Longevity logo

Understand the Roles of Your Neurotransmitters and Optimize Them

Your Brain Is a Biochemical and Electrical Soup — Part 1: Neurotransmitters Simplified

By Dr Mehmet YildizPublished about a year ago 14 min read
Image created by the Author using the PicSo software

Anatomically the brain is a very complex organ. However, combining many biochemicals, gene expressions, and constant electrical signals makes it even more complex. Most of these activities happen without our conscious awareness.

The complex interplay of multiple systems makes the brain an adaptable organ, capable of performing these functions and responding to various challenges from the internal and external world.

How can so many biochemicals and electrical signals work harmoniously without our intervention and allow us to survive and thrive? We still don't know the answer, but we have some ideas.

Some hypotheses cover the brain's homeostatic regulation, synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, feedback loops, neuronal signaling, and large-scale networks of neurons that work together. I will explore these concepts in forthcoming articles as they are complex and exhaustive.

The brain, as the master organ in the body, also interacts with all other organs with direct or indirect links. These communications are maintained through biochemicals such as hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes. I covered numerous hormones and neurotransmitters in previous stories.

In this article, I'd like to share summaries of neurotransmitters that I published previously to give you the big picture of the biochemical composition of the brain. I will cover hormones in Part II. One of my goals is to contribute to the hormonal intelligence of my readers.

If you are interested in the function and performance of your brain, these stories can be a good start for you as they are based on my decades of reviews and experience in the field.

Understanding the functions of neurotransmitters and associated disorders can be helpful for a preventive and holistic health approach.

What are neurotransmitters and hormones?

In a nutshell, neurotransmitters and hormones are signaling molecules initiating and maintaining the communication between cells in the body. Some cells in the brain are called neurons. There are also other cell types in the brain performing different functions.

There are similarities and differences between hormones and neurotransmitters. Interestingly some neurotransmitters also work as a hormone, as I covered in each story linked below.

In general, hormones are produced by endocrine glands, as I introduced in a story titled Intricacies of 7 Endocrine Glands and Associated Disorders. They are transported via the bloodstream to various tissues and organs. Hormones might stay in the body longer than neurotransmitters.

A gland is an anatomical structure that can produce and secrete biochemicals, such as hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes, or other chemicals, into the bloodstream or other body parts, such as its surface.

However, neurotransmitters are produced by endocrine glands and neurons in the brain and the nervous system. They are transported across synapses. A synapse is a junction between two neurons. Neurotransmitters, by carrying the messages, create a neural network of information.

An Overview of Neurotransmitters

In this section, I briefly introduce the neurotransmitters I wrote about before and link the relevant stories for those interested in details.

1 - Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. It is a type of chemical messenger in the brain. Various brain regions, such as the substantia nigra, ventral tegmental area, and hypothalamus, produce it.

Maintaining a healthy balance of dopamine in the brain is vital for a fulfilling and meaningful life. Dopamine, as a chemical messenger in the brain, plays a crucial role in our ability to experience pleasure, enjoyment, and motivation.

The level of dopamine in the brain can increase in response to rewards. Moreover, dopamine can significantly increase with the ingestion of addictive drugs, in fact, in order of magnitude. Therefore some drugs are so addictive. In "What DeltaFosB Is and Why It Matters in Solving Addiction Problems," I delve into the complex and often misunderstood process of addiction.

Dopamine is a critical player in the complex network of brain functions that contribute to cognitive health, mental health, and emotional well-being. Dysfunction of the dopamine system in the brain has been implicated in different nervous system diseases and mental health disorders.

When dopamine is released in response to pleasurable stimuli, such as food, sex, or drugs, it can produce feelings of pleasure and reward. This can motivate a person to seek out and repeat pleasurable activities.

Dopamine also plays a role in movement and coordination, helping to control voluntary muscle movements. A deficiency of dopamine can cause movement problems such as tremors, stiffness, and difficulty initiating movement, as seen in Parkinson's disease.

In addition to its role in reward and movement, dopamine is also involved in learning, memory, and attention. It plays a role in the brain's reward and pleasure centers, which can help to increase the chances that a person will remember and repeat pleasurable experiences.

The Role of Dopamine in the Brain and How to Optimize It Naturally

As this neurotransmitter is a double-edged sword, I'd like to teach you how to use this vital tool to enhance your…medium.com

2 - Serotonin

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a biochemical that is involved in transmitting signals between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and plays a crucial role in the functioning of the cells, tissues, and organs.

Serotonin is produced in the brain and the digestive system. In the brain, it is produced by a group of neurons in a region called the raphe nuclei, located in the midline of the brainstem.

Serotonin impacts several brain functions, including mood, sleep, appetite, memory, and sexual desire.

A serotonin deficiency can lead to mood disorders, sleep disturbances, poor memory, low focus and attention, irritability, aggression, weight gain, digestive problems, constipation, diarrhea, decreased libido, and cardiovascular disorders.

Low levels of serotonin are associated with anxiety and depression. Excessive amounts are linked to agitation, restlessness, and confusion. However, balanced and optimized levels can result in feelings of well-being and happiness.

In addition to its role as a neurotransmitter in the brain, serotonin plays a key role in the functioning of the cardiovascular system by regulating blood vessel constriction and blood flow.

Serotonin also helps to regulate digestion by controlling the movement of food in the digestive tract and influencing appetite and satiety. Furthermore, it is also involved in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, and it plays a role in maintaining muscle health.

The Vital Role of Serotonin for Health and How to Optimize It Naturally

As this neurotransmitter is crucial for physical and mental health, I summarize how to benefit from its optimal use to…medium.com

3 - Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a neurochemical hormone found in every mammalian, including humans. This multi-functional hormone also acts as a neurotransmitter in specific brain regions.

Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus. It is released into the bloodstream by the posterior pituitary gland. Oxytocin can be released into the bloodstream in response to various stimuli, including stress or anxiety.

Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter and hormone that plays a crucial role in numerous bodily functions, such as social bonding, childbirth, and sexual reproduction. This neurochemical is repeatedly referred to as the "love hormone" because it involves social bonding, intimacy, and affection.

Oxytocin is often misunderstood by the general public, including on the internet, where some sources promote baseless products or misinformation with false claims of boosting its production. Please exercise caution and carefully evaluate the credibility of sources when seeking to learn about this molecule.

Oxytocin: Here's How You Can Bond, Love More, and Create Meaningful Relationships.

A condensed review of the "love hormone" and practical tips to optimize it via healthy lifestyle choicesmedium.com

4 - Acetylcholine

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in numerous physiological and psychological processes, such as muscle contraction, heart rate regulation, memory, attention, focus, task switching, and learning.

Acetylcholine is synthesized in the body from the precursor molecule, nutrient choline, and the cofactor acetyl-CoA. The nervous system primarily releases it. However, other cells and tissues also can produce it.

Various parts of the body include acetylcholine receptors. Most of them are located in the nerve cells in the central and peripheral nervous systems and neurons in the brain.

The central nervous system is home to acetylcholine receptors, which are situated in the motor neurons of the spinal cord, brainstem, and interneurons in regions of the brain such as the hippocampus, striatum, and cerebral cortex.

These receptors regulate cognitive processes, including memory, attention, task switching, and learning.

The critical point is if the acetylcholinesterase enzyme is imbalanced, it can adversely impact the balance of acetylcholine. The common factors causing an imbalance of this enzyme are excessive toxic substances in the body, nutritional deficiencies, neurological disorders, hormonal imbalances, stress, chronic inflammation, some medications, aging, and genetic defects.

Acetylcholine is also crucial for the vagus nerve, which regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. It controls the body's rest and digestion response. The vagus nerve releases acetylcholine, binds to receptors on target cells, and activates them.

Overall, acetylcholine imbalances are caused by physiological, psychological, lifestyle, and genetic factors.

Optimize Your Acetylcholine to Boost Memory, Accelerate Learning, and Move Better.

5 - Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline)

Norepinephrine (noradrenaline) is a catecholamine neurotransmitter. It is also classified as a hormone that plays a vital role in various physiological processes in the endocrine and metabolic path, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose metabolism in various organs, including the heart, brain, lungs, pancreas, and liver.

More specifically, norepinephrine can increase your heart rate, break down fat molecules, and increase glucose levels when released into the bloodstream. In addition, it regulates attention, mood, stress, sleep, and wakefulness as a neurotransmitter.

Catecholamines are biochemical compounds with a specific structure produced and released by the adrenal glands and various brain regions. They are classified as a group of hormones. Other catecholamines are dopamine and epinephrine,.

Norepinephrine plays a critical role in our biological rhythms, such as circadian. It is one of the critical neurotransmitters, waking us up in the morning, increasing our focus, and improving our attention when studying or working.

Some conditions require lowering, and some increase the amount of norepinephrine. Common health conditions are hypotension, hypertension, metabolic disorders, allergic reactions, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Excessive amounts might show symptoms like high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, insomnia, agitation, headaches, stress, anxiety, and addiction.

While a quick surge of norepinephrine from drugs or physical exercise can cause euphoric feelings in some people, it can also lead to panic attacks, raised blood pressure, and hyperactivity in others.

Deficiency might show symptoms like low blood pressure, fatigue, sleepiness, weight gain, attention deficit, depression, and other mood disorders.

Here's How to Optimize Your Norepinephrine Levels for Better Physical and Mental Health.

6 - Epinephrine (Adrenaline)

Adrenalin (epinephrine) is a stress hormone and also serves as a neurotransmitter. The primary purpose of adrenalin is an immediate stress response to physical and psychological threats.

The adrenal glands produce adrenalin as it does other stress hormones. More specifically, these glands provide stress response, producing energy, immune function, and cardiovascular functions such as raising heart rate and blood pressure.

The physiological effects of adrenalin include increasing heart rate, improving lung function, enhancing sugar metabolism, raising blood pressure, and providing more blood flow and glucose to muscles. However, this process carries less oxygen and blood flow to non-essential organs.

While these physiological changes bring immediate benefit when the body gets exposed to excessive stress due to unexpected threats, too much of this hormone can cause serious health issues, mainly affecting the heart and leading to anxiety from a mental health perspective.

Adrenalin can cause physiological changes such as increased heart rate, improved lung function, enhanced sugar metabolism, and increased blood flow to the muscles while reducing blood flow to non-essential organs.

It also can cause psychological effects by activating the sympathetic nervous system, stimulating the release of other stress hormones, and acting as a neurotransmitter affecting the amygdala, hypothalamus, and locus coeruleus, improving focus, attention, and arousal.

The adrenaline rush is a sudden increase in adrenaline levels commonly experienced in response to life-threatening events or intense physical activities manifesting as excitement, fear, or anxiety.

Adrenalin can also be prescribed for various health conditions, including cognitive, immune, cardiovascular, and metabolic issues.

Adrenaline: Optimizing Your Epinephrine for Health, Productivity, and Joy

7 - Histamine

Histamine is a molecule produced by various body cells. As a neurotransmitter and hormone, it involves many physiological processes. For example, it regulates the immune, nervous, and cardiovascular systems.

After 1910 when Nobel Laureate, Sir Henry Dale, identified it, scientists classified histamine as a neurotransmitter and biogenic amine. Histamine is originated from the amino acid histidine with the help of an enzyme called l-histidine decarboxylase.

Histidine is one of the nine essential amino acids the body cannot create. Therefore, we need to take it from protein-rich food or supplements.

Histamine is complex but a tiny molecule. Therefore, it can easily cross cell membranes, diffuse quickly, and interact with various target tissues as a hormone.

Histamine modulates neural activities in the prefrontal cortex, the hypothalamus, and the amygdala. Therefore, it plays a crucial role in cognitive and mental health.

From a functional perspective, as a neurotransmitter, histamine regulates mood, various cognitive functions, and sleep. Thus, it can affect wakefulness, alertness, learning, and appetite.

Histamine's role in regulating the circadian rhythm is noteworthy as it has sleep and memory implications. For example, histamine balance can impact REM sleep and is associated with memory consolidation.

Histamine: The Many Hats of a Paradoxical Biochemical for the Body and Mind

8 - Glutamate

Glutamate is an amino acid and also biochemical in nerve cells. It acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and central nervous system.

Glutamate has three primary functions in the brain: synaptic transmission for electrical signals, triggering electrical responses in the postsynaptic neurons, and maintaining homeostasis in the brain by balancing the levels of excitation and inhibition.

As a neurotransmitter, it is critical for stress response, memory building, improving the learning process, appetite, metabolism, and homeostasis (balance) of the brain.

Unlike GABA, glutamate stimulates and excites the neurons, making them more active for various purposes, such as improving cognitive performance, memory formation, alertness, and increased mental energy. 90% of excitatory functions in the brain are caused by glutamate.

Glutamate's interaction with GABA can provide a better balance in the brain and nervous system. An enzyme called glutamate dehydrogenase can break it down for a balanced release in the brain and nervous system.

But glutamate also interacts with other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, adrenaline, histamine, and endocannabinoids for memory formation, attention, alertness, arousal, learning, pain perception, and mood management.

Glutamate: A Biochemical Exciting Your Neurons for Better Memory and Learning, Yet…

9 - Adenosine

Adenosine is not classified as a neurotransmitter but has a significant role in the brain, such as neuroprotection, energy metabolism, blood flow regulation, and inflammation. It also regulates sleep and wake cycles. As a nucleoside, it comprises a nitrogen-containing base called adenine and ribose sugar.

More precisely, adenosine is a purine nucleoside (PN). PN is a genetic enzyme serving as a building block of nucleic acids. In a forthcoming story, I will cover nucleic acids as they are vital for our DNA and RNA. This molecule is so critical that it exists in all cells in various forms.

The most critical information is the delicate balance of this compound in the body, as imbalances can cause severe physical and mental health disorders.

Adenosine is a significant sleep and wakefulness regulator. Unless we understand its role and align our lifestyles based on its architecture, there is no way to solve sleep issues.

Balancing and optimizing adenosine levels can improve your sleep, stay awake in a good mood during the day, balance neurotransmitters and hormones, have better cardiovascular health, lower inflammation, and protect your neurons and nerve cells.

7 Tips to Optimize Adenosine and Sleep Like a Baby

Summary and Takeaways

I only mentioned the neurotransmitters I reviewed and published as an article on this platform. There are several other neurotransmitters that I will cover soon and add to this collection. So you may save this story as a reference to access my content related to these biochemicals for the brain and nervous system.

Balancing and optimizing these neurotransmitters requires honoring the body's and mind's fundamental needs. The key points are a healthy diet, regular exercise, restorative sleep, rest, fun, and meaningful social connections that can put the brain in growth mode (BDNF).

Other lifestyle factors, such as refraining from excessive alcohol use, tobacco smoking, and drugs, are vital for balancing neurotransmitters and enjoying their bodily and mental functions.

Lifestyle factors help balance these neurotransmitters, but underlying health conditions might also lead to imbalance and dysfunction. Therefore seeking timely professional support is critical.

Apart from lifestyle factors, significant contributors to the imbalances of neurotransmitters are excessive stress, chronic inflammation, neurodegenerative disorders, traumatic brain injury, stroke, brain atrophy, infections, and genetic mutations.

Thank you for reading my perspectives. I wish you a healthy and happy life

I share similar stories on EUPHORIA on Medium, my personal publication for health and well-being stories. The original version of this article was published on another platform.

If you enjoy writing and storytelling, you can join Medium, NewsBreak, and Vocal Media as a creator to find your voice, reach out to a broad audience, and monetize your content.

self carewellnessweight losssexual wellnesssciencemental healthhealthfitnessdietbodyagingadvice

About the Creator

Dr Mehmet Yildiz

I'm a writer and published author with four decades of content development experience in business, technology, leadership, and health. I work as a postdoctoral researcher and consultant. My background is at https://digitalmehmet.com.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.