Great Smokies Medical Center of Asheville

Archive for the ‘Neurotransmitters and Chronic Health Problems’ Category

Neurotransmitters Play a New Role in Health

Monday, August 22nd, 2005

During the past several decades, some people who suffer from depression, anxiety, obesity, migraines, insomnia, obsessive compulsive disorders, PMS, and ADD/ADHD have benefited from pharmacological treatments, including the well known brand name drugs Prozac, Valium, Paxil, Fen-Phen, Imitrex, and Ritalin. On the other hand, some other similarly afflicted people have not experienced benefit or have experienced significant adverse side effects from drug therapies, finding that the promise of drug treatment falls short of relief. Research in neurotransmitter biochemistry during the last 30 years is bringing new hope to many such sufferers.

Nerve cells, called neurons, don’t physically connect with each other but have a gap called a synapse between them. Neurotransmitters, made by nerve cells from amino acids and vitamin and mineral co-factors, are chemicals that relay messages across this gap. By attaching to the receptor sites of neurons, neurotransmitters profoundly affect mood and metabolism. Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine (adrenalin), and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are some examples of neurotransmitters.

Because nerves affect the functioning of all cells in the body, neurotransmitter-related disorders are common. An estimated 84 percent of the population has some degree of neurotransmitter deficiency or imbalance. Prolonged stress, poor diet (especially protein deficiency or malabsorption), genetic predisposition, and some prescription drugs can contribute to neurotransmitter imbalances. For example, antidepressants in the class of drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Paxil, and Celexa, while often effective in the short-term treatment of depression, have been proved by extensive laboratory testing to cause further lowering of the already depleted neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine when used long term.

For years, the only way that a doctor could manipulate neurotransmitters was by the use of prescription drugs. Occasionally, a doctor would get lucky and hit a home run with a drug that happened to specifically address an individual’s imbalances. However, recent scientific advances in the ability to measure neurotransmitters have taken much of the guesswork out of treating these imbalances, allowing doctors to more effectively address a person’s health problems. Research has also defined what to measure, when to measure, how to measure, and how to go about a nutritional program of conditioning, therapy, and maintenance. A urine sample is the preferred specimen, since obtaining a blood specimen is a stressful, invasive procedure that increases some neurotransmitters. The optimum time for specimen collection is between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. Optimizing neurotransmitter function is best accomplished by the supplementation of the indicated amino acids and vitamin and mineral co-factors in specific ratios, at specific times of day, and in particular sequences.

Measuring and optimizing neurotransmitter levels provides a cutting edge approach for patients suffering from a variety of ailments. For example, serotonin has an ability to constrict blood vessels. During a migraine, serotonin levels drop significantly, causing blood vessels to dilate, resulting in the intense pain that is so characteristic of these headaches. Once the migraine sufferer’s neurotransmitters are measured, treatments that optimize serotonin production can provide a preventive approach that minimizes both migraine occurrence and thus the need for repeated drugs to treat recurring acute episodes.

Many people who have not yet been diagnosed, but are the “walking wounded,” find themselves less tolerant of stress than they once were, not sleeping as well as they once did, and having mood disorders including depression or anxiety. The physician who suspects and confirms an underlying neurotransmitter-related disorder can often greatly improve the quality of life for such people.

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