A neuron is a nerve cell that receives, processes, and transmits information to other cells in the body. We each have a set number of neurons, so unlike other cells they don’t regenerate. Approximately 10,000 of the neurons in our bodies die everyday. Although this seems a very large number we each start out with between ten and 100 billion, so we only lose about 2% over our lifetime.
Neurotransmitters are biochemical substances which carry signals from one neuron to the next. These signals are sent via a complex web of synapses, which are essentially junction points between neurons. The role of neurotransmitters is important to us because they have a significant impact on our mental health. What are the types and what roles do they play?
Dopamine: involved in movement, attention and learning. Too much has been associated with schizophrenia, while too little has been associated with depression.
Acetylcholine: involved in learning, voluntary movement, sleep and memory. Too much has been associated with depression, while too little has been associated with dementia.
Epinephrine: involved in energy and glucose metabolism. Too little has been associated with depression.
Serotonin: involved in sleep, appetite, mood and impulsive and aggressive behaviour. Too little has been associated with depression and anxiety, although this can be treated with some anti-depressant medications such as SSRI’s. To read more about this click here
Norepinephrine: involved with alertness and eating. Too much has been associated with schizophrenia, while too little has been associated with depression.
GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid): inhibits excitement and anxiety. Too little GABA is associated with anxiety.
Endorphins: involved in feelings of pleasure and pain relief.
It is worth noting that these increases and decreases in certain neurotransmitters are one possible cause for the mental health issues described.