What Are Neurotransmitters And What Do They Do?
You hear the word ‘neurotransmitter’ thrown around all the time in the health industry, but it’s not always clear what they are or why they matter. Today we want to take a deeper look at how neurotransmitters function–what they do for you, and why you need them for your body to perform optimally. Scroll down to read more about neurotransmitters and how they could be affecting the way you think and feel.
What Is A Neurotransmitter + How Neurotransmitters Function
In order to understand neurotransmitters, first you need to know just a little bit about neurons. A neuron is basically a nerve cell, which communicates special messages throughout the body. To give you an idea of how many neurons there are, it’s believed that our brain contains around 85 billion of them.
Now you may be wondering, what does a neuron do exactly? Neurons can send all kinds of signals, and can help your body perform basic functions, such as tasting, seeing, hearing and many more. Other kinds of neurons help the brain signal to organs for digestion and other body systems.
Now, here’s where neurotransmitters come in. Although neurons are very close to one another, they aren’t connected. They have grooves between them called synapses. Your body relies upon neurotransmitters to send messages between the synapses of two neurons. Neurotransmitters function as a bridge between this gap. Depending on the type of neurotransmitter, they can cause a neuron to fire or inhibit it from firing. Different neurotransmitters can lead to different activity within the brain. Overall, a neuron cannot function the way it needs to without messaging from the neurotransmitter.
7 Major Neurotransmitters
You’ve no doubt heard the names of certain neurotransmitters at some point. A quick run down of the 7 major neurotransmitters will help you understand what they do and why they’re so important.
Dopamine — This neurotransmitter is connected to feelings of joy, euphoria, bliss and pleasurable reward. Dopamine is not just a feel-good chemical, however. It’s actually important to basic functions, such as: sleep, behavior, mood, focus, learning and many others.
GABA — The main ‘inhibitory’ chemical of the brain, GABA helps regulate your mood. When GABA levels are too low, neurons can become overstimulated. This can create anxious feelings, restlessness, and irritability.
Glutamate — Heavily involved in cognitive function, glutamate is associated with learning and memory.
Serotonin — You’ve likely heard the word serotonin in connection with emotions and mood. Another “feel-good” neurochemical, serotonin plays a role in your sense of well being. It also relates to sleep, appetite, and body temperature.
Acetylcholine — “ACH” was the first neurotransmitter to be identified by science. Acetylcholine is important for muscle contraction, heartbeat and hormone stimulation.
Norepinephrine — A chemical released in the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ response, norepinephrine (or noradrenaline) optimizes cognitive performance. It helps the brain quickly evaluate the presence of danger and respond accordingly. Excessive amounts of this chemical may lead to hyperactivity.
Adrenaline — Adrenaline is not just a hormone; it’s also a neurotransmitter. Adrenaline, as I’m sure you can guess, is associated with functions such as attention, focus, anger, stress and fear.
Factors That Influence Neurochemistry
As you read through this list, it’s easy to understand why the role of neurotransmitters are critically important. Your body requires neurotransmitters to function optimally, and a lack of a neurotransmitter can cause the body to perform sub-optimally.
If you’re reading this article, you may be interested in neurochemistry and learning about how to boost positive neurotransmitters into your brain and body. The exciting truth is that there are many ways to do this naturally. Here are some examples:
- Meditation — Meditation has been shown to release dopamine and serotonin.
- Regular Exercise — Regular Exercise has been connected with the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, endorphins and serotonin.
- Eat Dark Chocolate — This creamy treat can trigger a release of serotonin and dopamine.
- Drink Oolong Tea — Oolong tea has been linked to the neurochemical GABA.
- Turkey — This is a healthy food with a ton of benefits. It also may help release the neurotransmitter serotonin.
To learn more about the brain, keep reading here in our brain health section.