Lesson 7: Neurotransmitters & Food

Neurotransmitters are endogenous chemicals that enable neurotransmission. It is a type of chemical messenger which transmits signals across a chemical synapse, such as a neuromuscular junction, from one neuron (nerve cell) to another “target” neuron, muscle cell, or gland cell. These chemical messengers can affect a wide variety of both physical and psychological functions including heart rate, sleep, appetite, mood, and fear. Billions of neurotransmitter molecules work constantly to keep our brains functioning, managing everything from our breathing to our heartbeat to our learning and concentration levels.

How Neurotransmitters Work 

In order for neurons to send messages throughout the body, they need to be able to communicate with one another to transmit signals. However, neurons are not simply connected to one another. At the end of each neuron is a tiny gap called a synapse and in order to communicate with the next cell, the signal needs to be able to cross this small space. This occurs through a process known as neurotransmission. In most cases, a neurotransmitter is released from what’s known as the axon terminal after an action potential has reached the synapse, a place where neurons can transmit signals to each other. When an electrical signal reaches the end of a neuron, it triggers the release of small sacs called vesicles that contain the neurotransmitters. These sacs spill their contents into the synapse, where the neurotransmitters then move across the gap toward the neighboring cells. These cells contain receptors where the neurotransmitters can bind and trigger changes in the cells.After release, the neurotransmitter crosses the synaptic gap and attaches to the receptor site on the other neuron, either exciting or inhibiting the receiving neuron depending on what the neurotransmitter is. Neurotransmitters act like a key, and the receptor sites act like a lock. It takes the right key to open specific locks. If the neurotransmitter is able to work on the receptor site, it triggers changes in the receiving cell. Sometimes neurotransmitters can bind to receptors and cause an electrical signal to be transmitted down the cell (excitatory). In other cases, the neurotransmitter can actually block the signal from continuing, preventing the message from being carried on (inhibitory).

So what happens to a neurotransmitter after its job is complete? Once the neurotransmitter has had the designed effect, its activity can be stopped by different mechanisms.

  1. It can be degraded or deactivated by enzymes
  2. It can drift away from the receptor
  3. It can be taken back up by the axon of the neuron that released it in a process known as reuptake

Neurotransmitters play a major role in everyday life and functioning. Scientists do not yet know exactly how many neurotransmitters exist, but more than 60 distinct chemical messengers have been identified.

What They Do 

Neurotransmitters can be classified by their function:

Excitatory neurotransmitters: These types of neurotransmitters have excitatory effects on the neuron, meaning they increase the likelihood that the neuron will fire an action potential. Some of the major excitatory neurotransmitters include epinephrine and norepinephrine.

Inhibitory neurotransmitters: These types of neurotransmitters have inhibitory effects on the neuron; they decrease the likelihood that the neuron will fire an action potential. Some of the major inhibitory neurotransmitters include serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Some neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine and dopamine, can create both excitatory and inhibitory effects depending upon the type of receptors that are present.

Modulatory neurotransmitters: These neurotransmitters, often referred to as neuromodulators, are capable of affecting a larger number of neurons at the same time. These neuromodulators also influence the effects of other chemical messengers. Where synaptic neurotransmitters are released by axon terminals to have a fast-acting impact on other receptor neurons, neuromodulators diffuse across a larger area and are more slow-acting.


There are a number of different ways to classify and categorize neurotransmitters. In some instances, they are simply divided into monoamines, amino acids, and peptides.

Neurotransmitters can also be categorized into one of six types:

Amino Acids 

  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) acts as the body’s main inhibitory chemical messenger. GABA contributes to vision, motor control, and plays a role in the regulation of anxiety. Benzodiazepines, which are used to help treat anxiety, function by increasing the efficiency of GABA neurotransmitters, which can increase feelings of relaxation and calm.
  • Glutamate is the most plentiful neurotransmitter found in the nervous system where it plays a role in cognitive functions such as memory and learning. Excessive amounts of glutamate can cause excitotoxicity resulting in cellular death. This excitotoxicity caused by glutamate build-up is associated with some diseases and brain injuries including Alzheimer’s disease4, stroke, and epileptic seizures.


  • Oxytocin is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It is produced by the hypothalamus and plays a role in social recognition, bonding, and sexual reproduction.5 Synthetic oxytocin such as Pitocin is often used as an aid in labor and delivery. Both oxytocin and Pitocin cause the uterus to contract during labor.
  • Endorphins are neurotransmitters than inhibit the transmission of pain signals and promote feelings of euphoria. These chemical messengers are produced naturally by the body in response to pain, but they can also be triggered by other activities such as aerobic exercise.6 For example, experiencing a “runner’s high” is an example of pleasurable feelings generated by the production of endorphins.


  • Epinephrine is considered both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. Generally, epinephrine (adrenaline) is a stress hormone that is released by the adrenal system. However, it functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain.7
  • Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in alertness is involved in the body’s fight or flight response. Its role is to help mobilize the body and brain to take action in times of danger or stress. Levels of this neurotransmitter are typically lowest during sleep and highest during times of stress.
  • Histamine acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and spinal cord.8 It plays a role in allergic reactions and is produced as part of the immune system’s response to pathogens.
  • Dopamine plays an important role in the coordination of body movements. Dopamine is also involved in reward, motivation, and additions.9 Several types of addictive drugs increase dopamine levels in the brain. Parkinson’s disease, which is a degenerative disease that results in tremors and motor movement impairments, is caused by the loss of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain.
  • Serotonin plays an important role in regulating and modulating mood, sleep, anxiety, sexuality, and appetite. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, usually referred to as SSRIs, are a type of antidepressant medication commonly prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and panic attacks. SSRIs work to balance serotonin levels by blocking the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, which can help improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety.10


  • Adenosine acts as a neuromodulator in the brain and is involved in suppressing arousing and improving sleep.
  • Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) acts as a neurotransmitter in the central and peripheral nervous systems.11 It plays a role in autonomic control, sensory transduction, and communication with glial cells. Research suggests it may also have a part in some neurological problems including pain, trauma, and neurodegenerative disorders.


  • Nitric oxide plays a role in affecting smooth muscles, relaxing them to allow blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow to certain areas of the body.
  • Carbon monoxide is usually known as being a colorless, odorless gas that can have toxic and potentially fatal effects when people are exposed to high levels of the substance. However, it is also produced naturally by the body where it acts as a neurotransmitter that helps modulate the body’s inflammatory response.12


  • Acetylcholine is the only neurotransmitter in its class. Found in both the central and peripheral nervous systems, it is the primary neurotransmitter associated with motor neurons.13 It plays a role in muscle movements as well as memory and learning.

What Happens When Neurotransmitters Do Not Work Right 

As with many of the body’s processes, things can sometimes go awry. It is perhaps not surprising that a system as vast and complex as the human nervous system would be susceptible to problems.

A few of the things that might go wrong include:

  • Neurons might not manufacture enough of a particular neurotransmitter
  • Too much of a particular neurotransmitter may be released
  • Too many neurotransmitters may be deactivated by enzymes
  • Neurotransmitters may be reabsorbed too quickly

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, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s are associated with deficits in certain neurotransmitters.

Noradrenaline (Adrenalines cousin)


• Acts on nerve that help to control heart rate and blood pressure
• It is a factor in how quickly glucose is converted to energy
• It is also a factor in how the body responds to stress and anxiety


• The body responds to a physical threat or a sense of danger with a surge of noradrenaline and adrenaline. This boosts the heart rate, increases breathing and sends extra blood to the major muscles. Whether you decide to take flight or stand and fight, your body is prepared for action.

Production of Noradrenaline

• Nuts
• Seeds
• Soybeans
• Phenylalanine supplement
• Intense pleasure experience

Neurons synthesize noradrenaline in the body from the amino acid phenylalanine, with the following intermediate steps:

Phenylalanine – Tyrosine – Dopa – Dopamine – Noradrenaline

Too much noradrendine activity in the brain causes symptoms like that of excess dopamine such as Nervousness, Restlessness, Sex/Sugar addictions, weight loss, difficulty falling asleep, gambling. Whilst Deficiency in noradrenaline or inactivity results in Depression.

Glutamine (Brain fluid)


• Optimal brain function
• It is a stimulation or “excitatory” neurotransmitter
• Effects mood and energy levels
• Helps to control brain levels of ammonia
• Plays an almost unique role as brain fuel
• Boosts mood and increases alertness


Cabbage juice is a high source of glutamine

Deficiency (Too little glutamine activity in the brain)

Cravings for sweets – Alcoholism – low sex drive

Dopamine (mood and addiction) (Curiosity/exploration)


• Transmits pleasure signals
• Master molecule of addiction
• Elevate mood
• Helps generate feelings of pleasure and euphoria
• Boosts libido
• Encourage assertiveness
• Short term memory, concentration and learning

Deficiency of Dopamine in certain parts of the brain can cause problems with Co-ordination – Stiff muscles

Too much Dopamine in the brain may bring on Hallucination, Addictive relationships, extreme behaviour of schizophrenia, impulsive, irrational, overly aggressive behaviour, sex/sugar addictions, gambling, difficulty sleeping

Sources and production of Dopamine

Dopamine is derived from the amino acid phenylalanine in the following manner Phenylalanine – Tyrosine – Dopa – Dopamine

Dopamine levels are also elevated by pleasurable experience

• An achievement
• A hug
• Compliments
• Nuts
• Seeds
• Soybeans
• Phenylalanine supplement

Gaba (a brake in the brain)


• Gaba is a non- essential amino acid
• It is like glutamine in that it acts as a neurotransmitter
• Gaba’s effects are opposite to those of glutamine
• Prevents nerve cells from firing too quickly
• Gaba acts like a brake to slow things down.

Gaba activity causes Feelings of calmness, reduce anxiety, relaxes muscles, promotes sleep, relieves nervous tension

Production of Gaba

Gaba is formed in the body from the amino acid glutamate with the help of co-factors such as pyridoxine and vitamin C (B6)

Too much Gaba activity
Sluggish thinking, Memory problems, poor physical co-ordination, extreme sleeplessness

Gaba deficiency
Anxiety and Depression

Endorphin Deficiency


• Difficulty feeling pleasure
• Inability to give or receive love
• Tendency toward alcoholism or other forms of addictive behaviour

Step one – Amino Acids

D- Phenylalanine

Step two – Nutrients

B-complex vitamins, especially niacin and pyridoxine
Vitamin C
Vitamin E
Siberian ginseng

Step Three – Diet

Foods relatively low in tryptophan content
Endorphin Deficiency

Step Four – Essential fatty acids

Flaxseeds Barage oil DHA (Omega 3)

Step Five – Lifestyle

Exercise/physical activity

Foods and Supplements

Avoid or limit high tryptophan content foods such as
Bananas, Lentils, Sunflower seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Peanuts

Get plenty of:

Flaxseeds Brewer’s Yeast (NADH) Broccoli
Borage oil Whole grains Siberian ginseng
Citrus Fruits Dark green leafy veg Spinach
Camu Camu Sesame seeds Walnuts
Brown Rice Almonds SAM Supplement
D-Phenylalanine Supplement NADH Supplement

Mood Boosting Amino Acid Supplements

Tryptophan for Serotonin Stimulation: Helps with Calming Depression, anxiety, insomnia, ocd, Suicidal feelings
5- HTP for Serotonin Stimulation: Helps with Calming Depression, anxiety, insomnia
Phenylalanine for  Dopamine Stimulation: Helps with Depression, Fatigue, lack of pleasure
Tyrosine for Dopamine Stimulation: Helps with Depression, Fatigue, Lack of pleasure
Glutamine for  Glutamine Stimulation: Helps with Depression, Fatigue
Gaba for Gaba Stimulation: Helps with Calming Depression, anxiety
SAM for Serotonin Stimulation: Helps with Depression

The Five Step Plan:

• Take mood boosting amino acids
• Optimize your supplements
• Make the fatty acids essential
• Diet for mental health
• Eight lifestyle changes you can make to help beat depression

Mood Boosting Amino Acids:

Tryptophan: Bananas, peanuts, lentils, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
5 – HTP: Supplement
Phenylalanine: Supplement or nuts, seeds, soybeans
Tyrosine: Supplement
Glutamine: Supplement or cabbage juice
Gaba: Supplement or increase Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C
SAM: Supplement

The brains own anti-depressants (relieve pain and alter mood)

Serotonin (5-HT)
Noradrenaline (norepinephrine)
Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA)

Serotonin (5 -HT)


• A primary activator of pleasure centre in the brain
• Plays a role in mood and emotion
• Extra serotonin in the brain may elevate pain
• Promotes sleep and improve mood

The right levels at the right time of the day leads to feelings of

• Emotional stability
• Relaxation
• Confidence
• Well-being
• Personal security
• Tranquillity
• Calmness

Low levels of serotonin in the brain have been linked to

• Depression
• Cravings for sweets/carbs
• Suicide
• Anxiety
• Aggression
• Irritability
• O C D (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
• Violence
• Insomnia

Sources and production of Serotonin

Serotonin can be found in various plants and foods such as bananas and pineapple. Serotonin is produced in the body as a bi-product of tryptophan, 5-HTP and folic acid
Sunflower Seeds, 5-HTP Supplement, Lentils, Peanuts, Spinach, Kale, Walnuts, Brewer’s yeast, Asparagus, pumpkin seeds.

Endorphins (natural opiates) (love chemical)

Endorphins are opiate like chemicals which are produced in the body, along with enkephalins, these are both particles (amino acid compounds).

Endorphins functions are to:

Relieve pain and connect mother/father and child
Affect mood and the body’s response to stress

Endorphins also play a role in

Timing of appetite
Cravings due to stress or starvation
Reproductive hormone cycles
Pregnancy and labour
Circulation of blood

Production of Endorphins

Sex (during orgasm)
Sad periods
Overall well being
Strenuous muscular activity
5- HTP Supplement
Phenylalanine supplement

Stress and alcohol can diminish the body’s endorphin levels which can lead to Endorphin imbalance, Addictive behaviour Difficulty feeling pleasure and Inability to give or receive love.

GABA Deficiency


• Frequently nervous and anxious
• Panic attacks
• Exhaustion from stress
• Excessive stress reactions from normal stress situations

Step one – Amino Acids


Step Two – Nutrients

B- Complex vitamins especially niacin, B5 (Pantothenic acid), pyridoxine
Vitamin C – low glycaemic index fruits
Vitamin E

Step Three – Diet

Low glycaemic index foods
Primarily vegetarian foods

Step Four – Essential fatty acids

Flaxseeds Borage oil DHA (omega 3)

Step Five – Lifestyle

Exercise/physical activity
Epsome salt & essential oil baths

Foods and supplements

Avoid moderate to high glycemic index foods such as: White Rice, processed foods, raisins, dried fruit, cooked carrots, sweet potatoes, Honey, Oranges, grapes, rice cakes, brown rice, white bread.

Get plenty of the following: Grapefruit, apples, ginkgo, barrage oil, red/green peppers, flaxseeds, cabbage juice, whole grains camu-camu, dark leafy veg, sunflower seeds, cauliflower, brewer’s yeast, avocados, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, wheatgerm, walnuts, microalgae DHA supplement, NADH supplement, Glutamine supplement.

Glutamine Deficiency

Craving for sweets
A tendency toward alcoholism
Low sex drive

Step one – Amino Acids

Step two – Nutrients

B-Complex vitamins especially niacin, B5 (Pantothenic acid), pyridoxine
Vitamin C- Low glycaemic index fruits
Vitamin E

Step three – Diet

Low Glycaemic index foods
Primarily vegetarian diet

Step Four – essential fatty acids

Borage oil

Step Five – Lifestyle

Exercise/physical activity

Foods and supplements

Avoid moderate to high glycemic index foods such as: White rice, white bread, raisins/dried fruit, cooked carrots, sweet potato, processed foods rice cakes, grapes, honey, oranges, blueberries, brown rice.

Get plenty of the following: Citrus fruits – low fi, camu -camu, wheat germ. Flaxseeds, borage oil, cabbage juice, ginkgo, wholegrains, spinach, broccoli, brewer’s yeast, avocado’s, walnuts, dark leafy veg, mushrooms, walnuts, microalgae DHA supplement, glutamine supplement.

Noradrenaline Deficiency


Lack of energy, lack of enthusiasm, reduced libido, sluggish thinking

Step one – Amino Acids
Phenylalanine or tyrosine

Step two – Nutrients

B-Complex vitamins, especially niacin and pyridoxine
Vitamin c
Vitamin E
Siberian ginseng and liquorice root

Step Three – Diet

Foods relatively low in tryptophan content primarily vegetarian diet

Step four – Natural fatty acids

Evening primrose oil or borage oil

Step Five – Lifestyle

Exercise/physical activity

Foods and supplements

Avoid or limit intake of – bananas, lentils, peanuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.

Get plenty of the following: Flaxseeds, evening primrose oil or borage oil, wholegrains, wheat germ, dark green leafy veg, Siberian ginseng, liquorice root, citrus fruits, camu-camu, spinach, sesame seeds, almonds, brown rice, SAM Supplement, NADH Supplement, Tyrosine Supplement or phenylalanine supplement.

Dopamine Deficiency


Regular use of alcohol or other recreational drugs to get high
Sleeping more than normal

Step one – Amino acids

Phenylalanine or tyrosine

Step Two – Nutrients

B-complex vitamins, especially niacin, pyridoxine and folic acid
Vitamin C

Step Three – Diet

Foods relatively low in tryptophan content predominantly vegetarian diet

Step Four – Natural Fatty acids

Evening primrose oil or borage oil

Step five – lifestyle

Exercise/physical activity

Foods and supplements

Avoid or limit intake of – bananas, lentils, peanuts, sunflower, seeds, pumpkin seed.

Get plenty of the following: Brown rice, almonds, whole grains, spinach. Kale, asparagus, brewer’s yeast, citrus fruits, camu-camu, broccoli, walnuts, wheatgrass, kelp, legumes, flaxseeds, evening primrose oil, green leafy veg, phenylalanine supplement, tyrosine supplement, SAM supplement, NADH Supplement.

Serotonin Deficiency

Personal traits:

Anxiety, fatigue, craving carbs and sweets, low self -esteem, eating disorders, lack of libido, impatience/impulsiveness

Step one – Amino Acids

Tryptophan (for insomnia/depression) or 5- HTP (for depression/anxiety)

Step two – Nutrients

Vitamin E
B- Complex vitamins especially niacin, pyridoxine and folic acid
Vitamin C

Step Three – Diet

Foods relatively high in tryptophan content (while avoiding other sources of protein as the amino acids will compete and mostly defeat tryptophan for uptake by the brain).