Neurotransmitters: Function and Disfunction

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the body that carry messages to other cells.  They attach themselves to a specific receptor depending on which neurotransmitter they are, to deliver their message.  Their message is usually to tell the cell to do something like react to a situation or to not something like react to a situation.  After their message has been delivered, they are broken down by the body.

Neurotransmitters Important to Mood

When it comes to a person’s mood, several neurotransmitters play a role in regulating or impacting it.


Known as a “feel-good” chemical, dopamine’s function is tied to memory, learning, behavior, and the movement of muscles.  It is produced by certain amino acids found in protein.  Exercise is a natural way to boost your dopamine levels.


Endorphins are another “feel-good” neurotransmitter.  It can produce an almost euphoric feeling and works as the body’s natural pain reliever.  Exercise that gets the heart pumping is a good way to boost endorphins in your system.  Laughing is another way to get an endorphin lift.  Laughter really is the best medicine!

Epinephrine and Norepinephrine

More commonly known as adrenaline, epinephrine is responsible for the body’s primal “fight or flight” reaction to danger or stress.  It tells the body to quicken its heart rate and breathing and releases energy so the body can react to the danger by fighting or fleeing.  It’s a life-saving chemical that doctors can use to restart a person’s heart if they’re experiencing cardiac arrest or can be used to stop a severe allergic reaction or asthma attack. Epinephrine is made from norepinephrine.  Norepinephrine is released into the body continuously in smaller doses, not only when there’s stress, and it works by constricting and regulating blood vessels (blood pressure).


Serotonin is important for regulating mood, sleep, appetite, and helps control the body’s circadian rhythm.  Serotonin levels can be increased by sunlight and aerobic exercise.


GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is used to regulate mood and helps to calm neurons and keep anxiety down.

When Neurotransmitters Are Dysfunctional

If your body isn’t producing enough of a particular neurotransmitter, it’s messages won’t get through.  Low serotonin levels, for example, means that messages that tell you to feel happy because something good is happening won’t get through to your brain.  Producing too much of a neurotransmitter can cause problems too.  If your body releases too much epinephrine when you’re feeling a bit stressed, it’ll cause anxiety and could increase your heart rate and breathing until you’re having a full-blown panic attack.  Dysfunction in neurotransmitters not only can have negative effects on mood, when a body doesn’t have the right levels of certain neurotransmitters, it can lead to other diseases and disorders such as Parkinson’s (low dopamine), fibromyalgia (low endorphins), and high blood pressure and heart disease (due to chronic stress from high levels of epinephrine).

What You Can Do

Maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sunlight, and exercising regularly with a routine that includes a lot of cardio are all helpful for your body to maintain good levels of neurotransmitters.  For many people, however, these things are not enough.

Supplements―Some neurotransmitters can be boosted with supplements like GABA and St. John’s Wort (may increase serotonin levels).  It’s important to speak with your doctor before trying supplements because some, like St. John’s Wort, may interact with antidepressants and others, like 5-HTP that may increase serotonin, may also increase depression.

Antidepressants―If you suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, antidepressants may help.  They work by helping the messages get through to the brain by raising the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (SNRIs) or by preventing the neurotransmitters from being reabsorbed in the brain too quickly (SSRIs).  They should only be taken under the care of your doctor and mental health professional to find the most effective one and to monitor for harmful side effects.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation―While TMS isn’t approved for the treatment of anxiety, it can be an effective treatment for people who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder and can’t find relief from symptoms with antidepressants.  By using magnets such as those in an MRI machine, the area of the brain that is responsible for mood, the prefrontal cortex, can be stimulated and can trigger some neurotransmitters to function properly.

Gateway TMS is a leading provider of TMS treatments in St. Louis. Our caring staff will guide you through the process from diagnoses to treatment to filling out insurance forms all in a calm, relaxing environment.  To find out if TMS is a good course of treatment for your Major Depressive Disorder, call Gateway today at (314) 909-8487. We’re here to help you find relief from the symptoms of depression.