Neurotransmitters and mood
Neurotransmitter levels can be excessively high, low or unevenly balanced. With excessively low levels the mood can be flat, with a loss of interest, emotion and motivation etc, and with excessively high levels the mood can become erratic and unpredictable with extremes of emotion and the dreaded mood swings. When unbalanced they can cause some quite serious behavioral problems depending on how off kilter they become.
Various aspects of personality can be altered by the three major neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.
Varying the mix of these three neurotransmitters can produce large variations in mood and personality. Each one of us will have our own unique mix circling in a certain mood direction. It will only be a problem if the mix is frequently biased to one extreme.
Neurotransmitter balance is influenced by nutrition, health status, environmental factors, genetic factors and external emotional stimulus.
We sometimes cannot change the last one, because it's not always within our control to do so, but when our moods are heavily biased in a carefree direction, we are more resistant to these negative influences on our emotions. In this case, we are less likely to suffer mood swings and this is the ideal mode we all seek to be in.
Neurotransmitter production can be highly unpredictable because there are many factors which can interfere with production. It's not just a matter of eating the right foods and taking the right supplements, there are no magic bullets. Because genetic influences, foods, chemical exposure and health issues all have a huge impact on neurotransmitter balance, these have to be taken into account first. Methylation is a process that makes neurotransmitter building blocks and this important process is dealt with on the Methylation page.
Refer to the Mood Tree graphic and Mood Traits section for in depth help about raising, lowering and balancing neurotransmitter levels. These sections contain a comprehensive list of emotional and physical symptoms associated with incorrect levels, along with help to root out the causes of these imbalances. Supplement regimes to help raise, lower or push neurotransmitter production in a specific direction are also dealt with.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter involved in focus, drive, attention, memory and clear thinking.
As we age and the brain degenerates, our dopamine levels decrease, which in some people leads to Parkinson's disease resulting in cognitive thinking and movement problems.
When dopamine is lacking, the brain can go into a kind of word searching syndrome where the thought train stops, then a person has trouble finding a name or the next word. The amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine, along with other factors such as B vitamins, influence the production of dopamine. Elevation of dopamine levels often leads to an improvement in mood, alertness, libido and an enhancement in verbal fluency and creativity. Dopamine is integral to the brain's reward system, and large elevations of dopamine can lead to side effects, including a tendency for addictive behaviour.
Once produced, dopamine can convert into the brain chemicals norepinephrine and epinephrine.
Dopamine can improve sex drive but serotonin has the opposite effect. Dopamine increases sexuality, serotonin dampens it.
Dopamine in the frontal lobe regulates the flow of information coming in from other areas of the brain.
A shortage of dopamine can cause a person to lose the ability to think rationally, as in schizophrenia.
Also, an excess of dopamine in the limbic system and not enough in the cortex may produce a suspicious personality and possible paranoia. A shortage of dopamine in the frontal lobe can reduce memory function, on the other hand an increase of dopamine into the frontal lobe relieves pain and boosts feelings of pleasure.
When released into the synaptic cleft (the space between brain cells), dopamine is broken down by the enzyme monoamine oxidase. There are two types of MAO inhibitors - type A and type B, pharmaceutical drugs take advantage of this reaction. These monoamine oxidase inhibitors can act as antidepressants, and the type B inhibitors are also used to treat Parkinson's disease.
Vitamin B1 can also act as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor.
Pleasure - relaxation - drive - mental alertness - talkative - infatuation - impulsivness - schizophrenia - irritability - water loss - paranoia - Tourette's syndrome - addictive behaviour.
Serotonin is the most widely studied neurotransmitter since it helps regulate a wide range of psychological and biological functions. The wide extent of psychological functions regulated by serotonin involves mood, anxiety, arousal, aggression, impulse control and thinking abilities. Excess amounts of serotonin cause relaxation, sedation, apathy and a decrease in sexual drive. Serotonin deficiency is associated with low mood, lack of will power and poor appetite control. Serotonin functioning decreases with age.
Disruption of the normal functioning of serotonin leads to a number of psychiatric conditions which include anxiety disorders, depression, social behaviour and sexual problems. Medical conditions associated with disruption of the serotonin system include disturbance in the sleep-wake cycle, obesity or eating disorders and chronic pain.
Alcohol can temporarily raise mood enhancing neurotransmitter levels like those of serotonin, but in excess, alcohol makes serotonin levels fall, lowering mood and increasing depression. Some of these effects are thought to be brought about by the blood sugar raising qualities of alcoholic drinks.Some symptoms associated with normal and excess levels of serotonin
Positive outlook - improved self esteem - relaxation - nervous tension - drowsiness - apathy - sleeplessness - sedation - low mood - lack of will power - poor appetite control - premature ageing - aggressive behaviour - agitation - palpitations - water retention - confusion - poor sex drive - autonomic nervous system stimulation - neuromuscular excitation.
Noradrenaline - norepinephrine
Norepinephrine is synthesised from dopamine by dopamine b-hydroxylase.
The most researched neurotransmitters are acetylcholine, dopamine and noradrenaline, and each is involved in many different processes. Noradrenaline plays an important role in brain processes for fast memory, quick reaction time, mental energy, alertness and attention, goal seeking and sexual behaviour.
Norepinephrine is involved in long-term memory and has an energising, mood-elevating action. Noradrenaline works by stimulating receptors (adrenoceptors) which are found all over the body. Noradrenaline and norepinephrine are catecholamines with dual roles as a hormone and a neurotransmitter, and as regards to mood, both have similar effects so could be considered collectively.Some symptoms associated with normal and excess levels of noradrenaline - norepinephrine
Increased heart rate - sympathetic nervous system stimulation - vasoconstriction - vasodilation - smooth muscle relaxation - liver glucose release - increased blood pressure - dilation of pupils - dilation of air passages in the lungs and narrowing of blood vessels in non-essential organs - anxiety - hostility - excessive vigilance.
See the depression page for the possible effects of neurotransmitter imbalances on mood and emotional behaviour.
Acetylcholine is the major neurotransmitter in the peripheral nervous system apart from norepinephrine.
Acetylcholine is usually, but not always, an excitatory neurotransmitter, in contrast to the monoamine neurotransmitters, which are nearly always, with a few exceptions, inhibitory. Acetylcholine in the brain is produced from acetyl-CoA, resulting from glucose metabolism, and from choline, which is actively transported across the blood-brain barrier. Acetyl-CoA is produced from fats and sugars.
Cells that use acetylcholine as a transmitter substance are called cholinergic synapses, whereas those that use norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine, serotonin and GABA are noradrenergic, adrenergic, dopaminergic, serotonergic and GABAergic.
Acetylcholine is a vitally important neurotransmitter for all autonomic nervous system transmissions.
The autonomic nervous system is the part of the peripheral nervous system that acts as a control system, maintaining equilibrium in the body.
These maintenance activities are primarily performed without conscious control or sensation.
The autonomic nervous system controls heart rate, digestion, respiration rate, salivation, perspiration, pupil dilation, the discharge of urine and sexual arousal. Acetylcholine is also associated with memory and learning and is in short supply in subjects with Alzheimer's disease.
Calcium and magnesium work closely with acetylcholine in the body. Magnesium acts to conserve acetylcholine by inhibiting its release. A deficiency of magnesium ions and an excess of calcium ions increases the release of acetylcholine which over excites the nervous system. A deficiency of magnesium or calcium ions prolongs the effect of acetylcholine excitement and can rapidly use up reserves.
It has been found that cerebral thiamine deficiency results in a considerable reduction of acetylcholine levels in the brain.
Healthy levels of acetylcholine are important for good sexual function, especially in males with erection problems.
You can find guidance on how to raise acetylcholine levels in the Mood Traits section.
The neurotransmitter histamine has been implicated in the regulation of numerous and important activities of the central nervous system such as arousal, cognition, circadian rhythms and neuroendocrine regulation. Abnormal functioning of histamine is thought to contribute to problems such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and neurodegeneration.
Most histamine in body tissue is found in granules in mast cells or basophils. Mast cells are especially numerous at sites of potential injury, the nose, mouth, feet, internal body surfaces, and blood vessels.
Non mast cell histamine is found in several tissues, including the brain (histaminergic neurons), where it functions as a neurotransmitter.
Histamine is a biogenic amine involved in local immune responses as well as regulating physiological function. Histamine imbalances in the body can cause a variety of acute mental and physical abnormalities.
Once histamine is formed, it is either stored or inactivated. Histamine present in in the synapses is broken down by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. It is thought that a deficiency of this enzyme can trigger an allergic reaction because histamines pool in the synapses. Histamine is broken down by diamine oxidase and histamine-N-methyltransferase. Spoiled food such as fish can also cause problems due to the conversion of histidine into histamine.
Alcohol is broken down by an enzyme in the liver cells known as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH).ADH breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is toxic, and then acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and another substance called glutathione, which contains high quantities of cysteine, rapidly breaks down acetaldehyde into acetate, or acetic acid (vinegar). The acetate is further metabolised and eventually leaves the body as carbon dioxide and water.
It can therefore be deduced that alcohol pulls down levels of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, and in doing so raises brain and body histamine levels.
Histamine is released as a neurotransmitter. The cell bodies of neurons which release histamine are found in the posterior hypothalamus. From here, these histaminergic neurons project throughout the brain to the cortex. Histaminergic action is known to modulate sleep. Classically, antihistamines (H1 histamine receptor antagonists) produce sleep. Likewise, destruction of histamine releasing neurons or inhibition of histamine synthesis leads to an inability to maintain alertness.
Finally, H3 receptor antagonists (which stimulate histamine release) increase wakefulness.
It has been shown that histaminergic cells have the most wakefulness related firing pattern of any neuronal type so far recorded. They fire rapidly during waking, fire more slowly during periods of relaxation/tiredness and completely stop firing during REM and NREM (non-REM) sleep. Histaminergic cells can be recorded firing just before an animal shows signs of waking.
Research has shown that histamine is released as part of the human orgasm from mast cells in the genitals. If this response is lacking this may be a sign of histapenia (histamine deficiency).
In such cases, histamine raising supplements such as folic acid and niacin can increase blood histamine levels and histamine release. Conversely, men with high histamine levels may suffer from premature ejaculation.
Histamine helps keep you awake and lower histamine levels help you sleep. High or low histamine levels can cause mental and physical problems. It has been found that about half the patients classified as suffering from schizophrenia have low histamine levels in the blood.
Methylfolate is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables and is the form that can be used directly by the body. This is different in structure to the synthetic form of folic acid, which is commonly sold as a supplement, and also added to fortified foods.
When the metabolism is working correctly this synthetic form of folic acid is converted to methylfolate within the body. If this process is inefficient, which can occur with certain individuals, the unmetabolised folic acid remains in the body and has no usefulness.
Folic acid (along with vitamin B12) is known to increase histamine levels in the body.
Methylfolate however, is involved in the degradation of excess histamine because methylfolate aids methylation, and under-methylation can lead to histadelia, a high level of histamine in body tissues.
Methylfolate rather than folic acid supplements may be more beneficial in these circumstances.
SAMe, which is derived from methionine through methylation, is a methyl donor for many different reactions thoughout the body. Histamine is deactivated by receiving a methyl group from SAMe.
If methylation is low, there is low SAMe, and consequently histamine levels will rise. In other words, more methylation means higher amounts of SAMe and lower histamine levels.
Note: Individuals with fluctuating histamine levels and sporadic distribution can experience a mixture of high and low histamine symptoms largely because of over sensitivity. A person experiencing normal histamine levels but with a mood disorder, would likely show some high and low symptoms but of a much milder form.Possible indicators of high histamine levels (under methylator)
Rhinitis - hives - asthma - glue ear - fast metabolism - depression - obsessive compulsive disorder - excessive thoughts - fast thinking - brain relays wrong messages - dithery thought patterns - sneezing in sunlight - shy - oversensitive - salivate or cry easily - stomach aches - muscle cramps - easy orgasm - seasonal allergies - inner ear tension - abnormal fears rituals or compulsions - light sleeping - suicidal thoughts - high alcohol or downer tolerance - cold hands and feet - high sex drive - bouts of adrenal exhaustion - headaches - migraines - low body weight - low body hair - long fingers and toes - perfectionism - low serotonin dopamine and noradrenaline.Possible indicators of low histamine levels (over methylator)
Canker sores - difficult orgasm - low or no headaches or allergies - high body hair - excess fat in lower extremities - many dental fillings - ideas of grandeur - suspicion of people - paranoia - seeing or hearing things abnormally - social isolation - good pain tolerance - ringing in the ears - fluctuating moods - moods generally on the down side - daydreamer - low achiever - easily tired - frustrated - easily depressed under stress - easily drunk on alcohol - low sex drive - slow metabolism - good pain tolerance - sensitivity to yeast or yeast infections - elevated serotonin dopamine noradrenaline.See the notes on Vitamin B3 and the flush effect.
For problems with fluctuating or abnormal levels of histamine see here.
Refer to the Mood Tree graphic and Mood Traits sections concerning raising, lowering and stabilising histamine levels.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)
GABA is produced in the body from glutamic acid and acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It achieves this by slowing down activity in the part of the brain called the limbic system (the emotional alarm bell) reducing anxiety, fear and panic.
GABA acts as a natural tranquiliser, binding to the same receptors that the drug valium is intended for. GABA also suppresses the hormone prolactin which stimulates urination, and so can help reduce night time incontinence.
GABA manufacture is aided by glutamic acid and vitamin B6.
Zinc enhances GABA release and inhibits glutamate release, an excitatory neurotransmitter.
Glutamic acid / glutamine / glutamate
In the body, glutamic acid (an amino acid) is interconverted to glutamine, and also through its reaction with sodium, produces glutamate.This amino acid is found in high concentrations in serum, cerebro-spinal fluid and muscle tissues.
Glutamine serves several key functions in human health, most notably as a key building block for glutathione, the body's antioxidant complex. Glutamine can easily cross the blood brain barrier where it is reconverted from glutamine into glutamic acid, a precursor of GABA, a vital neurotransmitter that supports the central nervous system.
Glutamine is utilised to fight depression, enhance metabolic energy, increase mental alertness, improve mood and help behavioural problems and autism in children. Glutamine also raises blood sugar levels and may aid in the treatment of hypoglycaemia and controlling cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. Research has shown that supplementation of glutamine may reduce the craving for alcohol.
The interconversion of glutamic acid and glutamine serves to detoxify ammonia. Under normal conditions the gut produces ammonia from glutamine and urea. The liver removes ammonia by two pathways, urea and glutamine synthesis.
The skeletal muscle relies solely on glutamine synthesis to remove ammonia. The kidney is capable of both producing and removing ammonia. Like skeletal muscle, the brain relies solely on glutamine synthesis to remove ammonia, but unlike muscle, glutamine synthetase in the brain operates at nearly maximum capacity in normal conditions.
Glutamate is the brain's primary excitatory neurotransmitter. Excess glutamate can kill brain neurons so it is classed as an exitotoxin. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a major component of soya sauce, has been shown to destroy nerve cells when fed to young animals, but as glutamate does not readily cross the blood brain barrier it has been open to question whether this is relevant; however, in view of the many reported side effects of MSG such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, headaches, confusion, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, sleepiness and hyperactivity, it would be wise to avoid this pointless food additive.
Increased alertness (or anxiety) due to caffeine may be mainly due to blockage of adenosine receptors which normally inhibit glutamate release.
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