I’ll be giving a free wellness lecture on this topic on Tuesday, June 12th at 6pm at the west side New Leaf.
Protein, Amino Acids & Neurotransmitters
There is a one-to-one relationship between what we eat and how we feel. Food supplies us with amino acids: the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that exert influence on sex drive, motivation, feeling calm or anxious, feeling alert and focused or foggy headed, impulse control, appetite, and they also play a key role in sleep, memory, and depression.
Because most drugs and externally taken neurotransmitters won’t pass the blood brain barrier, foods are your best and healthiest way to raise levels and support your emotional wellbeing.
Causes of Neurotransmitter Imbalance
Many things can disrupt neurotransmitter balance including alcohol, drugs, cigarrettes, medications, lack of sleep, chemical cleaning products, processed sugar and flour, and lack of animal protein in the diet (trytophan, the amino acid precursor to serotonin is generally the lowest quantity amino acid in foods, but higher in animal proteins, and we need relatively large quantities to maintain proper serotonin levels especially when we are under stress).
Anti-depressants & Neurotransmitter Balance
Medications are not effective long-term at balancing neurotransmitters since they usually only work on single neurotransmitters and not the relationship between the neurotransmitters. For example, SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are intended to increase the levels of serotonin in the body by extending the time that serotonin is available to be taken up by nerves. This has two important caveats. First, the body functions on a feedback system. If it receives information that a chemical is high, what do you think it will do? If you guessed “turn down the volume”, you are correct. The body maintains balance through feedback loops.
Secondly, the body has a variety of checks and balances. If one chemical goes up, generally another must go down. They fluctuate depending on what the body is trying to accomplish. Dopamine is serotonin’s counter hormone. If the brain keeps getting messages to boost serotonin, what do you think happens to dopamine in the long run? That’s right, it will go down. So, while SSRI’s may help in the short-term, many people who are on them long-term end up both dopamine and serotonin deficient.
Diet & Mood
A diet rich in seafood, eggs, meat and poultry, dairy, and leafy greens supply an excellent base from which to make the neurotransmitters you need to support emotional wellbeing. There are plenty of other foods that contribute that I will be covering in detail in my lecture.
Exercise, sleeping on a 10pm-6am schedule, minimizing caffeine, sugar and alcohol, getting some exercise daily, and reducing environmental and chemical toxins are all excellent focal points for improving neurotransmitter balance.