It’s A Matter of Connection
With the current landscape of instant results, our resilience and ability to focus is compromised.
Symptoms such as difficulty retaining information, emotional ups and downs, difficulty remaining calm, and even bouts of anxiety, can all be attributed to what I term the “spin”; in other words, spinning out of balance. This can all be attributed to an imbalance in brain chemistry. There are certainly pharmaceutical remedies to mask symptoms and in some cases they may be useful, but no one would argue that pharmaceutical medications often are a quick, short-term fix. They do not balance the brain chemistry and are not a long term solution.
The average human brain houses over 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) with each connected to 10,000 or so other cells which, if you do the math, equals approximately 1000 trillion connections in your brain. This means you have, even on a slow day, roughly 10,000 times more connections in your brain than there are stars in the Milky Way. These networks form our electrical circuitry and are responsible for our living: thinking, feeling and operating moment to moment.
In House Communication
These nerve cells need to have a communicator to talk to each other. The communicators are chemicals called neurotransmitters and are used to operate a communication network. These chemical messengers coordinate the transmission of signals from one nerve cell (neuron) to the next. They interact with target sites called receptors located throughout the brain (and body) to regulate a wide variety of processes including: mood, memory, cognition, attention, concentration, alertness, energy,appetite, cravings, emotions, fear, pleasure, joy, anger, sleep, and the perception of pain.
Stress, poor diet, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition and certain pharmaceutical medications can cause these levels to be disrupted and fall out of optimal range decreasing our connections resulting in being out of balance both mentally and physically.
In a previous podcast, Food For Focus, I talked about some of the symptoms that may be experienced when we are out of balance and foods to support networks.
There are two types of neurotransmitters, INHIBITORY which function for calm and well-being, and EXCITATORY which function for drive and motivation.
Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter—which means that it does not stimulate the brain. Most of our serotonin is in our gut; however, the serotonin in our gut, cannot cross the blood brain barrier. The brain has its own source. Adequate amounts of serotonin are necessary for stable mood and to balance any excessive excitatory neurotransmitters. Inadequate levels have been linked to depression. Other functions associated with serotonin include: regulation of the sleep cycle, pain control, digestive function, and regulation of the immune system.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is often referred to as “nature’s VALIUM-like substance”. GABA blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. The brain uses GABA to balance the excitatory neurotransmitters. Low levels have been linked to anxiety and mood disorders. High levels have been equated to impaired thinking and feeling as seen in inability to focus and pain amplification.
Also called noradrenaline (meaning at or along the kidneys), is responsible for mobilizing the brain and body into action. Norepinephrine release is lowest during sleep, rises during wakefulness, and reaches much higher levels during situations of stress or danger, in the so-called fight-or-flight response. Low levels are associated with low energy, decreased focus ability, and sleep cycle problems. This neurotransmitter can also cause changes in mood and anxiety when levels are elevated.
Also known as adrenaline, is a neurotransmitter; but is also considered a hormone and is used as a medication in emergency situation where someone has an allergic reaction to a bee sting or a food or other substance. It quickly improves breathing, stimulates the heart rate and blood pressure and is activated in acute stress responses like norepinephrine that was mentioned. However, long-term stress or insomnia can cause depletion of epinephrine.
Dopamine is the main focus neurotransmitter. When dopamine is either elevated or low, focus issues may arise such as daydreaming and not being able to stay on task. Dopamine is also responsible for our drive and motivation. Stimulants cause dopamine to be pushed into the synapse —the place between two nerve cells— so that focus is improved. Hence why we sometimes gravitate toward stimulants, for example, coffee. Unfortunately, stimulating dopamine consistently can cause depletion of dopamine over time and you see that if you are an excessive coffee drinker you don’t get the same effect as you did when you started the habit.
Glutamate is a key chemical for our cells and the principal excitatory neurotransmitter and some say most important in establishing normal brain function. In fact, it is the most abundant amino acid in the diet. It is required for learning and memory. Low levels can lead to tiredness and poor brain activity. High levels of glutamate can cause death to the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. Dysfunction in glutamate metabolism (levels) are involved in many neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Tourette’s. High levels also contribute to Depression, OCD, and Autism.
Histamine is most commonly known for its role in allergic reactions but it is also involved in neurotransmission and can affect your emotions and behavior as well. Histamine helps control the sleep-wake cycle and promotes the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine. High histamine levels have been linked to obsessive compulsive tendencies, depression, and headaches. Low histamine levels can contribute to paranoia, low libido, fatigue, and medication sensitivities.
Phenylethylamine (PEA) is sometimes said to be an excitatory neuromodulator. It is a neurotransmitter that is made from phenylalanine. It is important in focus and concentration. High levels are observed in individuals experiencing “mind racing”, sleep problems, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Low PEA is associated with difficulty paying attention or thinking clearly, and in depression. Some researchers state that it amplifies the activity of major neurotransmitters for increased longevity, slower aging, higher performance and a sense of well being.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, Foods for Focus, there are nutrients that will help to balance our connections. I dedicate an entire lesson in Feeling Good Matters to address this concern. Brain balance involves a complex synergy and many factors like diet, nutrition and exercise come into play. The brain needs to be detoxed, nourished and rejuvenated in a systematic way with a unique combination of specific, concentrated nutrients and practices to accomplish this. For example, protein provides the amino acids to manufacture the neurotransmitters, and vitamins and minerals help to make this conversion. And we can’t forget about fats that help with the transmission.
Practices such as diaphragmatic breathing and meditation are also part of the equation. If you follow a meditative lifestyle then you are on the road to better connections. If you haven’t quite got there yet, I urge you to be open to exploring the possibilities. Create your intention and then allow the path to happen for you. Finding the right protocol is key.