Your Brain and Stress; Neurotransmitter Basics

 

Many people are becoming aware of the term adrenal fatigue and are starting to suspect that this might be something they are dealing with. But this term can be misleading, because more often that not, it is not as simple as supporting the adrenals to have your fatigue, inflammation and hormonal imbalances disappear. The adrenals gland themselves are often working just fine, but the communication channels and feedback loops might have become disrupted. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that deliver important and vital messages from the brain and the adrenal gland. These tiny messengers help you respond to stressors and if they become imbalanced, all sorts of symptoms will start to pop up because the correct messages are not being sent. Once I started looking at a neurotransmitter panel in conjunction with an adrenal/hormone panel, I saw a big shift for my clients. The combination of their hormone and neurotransmitter results helps to put the puzzle together as to where the breakdown is in the chain.

What happens with our neurotransmitters during stress?

In time of acute stress or when you are in a constant chronic state of low stress (not just mental/emotional stress but also hidden internal stressors such as food sensitivities, bacterial overgrowth or heavy metal toxicity) neurotransmitters can become depleted. Just having a thought or being scared will alert your brain to alter hormone and neurotransmitter production in response. The neurotransmitters are a part of the stress response cascade. Think about how often we are bombarded with negative imagery and high stress situations in our fast-paced lifestyle. By looking at the levels of different neurotransmitters as well as their relationship to each other, such as the ratio between serotonin and dopamine or norepinephrine and epinephrine, we can see how well your body is adapting to stress.

We have both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters and some play both roles depending on the situation. Since our body likes to remain in balance, we also function optimally when our excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters are balanced. For example, stimulants such as caffeine push dopamine into the synapse and dopamine acts as an excitatory agent, which improves our focus. You know how you have your coffee and then feel pretty productive for a while? Feeling productive is great except there is a price we pay for that focus. Your body must now send in some inhibitory neurotransmitters to reign in the excitatory neurotransmitters. Serotonin and GABA come to the rescue. This is not necessarily a problem, because this is one of the ways that our amazing body stays balanced, but when we abuse ourselves daily by artificially forcing productivity with excess caffeine consumption, we eventually end up depleted in serotonin and GABA. Among many other functions serotonin is important for a stable mood and GABA is nature’s valium-like substance, you can see where we end up without these precious resources. You always have to ask… is this short-term benefit of being able to focus and have energy worth the long-term risk of an instable mood?

Here is an example of the neurotransmitter testing results that the Healthy Hormones Group Program will have access to. These are just clues to get an idea of the bigger picture because your neurotransmitter levels will change throughout the day. Testing and then retesting after a period of time after trying a protocol or therapy will help us to understand how your body is reacting.

Here is a quick explanation of the neurotransmitters that we will be looking at during the next Healthy Hormones group program:

Serotonin – This is considered the master neurotransmitter and helps to keep balance between the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. Adequate levels is necessary for a stable mood.

Dopamine – Key player in reward-seeking type of behavior such as pleasure, satisfaction and focus. Dopamine also influences muscle control and gastrointestinal motility. Really low or high dopamine levels is correlated with memory issues.

Norepinephrine– Important to the fight-or-flight response and also helps to make epinephrine.

Epinephrine– Also known as adrenaline which we all know well. Epinephrine prepares the body for fight-or-flight by increasing your heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate so that you can run away or fight off the danger. This will also elevate your ACTH which raises your cortisol

GABA– Nature’s valium-like substance which also helps regulate muscle tone.

Glutamate– Important for memory and learning but can be damaging in excess leading to depression, seizures and damaging nervous tissue. This is often seen high for those with PTSD but you also have to watch that you are not accidentally consuming glutamate from MSG or DSG sources in food.

Histamine – Helps to control sleep-wake cycle, energy production and memory recall. This reading on your lab is a window into inflammation and the higher the number the more mental fogginess, allergy symptoms and irritability you might be experiencing.

 

If your neurotransmitters are all trending low in conjunction with low cortisol levels, than this is a sign you are in a chronic state of stress and are now in the tired and “burnt-out” phase.  At this point you will need a good amount of support to return to a healthy level.

Ready to find out what is going on at a sub-clinical level before symptoms occur? Ready to get to the root of why you can’t seem to kick the anxiety or get your energy back? Come join us for the Healthy Hormones Group Program!!

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