The Role of Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters. Unless you’re a scientist or work in the medical field, it’s likely that you don’t know too much about them. However, these chemical substances have the ability to control an abundance of functions in the body, both physical and mental.
The main thing to know? They play a huge and important role in the body. PYM Mood Chews are based on the idea that you shouldn’t have to continually deal with stress and anxiety’s impact. Understanding the function of neurotransmitters is part of that process.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help carry messages from cell to cell. Their entire job is to take signals from the nerves (also known as neurons) and transport them to the receptors on the target cells, which can be in glands, muscles, or other nerves. Each neurotransmitter has a specific receptor that it “talks” to, making it so they can only activate those specific types of cells. Once they’re finished doing their job, the body “recycles” them so that the process can start all over.
Think of neurotransmitters and their receptors as a lock and key. The lock will only open when the right key is inserted.
Neurotransmitters are needed to help control a wide variety of functions that are essential to the body:
- Heart rate
- Sleep cycles
- Muscle movement
Neurotransmitters are made out of a variety of different chemicals: amino acids (GABA), gases (carbon monoxide), monoamines (dopamines), peptides (amphetamines), purines (adenosine), trace amines (tryptamine), single ions (zinc), and other molecules.
The Main “Jobs” of Neurotransmitters
Each neurotransmitter performs a main job on its specific receptor, which is actually decided by the type and shape of the receptors themselves. There are a few different ways that those locks and keys can interact.
Excitatory neurotransmitters excite, or activate, the target cell. While it doesn’t guarantee that the target cell will fire a signal (known as an “action potential,” or AP), it does increase that likelihood. They stimulate the brain.
Also, should the effects of inhibitory neurotransmitters become too overpowering, excitatory neurotransmitters are able to reduce their effects by minimizing their potency. Excitatory neurotransmitters really are the “top dog” of the group.
Examples of excitatory neurotransmitters include ACH (acetylcholine), norepinephrine, and glutamate.
Modulatory neurotransmitters send messages to more than one neuron at a time. They can also communicate with other neurotransmitters, and not just receptor cells.
This type of neurotransmitter seems to be much more long lasting than the other types.
Dopamine is a great example of a modulatory neurotransmitter. While it is considered excitatory, it can also work as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in certain situations.
Inhibitory neurotransmitters work the opposite of excitatory neurotransmitters, decreasing the likelihood that the target cell gets activated. They also have the potential, in certain situations, to have a “calming” effect.
Inhibitory neurotransmitters are much more concerned with helping the body get back into balance, often referred to scientifically as homeostasis. A few examples of this type of chemical are serotonin, GABA, and various endorphins.
Key Neurotransmitters For Mood
There have been 100+ neurotransmitters that have been identified, with research ongoing. For our purposes, we’ll focus on talking about the top neurotransmitters that affect mood.
Serotonin (which is also referred to as 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) falls into the inhibitory neurotransmitters. It helps the body to regulate appetite, sleep (more specifically, the body’s circadian rhythm), and blood clotting, as well as mood. That means that the presence of serotonin makes a big difference when it comes to the development of anxiety and depression.
Interestingly enough, most of the serotonin in the body is actually found in the gut and not the brain. That is because the intestines are the main producers of the neurotransmitter, which is what makes it essential to stimulating appetite and supporting healthy digestion.
When it comes to mood, serotonin is regularly referred to as being the “feel good” chemical. It’s one of the main neurotransmitters that promote a general sense of well-being, and certain depression medications are made specifically to promote its ability to circulate in the both (hence the term selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs).
GABA, which is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, is another inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to regulate the mood.
GABA is more directly tied to anxiety than it is depression, due to the “calming” effect it has on the neurons. People who have lower levels of GABA in their body more commonly report feelings of anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. For that reason, it is a common supplement that people take to help naturally boost their mood, which is why we included it in our PYM Mood Chews.*
Many people consider GABA to be the most important of the inhibitory neurotransmitters in the entire body. Without it, our brains would continue to function in overdrive and we wouldn’t be able to calm down either our minds or our bodies enough to rest, sleep, or even function. That’s also why GABA is so important to help regulate healthy sleep cycles.
Much like SSRIs can help with the amount of serotonin in the body, benzodiazepines were designed to help stimulate the amount of GABA produced in the body.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is considered the pleasure/reward center of the brain. When you experience things that you consider pleasurable, like petting a kitten or enjoying a delicious meal, the brain is triggered to release dopamine into your system.
This impacts mood, obviously, but it also is responsible for other bodily functions like learning, muscle movement, learning, and coordination. One of the best things about dopamine, unlike many of the other neurotransmitters, is that it can be naturally balanced by eating a healthy diet and getting an adequate amount of vitamin D.
Because dopamine is related directly to reward, the more you experience that surge of dopamine from doing something you enjoy, the more likely you will be to continue to do that thing. It makes for incredibly difficult habits to break, but can also be useful for people hoping to teach themselves to form new, better habits.
Norepinephrine is another inhibitory neurotransmitter, one that will likely sound familiar to you. It is often found hand in hand with its even more well known sibling, epinephrine.
When you have an abundance of norepinephrine in your system, you’re more likely to experience feelings of happiness and even euphoria. The reverse is also true. People with low amounts of this neurotransmitter in their system are more likely to experience the effects of anxiety and depression.
Norepinephrine is a product of the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the SNS. The SNS is responsible for triggering the body’s fight or flight response, which gives you plenty of energy to be able to either run away from the stimulus or fight it.
Much like SSRIs help with the release of serotonin into the system, SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) work to stop the receptors from soaking up all of those helpful neurotransmitters so that your mood can benefit from their helpful boost.
Ways To Affect Neurotransmitters
In addition to just letting the normal balance of the body take charge, there are other ways that people can work to affect their neurotransmitters to get a desired effect, like a better mood or a lower appetite.
As we briefly touched on above, things like SSRIs, and certain supplements can help either increase or decrease the presence of the neurotransmitters that affect the mood the most. Drugs and supplements like these are referred to as either being an agonist or an antagonist.
Agonists, like SSRIs, work to increase the effect of its neurotransmitter. For instance, if the agonist is working on an excitatory neurotransmitter, like norepinephrine, it binds to the norepinephrine “locks” and acts like a “key,” increasing the effects of norepinephrine without more norepinephrine actually being produced or used. Caffeine is also a natural agonist for ACH, which is why you feel so jittery after drinking too much.
Antagonists work in the reverse, working to decrease the effect of the targeted neurotransmitter. When the antagonist binds with either a receptor, it essentially blocks the neurotransmitter for being able to insert itself into the “lock.”
It’s important to note that neither agonists or antagonists actually change the response that the neurotransmitter/receptor pair have, they just change the degree in which they are able to express it.
Neurotransmitters are one of the most important tools that our body has to be able to not only regulate mood but also a variety of other essential bodily functions like breathing, appetite, and sleeping. PYM Mood Chews take advantage of their many benefits by including GABA in our ingredient list.* When you can take advantage of chemicals that your own body naturally produces to help you reduce feelings of stress and being overwhelmed, why would you want it any other way? Your body knows best, after all.
*FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.