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Nerve cells release tiny chemicals, called neurotransmitters to send messages to neighbouring cells. Neurotransmitters play an important role in the healthy functioning of the nervous system including mood, sleep, and more. Keep reading to learn more about some of these key players. 


Dopamine

Dopamine plays an important role in depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s, addiction, depression and schizophrenia. It is important for motivation. It is also used to make epinephrine and norepinephrine. Norepinephrine dysfunction is linked to ADHD, posttraumatic stress, anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease.


Foods that support dopamine

Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine which is high in salmon, tofu, white beans, pumpkin seeds, wild rice and spinach. As amino acids are the building blocks of protein, most protein-rich foods will contain adequate tyrosine. 

Supplements that support dopamine

Vitamin D: This vitamin protects the nervous system. It also increases the activity of tyrosine hydroxylase, possibly increasing the production of dopamine.


Serotonin

Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. It helps to regulate sleep, eating and digestion. Reduced levels of serotonin are linked to depression, anxiety, OCD, obesity, carbohydrate cravings, insomnia, migraines, premenstrual syndrome and fibromyalgia.


Foods that support serotonin:

Trypyophan is found in most meats. Plant-based foods with the highest amount of tryptophan include pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans and oats. 

Supplements that support serotonin:

5-HTP or 5-hydroxytryptophan is an in-between step between tryptophan and serotonin. Our bodies have an easier time forming serotonin from 5-HTP then from tryptophan. 5-HTP is present in many sleep and anxiety supplements. 


GABA

This neurotransmitter is calming, or inhibitory to the nervous system. GABA is used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and epileptic disorders. 

Foods that support GABA:

Cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, cauliflower), soybeans, adzuki beans, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, buckwheat and peas. 

Supplements that support GABA:

GABA can be taken as a supplement. Research suggests GABA cannot pass from the blood into the brain directly due to its large size. It may have an impact on the nervous system by acting on receptors in the digestive tract.  

Probiotics
Animal research suggests certain strains of lactobacillus bacteria may produce GABA.

Please note: Many pharmaceuticals are designed to change the activity of neurotransmitters. As a result, accidentally taking a supplement that acts on the same pathway as a medication can have severe side effects.

 

 

References:

Briguglio M, Dell’Osso B, Panzica G et al. Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge. Nutrients. 2018;10(5):591. doi:10.3390/nu10050591

Dopamine | Definition & Effects. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/dopamine. Published 2019. Accessed December 29, 2019.

Faydenko J, Smith F. Determining Addiction Factors: Implications for Naturopathic Medicine – Naturopathic Doctor News and Review. Ndnr.com. https://ndnr.com/mens-health/determining-addiction-factors-implications-for-naturopathic-medicine/. Published 2019. Accessed December 20, 2019.

Hinz M, Stein A, Hinz M. 5-HTP efficacy and contraindications. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2012;8:323. doi:10.2147/ndt.s33259

Neurotransmitter | Definition, Signaling, & Types. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/neurotransmitter. Published 2019. Accessed November 8, 2019.

Patterson E, Ryan P, Wiley N et al. Gamma-aminobutyric acid-producing lactobacilli positively affect metabolism and depressive-like behaviour in a mouse model of metabolic syndrome. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-019-51781-x

Pizzorno J. Textbook Of Natural Medicine. 2nd ed. St. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier/Saunders; 2013.

Sheffler Z, Pillarisetty L. Physiology, Neurotransmitters. StatPearls. 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539894/. Accessed November 8, 2019.

Whitbread D. Top 10 Foods Highest in Tryptophan. myfooddata. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-tryptophan-foods.php. Published 2019. Accessed December 29, 2019.

Whitbread D. Top 10 Foods Highest in Tyrosine. Myfooddata. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-tyrosine-foods.php. Published 2019. Accessed December 20, 2019.