Neurotransmitters are “chemical messengers” that convey signals between neurons and target cells throughout your body. These target cells may be in muscles, glands, or other neurons in your brain. Neurotransmitters play a key role in our brain’s ability to function, and work to keep vital systems such as heartbeat and breath regulated. They also impact psychological emotions such as pleasure, pain, happiness, fear, and more. Therefore, an imbalance in neurotransmitter levels is a reason why mental illnesses can manifest themselves in individuals.
Here are descriptions of major neurotransmitters and the role they play in our mental health.
Excitatory neurotransmitter associated with muscle movement and memory (often referred to as the “learning neurotransmitter”). A deficit can result in paralysis and Alzheimers.
Inhibitory neurotransmitter which influences learning, movement, attention, and emotion. Deficits have been linked with tremors and decreased mobility in Parkinson’s disease, while surplus has been linked to schizophrenia.
Inhibitory neurotransmitters involved in pain perception and positive emotions. Deficits can lead to increased pain sensation, while surplus may lead to artificial highs, or excessive “numbing” of real pain.
GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid):
Major inhibitory neurotransmitter which helps offset excitatory messages. It also regulates sleep/wake cycles. Deficit can lead to anxiety, seizures, as well as tremors. A surplus of GABA has been linked to sleep and eating disorders.
Excitatory neurotransmitter involved in memory functions. A surplus can lead to neural overstimulation, producing migraines or seizures.
Excitatory neurotransmitter which controls arousal levels and alertness. An undersupply can lead to depression, while surplus can cause anxiety.
Inhibitory neurotransmitter which controls moods and emotional state. A deficit can lead to mood disorders such as depression, while a surplus can lead to autism.
Adapted from Psychology by David Myers