By Emily Roberts MA, LPC
UC San Diego researchers have discovered that ratios of neurotransmitters may be more important than the brain chemicals themselves when treating depression. Two neurotransmitters, Glutamate and GABA which have very different roles are important in depression and how our brains react to bad news.
The research shows that a region of the brain called the lateral habenula is responsible for producing negative emotions. “How this feeling is stimulated came as something as a surprise” said researcher Steven J. Shabel. A mix of two neurotransmitters causes this feeling: glutamate, which excites activity in neurons, and GABA, an inhibitor are both activated at the same time. Which is like pressing the breaks and the gas on your car simultaneously, it is ineffective leading to more problems overtime.
“Our study suggests that one of the ways in which serotonin alleviates depression is by re-balancing the brain’s processing of negative life events vis-à-vis the balance of glutamate and GABA in the habenula,” Shabel said. “We may now have a precise neurochemical explanation for why antidepressants (serotonin) make some people more resilient to negative experiences.”
Neurotransmitter Ratios Are Imperative
The researchers found that neurons feeding into this region release both the simulator and inhibitor at the same time. The combination produces an effect different from either alone. Changing the proportions of the neurotransmitters alters the effect. Serotonin is needed to raise GABA levels. Now that it’s known that the ratio of these neurotransmitters and not their absolute level affect ones mood.
In neurotransmitter testing we are able to see what levels of glutamate and GABA are out of balance and effectively rebalance them with the right supplementation and medication if necessary. This study helps bring more awareness to how our brain responds and creates negative experience. This research is paramount to other studies of its kind. Highlighting the relationship between neurotransmitters rather than each one independently is what many in the functional medicine and holistic health field have been doing for years. When ratios are imbalanced, even with the right amount of GABA or glutamate, our brain chemistry and life can suffer tremendously.
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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