Mood, Neurotransmitters, and How to Change Your Chemistry

We hear about neurotransmitters and SSRIs on a daily basis, but what are they, exactly?

Here is a great metaphor for understanding neurotransmitters and mood.  Think of a light switch and a dimmer.  You turn the dimmer up to turn up the light intensity, and vice versa to decrease it.  The light represents neurotransmission (the messaging route) while the dimmer feature is the neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger like serotonin).  Neurotransmission is to the light what neurotransmitters are to the dimmer.
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Antidepressants vs. Exercise

Are you taking an antidepressant?  How about a medication for anxiety like Xanax or Klonipin?  These days, antidepressants are handed out like M&Ms, and most mothers seem to be taking something-prescribed or not.  Most of the time, antidepressants are prescribed by a general physician, internist, or OBGYN.  Sadly, few of these physicians have been trained to assess and diagnose anxiety and mood related problems at all.   Continue reading “Antidepressants vs. Exercise” »

How To Be Smart, Thin, Joyful, Focused, Energetic, and Motivated

If I could give you a magic pill that would make you smart, thin, happier, focused, motivated, energetic, and optimistic, would you accept my gift?  If it were free, would you say yes quickly?  If it worked day by day, would you turn me down?  That magic pill does exist, and it’s free without side effects. Continue reading “How To Be Smart, Thin, Joyful, Focused, Energetic, and Motivated” »

The Best Medication in the World

Do you ever wonder why fit people are also happier?  The women and moms who work out are also the ones who seem to have “their shit together.”  It’s true, and this lifestyle is a choice.

Physical exercise is the most powerful behavioral medicine that exists. One famous scientist once said, “If the benefits of exercise could be prescribed in a pill, it would be the most widely prescribed pill in the world.” While the countless health benefits have long been clear, few understand the profound effects that daily exercise has on mood, brain health, pain control, and anxiety.

Exercise promotes increased neurotransmitters associated with mood, but do you know how? Recent research has shown that exercise increases a trophic factor in the brain which triggers the balancing of mood related neurotransmitters. In other words, your daily run improve your mood, concentration, attention, memory, and judgment skills by rebalancing the related neurotransmitters. In fact, exercise has been shown in research to be equally effective in treating mild to moderate depression as antidepressant medication. Bearing in mind the fact that antidepressant medication is effective only 50% of the time and the health problems associated with depression, it seems natural to try exercise first unless the level of depression is severe.

Exercise also causes the body to release a natural pain killer that is chemical cousins with synthetic morphine. Take a good look at the number of “white collar” prescription drug abusers today and you can understand how powerful this natural opiate must be in altering mood and pain reduction. Have you ever watched a professional athlete complete a marathon run with some type of injury or under poor environmental circumstances? This is likely due to the naturally higher pain tolerance an athlete has when these natural pain killers are in play.

Exercise also promotes the production of new brain cells. While we once thought this wasn’t possible, we now know that theory was wrong. The same trophic factor which balances the neurotransmitters is much like “Miracle Gro” for the brain in that it promotes the manufacturing of new brain cells! This is quite exciting when you think about the number of time you’ve been told, “it’s just downhill after 25.” To this, I’d like to say, “not for me or anyone else who takes a daily run.”

Exercise also promotes the release of nitric oxide, the good free radical which promotes cardiovascular health and healthy mood. Nitric oxide is the “chai” of life, present in enormous amounts at conception and again at death. Small, consistent bursts of nitric oxide are the elixir of health and youth, and we can trigger the production of this lovely biochemical with the following behaviors: exercise, meditation, sex, healthy foods, and joy. This is the real prescription for joy and an indication that behaviors which bring us joy promote health.

Conversely, these behaviors decrease nitric oxide levels: unhealthy foods, negative thinking, sadness or depression, or exposure to toxins. Avoiding depletion of nitric oxide levels can help you maintain the benefits of the above behaviors.

In short, exercise is nature’s cure for many problems if used regularly. Like playing a new sport, you can’t go for a run and consider yourself cured. This is a process as well as a discipline, but the health benefits are free and multiply exponentially. Considering the cost offset associated with disease prevention, I consider exercise and low glycemic eating the new “healthcare reform.”  More on that later…

That’s all for today, kids.  I’m off to work and looking forward to getting outside in the sun today.

How To Be A Happy Mom

I was talking with one of my girlfriends yesterday, and she told me that most of her friends use antidepressant or anxiety medications.  I was amazed to hear that one of her friends uses both Cymbalta and Adderall, and is trying to discontinue using her Cymbalta.  Yikes.  We all know someone who uses this type of medication, but how many people really understand how these work and what we can do on our own to create similar changes in mood related neurotransmitters?

First, what are neurotransmitters?  Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers, and neurotransmission is the messaging process.  Think of a light switch with a dimmer.  With me?  Neurotransmission is to neurotransmitters what the light switch is to the dimmer on that light.  In other words, increasing your amount of neurotransmitter turns the dimmer up and brightens the room. Running dry on neurotransmitter levels is like sitting in a dim room.  Got it?

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