Neurotransmitters – similar to hormones – trigger signals in our system. The transmission is based on electrical impulses. These ultimately directly or indirectly control our mood, well-being and feelings, performance, motivation and regeneration. They have a major influence on our metabolic processes and the nervous system, which is ultimately relevant for our health.
What neurotransmitters are there? and how are they formed?
Since there are over 60 different neurotransmitters, and many of them are also active as hormones, only four of them will be discussed here. The focus is on the messenger substances, which can be used to convey a practical connection to how we can influence their activity through our lifestyle.
- Dopamine is formed from the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. Vitamin C, copper and iron also play a role in dopamine metabolism 3 . It promotes blood circulation and increases motivation, inner drive, emotion, learning and memory. There is also a connection here with motion control. Dopamine is therefore one of the substances that promote feelings of happiness and optimize our performance 1 . Not surprisingly, a lack of dopamine often causes depression and makes us sluggish and listless 4 .
- Acetylcholine is another concentration promoter. It is formed via an additional conversion step from the amino acids glycine and serine. Acetylcholine promotes cognitive processes and is important for learning processes. This messenger substance is needed for our brain to function properly. Alzheimer's patients are deficient in it, which is a factor in their forgetfulness 1 .
Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan. Like dopamine, serotonin is one of the sources of happiness. What is different here, however, is that it supports us more in regeneration phases. A release of serotonin ensures serenity, inner peace, satisfaction and relaxation. But the messenger substance can do much more: it regulates eating behavior, the sensation of pain and hormone release. For example, serotonin promotes the release of melatonin, our sleep hormone. It is therefore a sleep promoter and can also alleviate aggression, anxiety and depression 1 .
A serotonin deficiency can lead to sleep disorders, depression, neuroses, exhaustion and anxiety 3 .
- GABA (Gamma aminobutyric acid) is the most important neurotransmitter with inhibitory effects in the CNS. GABA is formed from the amino acid glutamine. In the fetus in the womb, this messenger substance also plays an important role in establishing nerve connections. GABA inhibits the secretion of hormones such as glucagon in the pancreas. Glucagon is an antagonist of insulin and ensures that sugar is transported from the cells into the blood so that enough sugar remains in the bloodstream 1 . Gamma aminobutyric acid primarily inhibits hormones and signals that put our body in a state of stress. Ultimately, it is crucial for regeneration and relaxation 3 . Nervous people who often cannot calm down even in the evening may have a GABA deficiency.
From these four examples it is easy to see that although the release of messenger substances can be abstract from a biochemical perspective, it is still easy to draw practical conclusions. So it is obvious that the neurotransmitters have to pass on their signals at the right time and in the right dosage. This is a balancing act for the organism. For example, the body must have the right nutrients available. The final part of this article will address this point in more detail.
What exactly are neurotransmitters?
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit electrical stimuli from one nerve cell to another or to the remaining cells. It's often about reflexes and quick reactions. They can also reinforce or change stimuli that have already been generated 1 . There are numerous of these substances, all with different effects. The topic is very complex, so some neurotransmitters do not necessarily always produce the same effect. Depending on the combination and where the transmission takes place, the effect can vary.
In addition, the biochemical compounds can have different mechanisms, some inhibit processes and some promote them.
Many neurotransmitters are also active as hormones. They lead a double life, so to speak. However, there are crucial differences between the two signal carriers: As already explained, neurotransmitters emit signals that cause immediate reflexes and reactions; hormones often provide the response to these stimuli. For example, when we are frightened, the escape reflex is often triggered; the signal for this is transmitted by norepinephrine. The hormonal response to this would be, among other things, that blood sugar shoots up in order to quickly supply our body with enough energy. The signal for the transport of sugar from the cell into the bloodstream is controlled by hormones 1 . More information about blood sugar and its hormonal processes will follow in the next article.
Our nervous system
The central nervous system, abbreviated CNS, consists of the brain and the spinal cord. It is contrasted with the peripheral nervous system, or PNS for short, which includes the nerves that connect the CNS to the organs. The brain is the overarching center for the entire nervous system 2 .
In biology and medicine, a distinction is also made between the involuntary and voluntary nervous systems. Arbitrary activities whose stimulus transmission we can consciously control include, for example, movements of the skeletal muscles or movements of our sensory organs. For example, how we control where we look with our eyes. Our nervous system, together with the hormonal system, involuntarily controls the activities of the internal organs. This brings us to the subject of neurotransmitters in the involuntarily controlled nervous system 2 .
How are neurotransmitters formed?
Neurotransmitters are primarily made from amino acids. These are the small components of proteins. Proteins are formed from chains of amino acids and split up in reverse because they have countless functions in our metabolism. This is relevant at this point because one can conclude that our body must have the right building blocks of proteins available in order to be able to form the messenger substances 3 .
The balance of neurotransmitters and our nervous system is important
As already described above, various messenger substances can have inhibitory and stimulating effects on countless processes, emotions and processes in our body.
If you would like to take a more global look at the whole thing, you can do so here - as with the topic The immune system calls the two opponents of the nervous system: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system conveys performance-enhancing effects and its counterpart provides relaxation-enhancing effects 2 . Dopamine and acetylcholine are signals from the sympathetic nervous system, serotonin and GABA are loyal to the parasympathetic nervous system. It is therefore important that both systems are in balance and that the body rotates between states. This means he can perform well, be active and also go through regenerating phases that are important for our health.
How can you optimize your neurotransmitter release and keep the system in balance?
At least part of the release of messenger substances can be influenced by the right diet. So it makes sense to consume protein in the morning that contains the amino acids that promote dopamine and acetylcholine so that you start the day productive and motivated. Red meat and nuts are good choices here. More on this in Article . In the evening or on quiet days, when the body needs to switch to the sympathetic state, foods that drive the production of GABA and serotonin are beneficial. For example, carbohydrates cause serotonin to be released due to the subsequent increase in insulin, which leads to relaxation and well-being. This will ultimately have a positive effect on sleep. Of course, dealing with stressors is also important, because although neurotransmitters can promote emotions, emotions can also promote the release of messenger substances. A balanced one Mindset is therefore of great importance in addition to a health-promoting lifestyle.
1 Doccheck Flexikon: Neurotransmitters. [https://flexikon.doccheck.com/de/Neurotransmitter; April 24, 2020].
2 Bütikofer, Markus; Hopf, Zensi; Rutz, Guido; Stach, Silke and Grigoleit, Andrea (2015): Human biology 2: nerves, senses, hormones, reproduction and movement. pp. 11-60.
3 Psyche & Orthomolecular Medicine: Neurotransmitters – General information about neurotransmitters
[ https://www.angst-depressionen.com/neurotransmitter ; April 26, 2020].
4 Netdoktor: Dopamine deficiency [https://www.netdoktor.de/laborwerte/dopamine/dopaminelack; April 24, 2020].