Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry information from nerve cell to nerve cell in the brain. These chemical messengers, including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine work together in the brain to control mood, behavior and emotion. Serotonin is often referred to as the happy drug because it can actually keep people in a positive mood despite the fact that they may be feeling blue and in need of some sunshine. While it is true that people who are in a happy state feel better, the link between happiness and dopamine or norepinephrine is often overlooked. This deficiency in the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine can contribute to the feelings of sadness, hopelessness and despair that occur with depression. The National Institute of Mental Health has determined that these two neurotransmitters are responsible for the depression-related thoughts, emotions and behaviors that people experience.
However, researchers are learning that the relationship between depression and neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine may also exist in the context of another problem common to many Americans today, substance abuse. People suffering from substance abuse often display symptoms similar to clinical depression. One of the most common medications used in treating the clinical condition is called antidepressants or antipsychotic drugs. Although these medications have been shown to successfully treat some cases of depression, they can also lead to a serious imbalance in brain chemistry. When there is a chemical imbalance, the brain must react by creating the opposite reaction or else it will have difficulty functioning properly.
There is an essential level of serotonin that is produced in the brain and is responsible for regulating mood, appetite, temperature and sleep. In the normal functioning of the body, the levels of serotonin tend to be balanced. When there is a shortage of serotonin neurotransmitters affected by depression start to fire at a higher rate and cause problems for the brain to process what is going on. When a person suffers from depression, the imbalance causes them to have problems sleeping, have low appetite and experience hot flashes. The rise in blood pressure as a result of this influx of neurotransmitters is often the cause of other serious ailments related to the heart, including high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia.
One of the substances thought to affect serotonin and norepinephrine is epinephrine. This is a hormone created by the adrenal gland and carries oxygen to the muscles and heart. When there is a severe imbalance in the amount of epinephrine in the brain, people who suffer from depression can develop the symptoms of panic disorder, anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The chemicals in epinephrine that it causes to be released into the body are also believed to contribute to cases of restless legs syndrome as well as shortness of breath. While it is not known exactly how these chemicals influence depression, researchers have found that patients who suffer from depression also tend to lack of dopamine, an important substance needed to transmit messages from the brain to various parts of the body. These patients also have low levels of energy, which can lead to irritability, which can increase the risk of depression.
GABA is another neurotransmitter affected by the chemical imbalance. This is a naturally occurring chemical that works to control the activity of neurons. It is used by the brain to control emotion, mood and sleep. In some cases, patients with depression have a reduced level of GABA. In addition to affecting your mood, anxiety and other mental health conditions, GABA is believed to contribute to the development of conditions such as restless legs syndrome and migraine headaches.
Neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and GABA are sent across the nerve synapse by receptor neurons. Neurotransmitters act as messengers, passing information from one cell to another. The receptors on these cells send the information along on their journey to other neurons. When the information reaches the target cell, the neurotransmitter sends the signal for the next set of neurons to receive the message.
Neurons in the brain use neurotransmitters to communicate information between cells. Neurons control behavior and can fire in different ways depending on what the messages are. The brain is composed of over a hundred nerve cells, many of which are specialized to perform different functions such as moving information from one region of the brain to another. Without the chemical messengers, the nervous system would cease to function properly.
Neurotransmitters are released in the body when a chemical causes the neurons to fire. When you are feeling sad or depressed, the secretion of neurotransmitter serotonin in your body is increased. This results in a variety of different emotional responses such as sadness, anxiety and sleep disorders. Because some researchers believe that the decrease of serotonin contributes to the development of depression, scientists are researching new methods of treating depression.