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Neurotransmitters- how our brain cells communicate. 

Big word, complicated topic- what does this mean and why does it matter for your brain health

Here comes the sciencey stuff:

Basically neuro transmitters (NT) are chemicals that are released from brain cells (neurons) to communicate with other target cells. This can then be translated into other effects in our mind and body. There are different types- broadly this can be divided into 3-

1)NTs that have a simulating effect on the target,

2)NTs that have a modulating effect and  

3) NTs that have a role in inhibiting the job of the target cell.

Once the NTs have done their job they are then recycled by our body

Phew that’s over, here are the ones you need to know about:

Serotonin– commonly talked about – this falls into the category of a an NT inhibitor. It regulates mood and has an effect on appetite, our natural body clock ( circadian rhythm) and sleep.  We can boost our own natural serotonin by more time in sunlight and exercising

Dopamine – released when we are are happy and doing something that brings us pleasure. Dopamine is also linked to muscle movement as well as learning and memory. At the extreme end, having low levels of dopamine is associated with Parkinsons Disease. Natural ways to boost our own dopamine? Exercise, do things that bring us joy, ensuring that our diet is protein rich

Endorphins – ‘ natural high’ is associated with a rush of endorphin, this guy can be stimulated by yes, you guessed it , exercise. Also known as a natural pain killer as they inhibit (block) pain signals.

GABA– affects our mood and anxiety levels as has a calming ( inhibitory) effect on its target cells.  Not enough GABA production can cause anxiety.

Acetylcholine– a stimulating NT which is linked to muscle movement, memory, some hormones and heart rate. We need to eat enough choline ( found in egg yolk and other sources) to ensure we have enough Acetylcholine. At the extreme end, low levels of acetylcholine have been found in those with Alzheimers Dementia and some of the current drugs used to try to slow progression of Alzheimers slow this pathway down.

Adrenaline– unsurprisingly this has an stimulating effect on its target cells and is also classified as a hormone ( chemical messenger)

Surges of adrenaline are vital to survival – they keep us safe in the face of danger and help us act quickly when faced with life threatening circumstances. But  adrenaline can also be released situations where there is stress ongoing and this can have a negative effect on our health and increase the risk of developing chronic diseases including depression.

Meditation and exercise have been shown to mediate our bodies responses to chronic stress

There are more neurotransmitters- but these are the ones that we read most about and are commonly affected by our everyday behaviours and also medications we often are prescribed.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell