What Are Neurotransmitters?
Neurotransmitters (NT’s) are “chemical messengers” produced by the body. They participate in electro-chemical communication from one nerve cell to another or one nerve cell to various organs in the body (such as nerve communication with muscle).
How do Neurotransmitters Work?
NT’s allow electro-chemical communication between nerve cells. Nerve cells (called “neurons”) do not actually touch each other. Instead they are in close proximity with a “gap” (synapse) between each nerve cell.
The electrical signal is relayed from one neuron to the next by neurotransmitters. NT’s released at the end of one nerve cell float across the synapse where they bind to receptors on the next neuron in sequence, triggering an electrical impulse.
Watch this brief video courtesy of the Nation Institutes of Health to see exactly how this works:
Notice how a small amount of neurotransmitters are degraded by enzymes while they are “free floating” in the synapse. The remainder are taken back up by the presynaptic neuron and “repacked into vesicles” where they are safe from further degradation.
Here’s how this neurotransmitter release looks as it conducts electricity from one nerve cell to the next:
Drugs that affect neurotransmitters do nothing to increase the actual amount of NT produced by the body. Instead, they block re-uptake so that neurotransmitters remain longer in the “gap” between neurons. Although the short-term effect of this is to make the body believe it has more NT, the long term effect is to further deplete neurotransmitter levels. This is because the NT’s are now forced to stay in the synaptic space where they are vulnerable to enzyme degradation.
Here are two interesting quick videos that illustrate this.
The first video is again from a US Government drug education site for children. This quick video shows the effect of cocaine on the neurotransmitter dopamine:
Now take a look at the drug company’s webpage showing how Prozac works. This video used to be “live” on the Prozac site but is now only available in historical archives.
The “mechanism of action” of Prozac, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), is exactly the same as cocaine! The only difference is that cocaine effects the neurotransmitter dopamine and Prozac effects the neurotransmitter serotonin.
ALL “HEAD MEDS” which block re-uptake of neurotransmitters will, in the longer term, further deplete neurotransmitters. THEY DO NOT help the body make more NT’s. Instead they cause NT’s to remain longer in the synapse where the body naturally breaks them down with enzymes including MAO (Monoamine oxidase) which breaks down serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, and COMT (Catechol-O-methyl transferase) which breaks down dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
Many NT-effecting “head meds” stop working after a time. This is because they cause depletion of neurotransmitters. The dose of a drug may often need to be increased OR a second drug added to achieve more effect. This will just deplete neurotransmitters even faster.
Habituation occurs when a NT-re-uptake blocking drug causes further depletion of a neurotransmitter. When a person tries to decrease or eliminate the drug, they feel even worse than before starting it. This is because the drug has further depleted NT levels.
Giving the body more of the “building blocks” (precursors) of neurotransmitters will encourage increased production of NT’s.
Without drugs, this is a strategy to correct neurotransmitter imbalances naturally.
Why You MUST Use Natural NT Repletion if You Take a “Head Med”
Correcting NT balance without drugs is the safest corrective method of restoring NT balance. But if you currently take a neurotransmitter effecting drug, you MUST take natural NT precursors. Remember, anyone who feels better from a head med has a deficiency of an NT. The drugs further deplete whatever neurotransmitter they block. Using NT precursors will help make up for the increased destruction of NT’s caused by the drugs.
With total “repletion” of NT’s (under physician guidance), many people will eventually no longer need to take medication of any kind to maintain normal neurotransmitter balance.