There is a well-known hypothesis that mental health issues appear due to a chemical imbalance in the human brain. Even though there is some truth to it, we shouldn’t oversimplify mental illnesses. They are very complex health issues that can take a toll on your emotional and physical health. But, to really understand their impact, it’s important to start with neurotransmitters and their effect on the brain.
Why Are Neurotransmitters So Important for Mental Health?
Mental illnesses linked to neurotransmitter imbalance: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Research estimates that mental disorders can occur due to poor neurotransmission. In other words, there is a lack of communication between all the neurons in the human brain. For example, people who struggle with depression have low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which could lead to the development of the disease.
Any other changes to the neurotransmitters (other than serotonin fluctuations) can cause depression or even worsen the condition—for instance, dopamine production. When a person struggles with dopamine disruptions and norepinephrine, they often experience schizophrenia.
Symptoms of Low LevelsWhen there is too low dopamine, serotonin, or glutamate levels, in the brain, the system experiences a chemical imbalance. The constant fluctuations are often said to be causing mental health disorders, particularly anxiety and depression.
The possible symptoms of low neurotransmitters include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Insomnia or oversleep
- Debilitating feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, helplessness, and sorrow
- Drastic appetite changes
- Lack of interest to communicate with other people
- Lack of empathy
- Feeling numb
- Thoughts of self-harm or hurting others
- Unable to stick to a daily routine
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Poor concentration levels
Causes of Low LevelsEven though the chemicals are involved with mental disease, it’s not as simple as being too low or too high levels. Our body has not one or two, but billions of chemical reactions. It features about 86 billion neurons. They form the entire dynamic system that controls our perception, mood, and the way we experience life.
Although the exact cause is unknown, researchers estimate there are other factors that cause these mental conditions. These factors include:
- History of sexual, emotional, physical, or psychological abuse
- Addiction or substance abuse
- Specific medications
- Psychosocial impact or anything that might have led to emotions like loneliness or isolation
Take depression, for example. According to Harvard Medical School, most likely, millions of unique chemical reactions are triggering the brain to experience these overbearing emotions and mood changes. Not just the dopamine, glutamate, and serotonin levels. It could be caused by a genetic vulnerability, a traumatic or stressful event, medical issues, or medications.
Key Neurotransmitters and RoleThe moment a nerve impulse reaches the edge of the nerve fibre, the body releases chemical substances known as neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters then make their way across the synapse, which is a gap that leads to a different nerve. Then, they continue sending impulses across the entire human body.
Our system has more than 100 neurotransmitters. However, only a handful do all the work. These include:
- Dopamine – This valuable chemical messenger interferes with the impulses in the brain in the area responsible for controlling movement. This is also the section of the central nervous system that plays a valuable component in thoughts and emotions. Reports show that insufficient dopamine levels could trigger problems with schizophrenia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
- Serotonin – This chemical has a direct impact on the way we sleep, including our mood and appetite. Those who experience depression typically have low serotonin levels. Therefore, they take medications to control serotonin fluctuations.
- Glutamate – This is another key component in the human body. It prepares the neurons to “fire” when necessary. Disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and depression could be caused by issues with glutamate production.
6 Ways to Increase LevelsRestoring the psychological and behavioural response should be your top priority. Depending on the type of mental health issue, patients will be taking antidepressants, anti-anxiety, mood-stabilizing, or antipsychotic medication.
However, there are also natural ways to increase neurotransmitter levels, such as:
- Eating healthy and nutritious meals
- Doing physical activity
- Consuming probiotics
- Getting enough sleep
- Considering supplements