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Balancing the chemicals in your brain

Nervous system | July 28, 2021 | Author: Naturopath

Brain, Central Nevous System

Balancing the chemicals in your brain

The brain is continuously playing a balancing act to try and keep the chemical (neurochemicals) in balance. Too much of one or too little of another can have a major effect on thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Internal and external influences can cause a change in the chemical balance changing the way you respond – influencing the mental highs and lows. This can present itself as anxiety, depression and insomnia.

A juggling act for balance

Two major neurotransmitter chemicals - glutamate and GABA, play a juggling act for balance. One is excitatory whilst the other inhibitory. During the day the excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate, is needed for thinking and action whilst the balance should be in favour of GABA, the inhibitory neurotransmitter, for sleep.

When neurotransmitters are out of balance it can present itself as a clinical disorder. For example:

  • Depression – too little serotonin
  • Anxiety – too little GABA
  • Parkinson’s disease – too little dopamine
  • Alzheimer's disease – too little acetylcholine
  • Epilepsy –imbalances with glutamate and GABA
  • Fibromyalgia – dysfunctional of neurotransmitter systems

Neurons are nerve cells of our brain and nervous system which keep us connected to the outside world, command our muscles, and are responsible for our communication network. Neurotransmitters are specific chemical substances produced by neurons to transmit messages. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers of the body.

When a neuron sends a message to another neuron it occurs through a small gap between the synapses of the neurons, this is known as the synaptic cleft. A synapse is the junction between two neurons. Electrical signals produced are converted to chemical signals by the release of neurotransmitters which cause a specific response to the receiving neuron. This response could be excitatory, inhibitory or modulatory.

An excitatory response is a call for action – having a stimulating effect on the neuron. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are examples of excitatory neurotransmitters. In contrast, inhibitory response is basically the opposite, inhibiting the neuron from action. Examples of inhibitory neurotransmitter are GABA and endorphins.  Neuromodulators do not directly activate the receptors of neurons but instead enhance the excitatory or inhibitory responses of the receptors – working with the neurotransmitters.

Common neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters work both with and against one another to facilitate neural signalling. There are many neurotransmitters. Some common neurotransmitters include:

Glutamate. Be excited by glutamate, the most excitatory neurotransmitter, good for learning and memory. Too much of this chemical is not good - excitotoxicity can lead to stroke or traumatic brain injury.

GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid). If glutamate is the most excitatory neurotransmitter, GABA is its opposite, being involved in inhibition of neural signalling – calming the over-excitability of the brain.

A juggling act for balanceOutside of the central nervous system, GABA is produced in the gastrointestinal tract by friendly microbes.

GABA is associated with early brain development and learning and is beneficial in times of stress. Insomnia, premenstrual symptoms, ADHD and inflammatory conditions may all be helped by GABA.
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Acetylcholine. Is a small molecule which communicates information to our muscle fibres for movement; enables the brain to create new networks – reorganising structure and to grow through life’s experiences (neuroplasticity); and helps with attention. (Are you paying attention?).

Dopamine. This is the “feel good” neurotransmitter released in response to certain activities – think eating, exercise, or sex. Dopamine is the decision-maker, the motivator, reward-seeker, attention and learning chemical. As you might gather, dopamine plays a role in addictive behaviour. Enjoy activities which you enjoy to increase dopamine levels

Serotonin. Keep calm with this mood-balancing neurotransmitter. Serotonin, also known as 5HTP, helps with sleep, appetite regulation, memory and decision-making.
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Norepinephrine is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone and is associated with mood, arousal, memory and stress.

Histamine is the main contributor to the development of IgE-mediated diseases. Histamines are chemicals produced by the immune system in response to potential allergens. The broncho spasms and mucosal oedema in asthma are due directly to stimulation of the histamine receptor.

Endorphins. This inhibitory neurotransmitter is known for promoting feelings of euphoria. It also works at reducing the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Lower levels of endorphins may result in headaches, depression, anxiety and mood swings. Fibromyalgia (chronic pain) could be due to from reduced endorphins. A runner’s “high” or the happy feelings after exercise is due to the release of endorphins.

Other neurotransmitters are vasopressin and oxytocin. Hormones can also work as neurotransmitters. Even the glue between the neurons, glia cells, have ability to release neurotransmitters into synapses.

Balancing neurochemicals

What can help?

Healthy digestive system to reduce gut permeability

Healthy digestive system to reduce gut permeabilityThe gut-brain axis involves a chemical signaling pathway between the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the central nervous system (CNS). When the GI tract is compromised its protective barrier is diminished which can result in intestinal permeability. This means toxic substances can penetrate through this barrier and alter physical functions. Compromised immunity and chronic inflammation are known to trigger a range of psychiatric disorders amongst many other health diseases.

  • Gut microbiota composition. Some bacteria are able to produce different essential neurotransmitters and specific neuromodulators. Studies have shown the efficacy of probiotics for alleviating anxiety symptoms and depression, improved cognitive function and learning, reduced cortisol and pro-inflammatory cytokines. Probiotics modulate serotonin pathways. Tryptophan is an essential aromatic amino acid that can be metabolized by microorganisms in the GI tract.
  • Reduce gut inflammation – Allergens, alcohol, coffee and stress are big contributors to gut inflammation. 
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Exercise is not only good for your physical body; it is also good for your brain. Exercise can have a positive influence on neurochemical balance. High intensity exercise increases the availability of tryptophan in the brain and promotes the synthesis of serotonin.  

Sunshine and night time

Circadian rhythm are mental, physical and behavioural changes occurring over a 24hour cycle which respond to light and dark. Sunshine promotes the release of serotonin and is associated with calmness, focus and a good night sleep. Support natural circadian rhythm of the body by:

  • Going to bed and getting up at the same time
  • Getting some sunshine during “awake” times
  • Have a dark room at “sleep” times. This means no screen time in the bedroom – at all.

Stress less

A certain amount of stress is good for us, energy and alertness are increased, for one thing. Acute stress can cause a release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, ready for fight or flight against potential danger.

Increasing heart rate, metabolism and breathing. It is when this stress response continues past the initial need, the mind and the body can become damaged. Stress busting ideas include regular massage, yoga, relaxing music and identifying, reducing or eliminating potential stressors.
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Diet plays a major role in maintaining a healthy balance of neurotransmitters. Nutrition provides the brain with the building blocks to support the synthesis, transportation and degradation of neurotransmitters.

Increase dopamine and serotonin with foods high in the amino acid - L-Tyrosine. Almonds, bananas, avocado, chicken and eggs.

  • Green tea contains a chemical called theanine, which has been shown to exert a calming effect in humans.


Magnesium is a mineral helpful for insomnia, anxiety, depression and muscle cramps. It binds to and activates GABA receptors—which is just one of many essential functions of magnesium in the body. Magnesium is found in wholegrains, green leafy veggies and bananas. Magnesium supplements may achieve stronger results.

Zinc has been shown to enhance the release of GABA from its receptors.

SAMe provides Methyl groups essential for the synthesis and function of neurotransmitters
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Improve mitochondrial function

Mitochondria are power houses of cells which deliver energy to the body to sustain life. A number of neurodegenerative diseases are believed associated with a progressive decrease of mitochondrial function. Proteins and sugars from the diet feed the mitochondria to release energy called Adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

There are a number of nutrients available which help improve mitochondrial function and decrease excitability. These include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Thiamine (B1)
  • Riboflavin-5 phosphate (B2)
  • Pyridoxal-5 phosphate (B6)
  • Niacinamide (Nicotinamide/B3)
  • Acetyl L-Carnitine
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid
  • Curcumin
  • Quercetin

Reduce histamine 

When too much histamine is released, the symptoms experienced can be overwhelming. Remove any possible allergens if possible. Probiotics, vitamin C, Quercetin, albizzia, ginger and turmeric can help work in preventing and reducing the histamine response. 
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The Impact of Studying Brain Plasticity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6400842/

Autism, Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Modulation of Gut Microbiota by Nutritional Interventions https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6893818/

The role of the microbiota-gut-brain axis in neuropsychiatric disorders https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8136391/


Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psychopathology? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3779905/


Physiology, Neurotransmitters https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539894/

Natural plant products and extracts that reduce immunoexcitotoxicity-associated neurodegeneration and promote repair within the central nervous system https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3307240/

Fibromyalgia as a Disorder Related to Distress and its Therapeutic Implications https://www.hindawi.com/journals/prt/2012/741746/

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