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Get to know your Neurotransmitters - “brain hormones” essential for optimal mood, energy, and weight

Balancing these “brain hormones” is essential for optimal mood, energy, and weight.

b2ap3_thumbnail_brain.jpgNeurotransmitters are brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. Think of neurotransmitters as “brain hormones”. Proper balance of neurotransmitters is essential to regulate hunger, mood, cravings, energy, motivation, and self-image.

Neurotransmitters are synthesized in the body using amino acids, the building blocks of protein. These amino acids come from the digestion of protein in the foods that we eat. The synthesis of neurotransmitters also requires cofactors, various vitamins and minerals needed to make each type of neurotransmitter.

The four key neurotransmitters -
what they do and how their levels affect your mood, appetite and weight.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

b2ap3_thumbnail_serotonin.jpgSerotonin is perhaps the most important of all neurotransmitters in maintaining mood and well-being. The primary building block of serotonin is tryptophan, an amino acid found in large amounts in poultry. Tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP which is then converted to serotonin. Serotonin levels regulate:
  • self-image and confidence
  • mood stability
  • happiness/positive attitude
  • hunger and cravings
  • healthy sleep cycles
Low serotonin is associated with:
  • depression, anxiety, PMS and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • negative self-talk and self-image, poor self-esteem
  • sadness, tearfulness
  • short-tempered, an inability to “let things go”
Association of serotonin with hunger and weight:
  • serotonin is temporarily boosted after eating carbohydrates/sugar
  • those with low serotonin will often crave starches like pasta and bread
  • those with low serotonin will often have more hunger/cravings in the evening

Have you lost your “spark”?

Dopamine is another key neurotransmitter in mood and well-being. Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine, which converts to L-DOPA, and then to Dopamine. Dopamine helps to regulate:b2ap3_thumbnail_dopamine.jpg
  • motivation
  • energy
  • focus
  • feelings of reward
  • Low dopamine levels may be associated with:
  • fatigue
  • low motivation
  • difficulty with focus/attention
The relationship of dopamine and food/drink:
  • those with low dopamine levels often have cravings throughout the day, especially sugar, candy, and chocolate
  • those with low dopamine levels also tend to seek out caffeine throughout the day

Are you able to relax?

b2ap3_thumbnail_GABA.jpgGABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is needed to keep the brain from becoming overstimulated. It is our primary “relaxation” neurotransmitter. Low GABA levels are often associated with:
  • anxiety
  • an inability to relax
  • feeling chronically “stressed out"
  • Physical signs of low GABA may include:
  • recurrent headaches
  • heartburn
  • muscle tension
  • irritable bowel syndrome
How GABA levels may affect your eating patterns:
  • those low in GABA tend to be emotional eaters
  • those low in GABA are also more likely to binge eat, although not necessarily just starches

ACETYLCHOLINE  b2ap3_thumbnail_acetylcholine.jpg
Are you forgetful?

Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter involved in the processing speed of the brain. Acetylcholine levels are associated with:
  • learning
  • memory
  • retention of information
  • low levels of acetylcholine are also seen with Alzheimer's disease.
Acetylcholine levels and food cravings:
  • those low in acetylcholine tend to crave fat, fried foods such as hamburgers and pizza
  • those low in acetylcholine may favor creamy desserts like cheesecake and ice cream

Are you relating to any of the above symptoms?  Many of my patients with neurotransmitter imbalance will relate to more than one of these categories.  Tomorrow I will offer a short quiz to test where your neurotransmitter imbalances may be, and discuss a variety of treatment options.  Stay tuned!

Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative MedicineLooking for a personalized approach to your healthcare? I use an Integrative/Functional Medicine approach with my patients to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions. Treating symptoms and chronic disease simply by prescribing medication doesn't address the underlying factors that contributed your problems in the first place, and is not likely to provide lasting results. My approach involves getting "under the surface" to find and correct underlying imbalances. If you are interested in learning more or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.

Quiz: Assess your Neurotransmitter Balance
Highlights from the Annual Nutrition & Health Conf...

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