You are trying to eat right.
You are exercising more.
You are trying to manage stress…but still don’t feel great.

Have you checked your neurotransmitters?

Neurotransmitters have a very important role in allowing the body to work properly and sustain good mental and physical health. They help the brain balance the highs and lows of feelings and manage the hormonal signals that are sent to other organs in the body. When neurotransmitters are balanced, concentration, motivation, mood and focus are likely to improve. When neurotransmitter levels are unbalanced, these energizing and motivating signals can be absent, and many people report feeling moodier, stressed, sluggish, and out-of-control.

The physical and emotional stresses most people have in their lives, combined with a poor diet in a fast-paced and processed food society, demands a lot from the body and can ultimately lead to neurotransmitter imbalances. In fact, these imbalances are associated with most of the chronic symptoms and conditions seen in healthcare provider offices today.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that regulate many physical and emotional processes including movement, stress response, cognition, emotions, energy, cravings, pain and more. Functioning in the central nervous system (CNS), as well as in the periphery, neurotransmitters facilitate communication between the brain and the body’s glands, organs and muscles.  They are released from neurons and travel across a small space, called a synapse, to reach receptors on target cells.  Inadequate neurotransmitter function disrupts the signal to target tissue and has a profound influence on overall health and well-being. In fact, imbalances in certain neurotransmitters are associated with many of the prevalent symptoms and conditions seen in doctors’ offices today including:

  • Depression, anxiety
  • Adrenal Dysfunction: fatigue, insomnia
  • Loss of Mental Focus: ADD, ADHD, cognitive fog
  • Addiction and Dependency
  • Hormonal Imbalances: E2 dominance, E2 deficiency, low androgens
  • Loss of Appetite Control: obesity and insulin resistance
  • Low physical energy and stamina
  • Low pain tolerance
  • Cravings and poor appetite control
  • Low libido and sexual dysfunction

These symptoms are often compounded by the use of bioactive substances including caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and prescription medications that can contribute to neurotransmitter depletion and worsening of symptoms by suppressing or artificially stimulating neurotransmitter receptor function. When functioning properly, the neurotransmission system has natural checks and balances in the form of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. These are classified according to their effects on the receptor site on the postsynaptic neuron.  Excitatory neurotransmitters cause depolarization of the membrane, causing that neuron to “fire” and send a signal. Inhibitory neurotransmitters cause hyperpolarization, preventing the neuron from forwarding a signal.

You may have heard of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, but do you know how they can affect your health?

  • SEROTONIN is a key neurotransmitter that is involved in the regulation of sleep, appetite and aggression. Serotonin imbalance is a common contributor to mood problems, and pharmacologic agents that alter serotonin levels are among the most commonly used class of drugs prescribed for anxiety and depression. High stress, insufficient nutrients, fluctuating hormones and the use of stimulant medications or caffeine can all contribute to the depletion of serotonin over time. When serotonin is out of range, depression, anxiety, worry, obsessive thoughts and behaviors, carbohydrate cravings, PMS, difficulty with pain control, and sleep cycle disturbances can result.
  • GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter found in the CNS and, as such, is important for balancing excitatory action of other neurotransmitters. High levels of GABA may be a result of excitatory overload, or a compensatory mechanism to balance the surplus excitatory neurotransmitter activity. These high levels result in a ‘calming’ action that may contribute to sluggish energy, feelings of sedation, and foggy thinking. Low GABA levels are associated with dysregulation of the adrenal stress response. Without the inhibiting function of GABA, impulsive behaviors are often poorly controlled, contributing to a range of anxious and/or reactive symptoms that extend from poor impulse control to seizure disorders. Alcohol as well as benzodiazepine drugs act on GABA receptors and imitate the effects of GABA. Though these substances don’t cause an increase in GABA levels, understanding their mechanism can give us additional insight into the effects of GABA.
  • DOPAMINE is referred to as the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter because it is responsible for motivation, drive, and positive feelings associated with activities such as being in love, exercising, listening to music, and sexual activity. Insufficient dopamine can cause difficulty in initiating or completing tasks, poor concentration, low energy, and a lack of motivation. A low dopamine level can also lead to addictive and compulsive behavior. It is largely responsible for regulating the pleasure/ reward pathway, memory and motor control. Its function creates both inhibitory and excitatory action depending on the dopaminergic receptor it binds to. Memory issues are common with both elevations and depressions in dopamine levels. Caffeine and other stimulants, such as medications for ADD/ADHD, often improve focus by increasing dopamine release, although continual stimulation of this release can deplete dopamine over time. Common symptoms associated with low dopamine levels include depression, loss of motor control, cravings, compulsions, loss of satisfaction and addictive behaviors
  • Norepinephrine and epinephrine are also referred to as ‘noradrenaline’ and ‘adrenaline’. These neurotransmitters are critical in managing the body’s stress response. Norepinephrine and epinephrine are involved in a wide variety of actions including attention, focus, regulating heart rate, and suppressing inflammation. Involved in arousal, they prepare the body for action by relaying messages in the sympathetic nervous system as part of the body’s fight-or-flight response. High levels of norepinephrine and epinephrine are often linked to anxiety, stress, elevated blood pressure, hyperactivity, and sleep issues whereas low levels are associated with lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, depression, and poor motivation.
  • PEA – Phenylethylamine or PEA is an excitatory chemical structure that acts as a neurotransmitter and has its own receptors. It is found that PEA has a similar function with amphetamines as a mood enhancer. PEA is in charge of maintaining the balance of emotions that occurs in our limbic system of the brain. PEA interacts with other chemical receptors and has the ability to send signals to the brain necessary for consciousness and different emotions such as temperament, sexuality, vision, delightful feelings, and the like. In short PEA is a very important neurotransmitter that has a direct effect on controlling and maintaining a balanced social life.
  • Histamine -Histamine is also active in the central nervous system, including in the brain, where it can inhibit or interrupt neurotransmitters and acts as a neurotransmitter itself. Histamine plays a role in sleep and the mediation of physical responses to stress and may perform other functions in the brain as well.
  • Glycine – 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 disease, stroke, and epileptic seizures.
  • Glutamate – Glutamate is a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter that is released by nerve cells in the brain. It is responsible for sending signals between nerve cells, and under normal conditions it plays an important role in learning and memory.

There are other potential neurotransmitter imbalances contributing to symptoms as well. The benefit for you is that addressing these imbalances can be a very simple and effective approach to feeling better!

The first step towards better health is to identify possible imbalances with a lab test. Dr. Petitt can order the tests from Labrix and it is noninvasive and simple to do. The relationships and interactions among neurotransmitters and hormones are closely tied, so it is sometimes best to have both tested. Because of this, a test from Labrix that combines neurotransmitters and hormones together will provide you and Dr. Petitt with the most comprehensive view of your body’s neuroendocrine status.

Talk to Dr. Petitt about testing and treating your neurotransmitters and hormones. It may just be right step to helping you feel better and enjoy more of your life again.

Find the correct balance

  • The first step toward better health is to identify possible imbalances with a lab test. The test has many benefits:
    -Highly sensitive and accurate
    -Identifies specific imbalances
    -Easy sample collection
    -Non-invasive (no needles)
  • Natural solutions: we may use your specific neurotransmitter test results to create a treatment plan that is custom for you. This may include natural treatment options such as amino acids, nutrients and vitamins, as well as lifestyle modifications that include healthy foods, exercise and mindfulness. Talk to us about what type of treatment plan may work best for you.
  • Take control of your health if you are interested in regaining energy and motivation, consider neurotransmitter testing. We can educate you on the impact a tailored treatment plan (fueled by accurate test results) may have on your sex life, pain tolerance, cravings, mental focus, mood, concentration and more.

Adrenal Dysfunction and Neurotransmitters

What is Adrenal Dysfunction? 
A traditional definition of adrenal dysfunction is an altered secretion of adrenal hormones that may begin with elevated cortisol levels, but typically results in reduced overall output and/or alteration in the diurnal pattern of cortisol production.  A comprehensive approach to addressing adrenal dysfunction includes assessment of the HPA axis as well as related neurotransmitter levels.  Cortisol and steroid hormones are produced in the adrenal cortex, while catecholamines including epinephrine, norepinephrine and a very small amount of dopamine, are produced in the adrenal medulla.  Additionally, adrenal output is influenced by serotonin production, and serotonin levels are affected by adrenal function.  Therefore, it is recommended to evaluate the entire neuroendocrine system for optimal clinical assessment.

The Neurotransmitter Connection

  • When a stress response is triggered, the HPA axis is stimulated to produce cortisol and DHEA in the adrenal cortex, and the adrenomedullary hormone system initiates norepinephrine and epinephrine production in the adrenal medulla. Initially, these neurotransmitter levels tend to be elevated – often causing a concomitant rise in inhibitory neurotransmitters such as GABA. Additionally, cortisol is required in the conversion of norepinephrine to epinephrine, so a compromise in cortisol levels (as seen with chronic stress) causes an imbalance in the ratio between these two neurotransmitters.
  • There is a dynamic relationship between cortisol and serotonin wherein healthy adrenal function is dependent on balanced serotonin and healthy serotonin is dependent upon balanced adrenal function. Serotonin is involved in hypothalamic stimulus to facilitate pituitary release of ACTH, which, in turn, is necessary for the release of cortisol and DHEA. An insufficient supply of serotonin will contribute to an insufficient release of cortisol. As the body continues to demand cortisol there will be a subsequent demand on serotonin to help produce ACTH that may result in depletion of serotonin levels. Furthermore, stress inhibits the conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP, which is the rate limiting step in the production of serotonin.
  • Patients suffering from decreased adrenal function commonly complain of fatigue and may also experience sleep disruptions, weight changes, salt and/or sugar cravings, allergies, anxiousness, nervousness, low blood pressure and numerous other symptoms. The neurotransmitter imbalances that occur along with the alterations in cortisol production may cause or accentuate all of these symptoms. Addressing neurotransmitter imbalances is an essential component of the successful treatment of adrenal dysfunction. Simple, noninvasive urinary testing identifies specific neurotransmitter imbalances, and can be correlated to diurnal cortisol and DHEA levels on a single report. Targeted amino acids and other nutrient cofactors can quickly modify neurotransmitter levels, thus promoting a fast and lasting recovery.

MOOD Disorders

Mild to moderate depression is affecting up to 10% of the U.S. population. Depression is the third most reported chronic health condition in the U.S.; most family practice providers, internists, and specialists will see some degree of mood disorders in their practices. Virtually all clinical reports on mood disorders identify neurotransmitter imbalances as contributors to either the root cause or the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Addressing neurotransmitter imbalances is a highly effective approach for successful clinical outcomes in terms of targeted treatment, cost and compliance.

Clinical symptoms of mood disorders can be grouped into three basic categories:

  • Emotional: Depressed mood, lack of motivation, disinterest in social activity, anxiety
  • Cognitive: Inability to concentrate, poor memory
  • Physical: Insomnia, headache, fatigue, and pain

Neurotransmitter imbalances are associated with all of these groups, and many individuals experience a combination of symptoms that may span all three categories!

Exploration of the underlying biochemistry of these symptoms often leads to the identification of imbalances in two key neurotransmitters — serotonin and norepinephrine.  A disruption in the balance of either, or both, of these neurotransmitters represents a common neurochemical shift that results in mood changes.

Serotonin imbalances are associated with:

  • Poor impulse control
  • Low sex drive
  • Decreased appetite
  • Irritability

Norepinephrine imbalances are associated with:

  • Poor attention and memory
  • Decreased concentration
  •  Reduced socialization
  • Altered states of arousal

Although serotonin and norepinephrine imbalances are often the primary culprits responsible for mood disturbances, dopamine, GABA, glutamate, estrogen, progesterone, cortisol and testosterone imbalances can all play significant causative or contributory roles in mood disorders. Addressing each of these neurotransmitters and hormones simultaneously is the most efficient route to wellness.

  • Dopamine is responsible for regulating the pleasure/reward pathway, memory and motor control. Many stimulants cause dopamine to be released into the neuronal synapse, which can lead to a reduction in demand for dopamine and contribute to depleted levels over time.
  • GABA also plays a significant role in maintaining mood because it is essential in balancing the excitatory effects of norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine. Neuroexcitatory overload can raise demand for GABA. Low GABA levels also contribute to mood disorders and may be associated with anxiety, worry and poor impulse control.
  • Glutamate is a major excitatory neurotransmitter in the CNS and is involved in most aspects of brain function including cognition, memory and learning. Due to its excitatory role, high levels of glutamate are often associated with panic attacks, anxiety, and depression.
  • Sex hormones play a role in mood disorders as well. Estrogen increases serotonin receptor sensitivity, increases serotonin production and serves as a dopamine modulator. Progesterone is a GABA agonist and has a significant effect on the body’s HPA axis to manage stress and maintain a balanced mood.  Fluctuations in both estrogen and progesterone, as seen in women of all ages, correlate to fluctuations in these mood-regulating neurotransmitters.

Testing both neurotransmitters and hormones provides a comprehensive and foundational view of the body’s functional neuro-endocrine status and brings to light multiple factors that contribute to symptoms, allowing for defined, targeted treatments and improved clinical outcome.

Recommended Reading

  • Female Hormones Slim, Sane and Sexy. A Pocket Guide to Natural, Bioidentical Hormone Balancing by Jay H. Mead, MD and Erin T. Lommen, ND
  • What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause: The Breakthrough Book on Natural Hormone Balance by John R. Lee MD and Virginia Hopkins
  • What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About: Premenopause, Balance Your Hormones and Your Life from Thirty to Fifty by John R, Lee MD, Jesse Hanley, and Virginia Hopkins
  • Natural Progesterone: The Multiple Roles of a Remarkable Hormone by John R. Lee MD
  • Testosterone for Life by Abraham Morgentaler, MD
  • Male Hormones: The Testosterone Syndrome by Eugene Shippen, William Fryer
  • His Change of Life by Chris Meletis, ND and Sara Wood, ND
  • Adrenal Glands Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st-Century Stress Syndrome by James L. Wilson
  • Safe Uses of Cortisol by William McK. Jefferies MD
  • Thyroid Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness by Broda Barnes
  • Diet and Nutrition: The China Study, The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight
  • Loss and Long-Term Health by T. Colin Campbell, Thomas M. Campbell II
    Dental Root Canal Cover-Up by George E. Meinig


  • ASAMI – American Society of Aesthetic Medicine & Intradermal Mesotherapy
  • ACAM – American College for the Advancement in Medicine Link
  • ASLMS – American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, Inc. Link
  • AMMG – Age Management Medicine Group Link
  • Fellow of American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine Link
  • Member of Institute of Functional Medicine Link
  • Health Freedom Foundation Link
  • Menopause Symptoms Blog Link

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