Neurotransmitters largely determine how you feel
Neurotransmitters, have you ever heard of them? It is a bit of a ‘heavy’ subject. Yet it is very interesting and important to know a little more about it. Neurotransmitters largely determine how we feel. Think of emotions such as cheerfulness, cheerful, depression, and feelings of fear.
But also how decisive we are in life, whether we can react sharply, and how we deal with pain sensations are all determined by these special substances in your body. Want to know more about this? And what can you do to get through the day as much as possible? I can already tell you that a healthy gut plays a major role in this. So read on soon!
Neurotransmitters have a major influence on our mood and therefore how we feel
Hormones vs. Neurotransmitters
You may be wondering, but aren’t my hormones responsible for my mood and therefore my behavior? Let me clarify by saying that neurotransmitters come under hormones. But they don’t come about in the same way.
Hormones are messenger substances that are released into the blood by certain endocrine glands. They then deliver their message to specific cells, which then perform a specific function. Many vital processes and functions are controlled by hormones.
Neurotransmitters are substances in the brain (a type of ‘brain hormones’) that ensure that neurons, and nerve cells, can communicate with each other. Neurotransmitters, in contrast to hormones, are produced in nerve cells and are mainly active in our brains.
Both hormones and neurotransmitters affect our emotions, feelings and behavior
Neurotransmitters at work
Our brains are made up of billions of nerve cells called neurons. All these cells communicate with each other through neurotransmitters. When a nerve cell is stimulated, an electrical current is generated that is transferred via a connection between the cells.
You can see a neurotransmitter as the messenger that transfers all kinds of information between cells.
They are produced in the ends of the same cells from proteins (amino acids). Some of the neurotransmitters are always ready to be secreted and some are stored in small ‘bags’ until it’s their turn. At least, if you’ve had enough…
Neurotransmitters are not always equally active. But when a lot is asked of memory functions (for example, while thinking games or writing this article), the body uses a lot of neurotransmitters to be able to process the information smoothly. They are also on edge when it comes to feelings and emotions. Take a look at the list below.
A neurotransmitter for every feeling
There are more than 50 types of neurotransmitters, some of which are related to behavior and emotions:
- Serotonin: the ‘feel-good’ hormone: important for a good mood, satisfaction, and good sleep
- Dopamine: responsible for feelings of happiness, energy and control, healthy assertiveness, sexual arousal, a good immune system, and a well-functioning nervous system
- Acetylcholine: important for memory, clear thoughts, and alertness
- GABA: soothing, inhibits anxiety and stress
- Noradrenaline: motivation, alertness, and concentration
- Endorphins: Give a feeling of euphoria
- Adrenaline: stimulator and helps the body react to stress
- Glutamate: brain cognitive ability, memory, movement
Your gut: an important supplier of neurotransmitters
Three important neurotransmitters are (partly) produced in the gut: GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. Your gut is even responsible for at least 80% of the production of serotonin. Not only the (cells of the) intestines themselves produce neurotransmitters, but also the bacteria that are housed here.
We don’t know if that last very long. For example, two types of bacteria have been known to produce the neurotransmitter GABA (1). Healthy intestines, with a large colony of healthy intestinal bacteria, are very important for the optimal production of neurotransmitters.
Healthy intestines, with a healthy colony of intestinal bacteria, are very important for optimal production of neurotransmitters.
The gut, our second brain
Those gut inhabitants, our gut flora, have a lot to do with how our brains work: the area of neurotransmitters. There are hundreds of millions of nerve cells that connect the brain to the intestinal nervous system. intestinal nervous system? Yes, our digestive system has its own nervous system, also called the enteric nervous system! The main connection is the ‘vagus nerve’ which runs directly from the gut to the brain. There is increasing evidence that messages are passed on to our brains via our gut bacteria and vice versa.
When you eat something, your brain sends a signal to your gut inhabitants so that they can prepare for the approaching food. Conversely, our gut bacteria also send signals to the brain. This could be one of the reasons why they make their own neurotransmitters.
Gut bacteria may be partly the cause of binge eating
An example: our intestinal flora is responsible for about 50% of the production of dopamine, also known as one of the happiness hormones. They may be doing this to reward us when we eat things they like. This makes us feel good!
Every family of bacteria (both the good and the less good) has an interest in getting as many useful nutrients as possible (for them). All those bacteria do everything they can to survive and become the strongest. This greatly manipulates our appetite.
When you’re rummaging through your kitchen cupboards looking for something sweet, it may just be that not your brain but a number of sugar-loving gut bacteria sent you there! The more you feed them, the more you get, be aware of this. Starving slowly is a better plan when it comes to those sugar-addicted gut bacteria.
Need a lot of sweets? It may be that certain sugar-loving gut bacteria make you eat sweets over and over again. Starve them out and you will be significantly less bothered by them.
Healthy gut flora is healthy behavior?
How you feel and therefore also how you behave has in part to do with neurotransmitters and with the composition of your intestinal flora. But what if you experience intestinal problems and/or your intestinal flora is not optimal? Does this affect the production of neurotransmitters and therefore your behavior and mood?
The answer is yes. A lot of research has been done on this in recent years with surprising results. A non-optimal intestinal flora means a shortage of neurotransmitters.
For example, scientists and doctors began to notice that autism, ADHD, and depression often go hand in hand with intestinal complaints such as constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. And people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease also have intestinal problems remarkably often. According to microbiologists, it may well be that disturbances in the intestinal flora in people with autism, for example, manifest themselves in different ways. (2)
Intestinal disorders and a sub-optimal intestinal flora can mean a shortage of neurotransmitters.
More research is needed to understand the precise relationship between our intestinal flora, the (impaired) production of neurotransmitters, and disorders in behavior and well-being such as autism, depression, and anxiety. Many studies are conducted on mice (3). It is difficult to draw definitive conclusions from this for people.
But in 2017, it was discovered that the gut flora of people with ADHD differs from that of people without the disorder. More species of gut inhabitants called Bifidobacterium were found in people with ADHD. These bacteria produce phenylalanine, a precursor (producer) of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Increased phenylalanine production is related to a brake on the reward centers in the brain, which is more often seen in people with ADHD.
An important insight also came from another angle. Psychiatrists noted that people with depression often also suffered from severe constipation. This has been known for a long time, but no one has ever come up with the idea of trying to cure constipation and see if the depression improved. That now appears to be the case. This is not because people feel better because they are no longer constipated, but because constipation has a direct effect on the brain. It has long been thought that depression occurs in the brain, but there is now mounting evidence that it occurs in the gut.
It has long been thought that depression occurs in the brain, but there is mounting evidence that it occurs in the gut.
Tackling symptoms at the source
By now you have probably understood that neurotransmitters are extremely important. In addition, just like with our hormones, it is very important that there is a good balance between the various stimulating and inhibitory neurotransmitters. This story also shows that your intestines play a major role in this: your intestines are the heart of your health. First of all, it is important to focus on that.
A healthy intestinal flora: check! Is there anything you can do to give neurotransmitters as much free rein as possible? Fortunately! Neurotransmitters need quite a few auxiliaries to do their job properly. Both for the production and for good transmission of signals.
This is important, among other things:
- A stable blood sugar.
Glucose is the ‘fuel’ on which nerve cells depend almost 100%. Other cells and organs can also burn fat. Stable blood sugar provides a steady flow of blood sugar to the brain. No more sugar peaks and troughs!
- Sufficient Omega 3 fatty acids
More than 60% of the weight of the brain is determined by fat. Omega 3 is important for proper brain function, where neurotransmitters play a role. Research also shows that omega-3 fatty acids can increase serotonin levels.
- Sufficient vitamins and minerals.
These are very much involved in making, sending, and receiving neurotransmitters. Especially vitamins B1, B2, B6, folic acid, B12, and vitamin C are important. Of the minerals, magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc, and iron are important.
Nutrition for neurotransmitters: eat yourself happy!
Taking sufficient nutrients, therefore, ensures that enough neurotransmitters can be produced. In addition, they help to maintain healthy intestinal flora, so the knife cuts both ways!
Many neurotransmitters have so-called precursors. These are amino acids that are responsible for their production. Without precursors, no neurotransmitters. With our diet, we have a lot of influence on the range of amino acids that we ingest.
Important food for our neurotransmitters :
- Nuts, seeds and kernels (especially sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds)
- Meat and fish and shellfish
- Green (leaf) vegetables
- Whole grains
With our diet we have a lot of influence on the range of amino acids that we ingest and therefore on the neurotransmitters that are produced.
Get rid of the obstacles
With healthy intestines and sufficient high-quality, healthy food you are unfortunately not there yet. There are also things that get in the way of neurotransmitters. Have a look at the list below:
- Hormonal imbalance
Stress ( cortisol ) in particular has a major negative influence on the production of neurotransmitters
- Underactive thyroid
mainly affects the production of GABA
- Allergies and intolerances
are related to intestinal discomfort/imbalance in the intestinal flora
- Intestinal parasites, fungi and yeasts
are related to intestinal discomfort/imbalance in the intestinal flora. They produce a lot of waste, which is also known as ‘brain fog’. A dull feeling, as if something stands between you and the world. This hinders the proper functioning of neurotransmitters.
- Too little exercise and sunlight.
As you have read, there can be a lot between good neurotransmitter production and good mental health. But luckily there is also just as much you can do about this!
Would you like to feel better about yourself? Are you more depressed than usual? Do you experience less decisiveness, do you feel restless or do you have a lot of cotton wool in your head? Although there could of course be 1001 other reasons, the problem could be a hitch in the production cable of (certain) neurotransmitters and/or your gut health. So start by taking good care of your intestines.