Our brain messengers: Neurotransmitters
Here comes the science – How we think, feel and behave on a daily basis is intimately influenced by the balance of various chemical messengers (the neurotransmitters) in our brains. When this process is working optimally, our brain chemistry is said to be balanced and we respond appropriately and positively to the world around us.
Neurons are tiny nerve cells in the brain that send and receive messages. They are also mood control centres that influence our feelings as well as behaviours. Neurons connect to each other via thread-like branches know as dendrites. Our chemical messengers, the neurotransmitters, travel along these neurone and are transmitted between one neuron to the next at gaps known as synapses.
For successful transmission a neuron produces the neurotransmitter, which is sent across a synapse and attaches to a receptor site on the receiving neuron. This in turn activates the receptor, allowing the chemical message to travel along the neuron until it reaches another synapse, creating the release of another neurotransmitter.
Many Neurotransmitters are synthesised from plentiful and simple precursors such as amino acids, which are readily available from the diet and only require a small number of biosynthetic steps to convert them. Neurotransmitters play a major role in shaping everyday life and functions. Scientists do not yet know exactly how many neurotransmitters exist, but more than 100 chemical messengers have been identified. When neurotransmitters are affected by disease or drugs, there can be a number of different adverse effects on the body.
Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are associated with deficits in certain neurotransmitters.
So for optimal balanced brain health it is important that:
- The right level of neurotransmitters is maintained.
- The neurotransmitters are able to travel effectively along neurons.
- The neurotransmitters can travel between neurone, across synapses.
- The neurotransmitters can attach to and activate the relevant receptors on the neurons’ membranes.
- The neurotransmitters are effectively removed when they have fulfilled their role.
All of these actions require the correct amount of certain nutrients to be in place.
Read more: Understanding our key neurotransmitters.