration, clarity of thought and energy.
- Phospatidylcholine (PC) and DMAE support healthy brain and nervous cell membranes, heart health and the muscular system. PC and DMAE are precursors to the neurotransmitter aceytlcholine, which can function both as an excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter. Acetylcholine is essential for the proper balance of the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters.
- Taurine is a naturally occurring sulfonic acid that supports brain and nervous system health by supporting a healthy mineral balance, as well as a balanced response to the stress hormones. Check out all of taurine's unknown health benefits.
- Glutamine is an amino acid that can support the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and also positively affects the part of the brain responsible for sugar cravings and other fast acting carbohydrates.
- The herbal extract Gingko Biloba supports healthy blood flow to the brain, supports overall circulatory health, supports healthy brain function and also supports healthy responses to excessive oxidative, free radical activity, especially in the brain and nervous system.
Like every other part of your body, your brain needs good nutrition to perform at its best. Brain health and mental focus can be supported by formulas with key ingredients known to be active components in proper brain function to help support optimal memory, focus and learning.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
Hendy HM. Which comes first in food-mood relationships, foods or moods? Appetite. 2012 Apr;58(2):771-5.