Neurotransmitters are responsible for the moods you feel, the things you crave, how well you sleep, and many other aspects of your life. On a technical level, these are chemicals that the brain specifically uses to communicate between its cells.
While it’s not fully understood just why, there is a proven link between neurotransmitter activity and mental as well as mood disorders. It’s thought that by measuring neurotransmitter levels through laboratory testing, doctors can identify any imbalances in this important brain chemicals. This will allow them to prescribe drugs or natural therapies to restore the proper balance.
This may all sound good in theory, however, the accuracy of being able to measure neurotransmitter levels in the brain can be quite difficult. The outcome of treatment depends on the test being correct. Unfortunately, there are reasons to be skeptical about laboratory testing for neurotransmitter levels.
How Are Neurotransmitters Tested?
There are currently over 100 identified types of neurotransmitters in the body. Again, these are responsible for things such as energy, focus, learning, retaining, libido, cravings, addictions, moods, and sleep. It’ actually been estimated that about 86% of adults in American are lacking optimal neurotransmitter levels.
Neurotransmitters can be depleted due to an unhealthy lifestyle. Practices such as consuming excess amounts of drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can cause a depletion. In addition, poor dieting, environmental toxins, and chronic stress all play a role.
Various laboratories use different measures for the various types of neurotransmitter levels, including some and skipping others. It’s very difficult to test for all 100 neurotransmitters and there’s likely more that haven’t been discovered yet. However, most lab tests include most of the major neurotransmitters. These include:
By testing these levels, doctors believe they will be better abel to effectively treat mental related disorders. These include depression, ADHD, memory loss, anxiety, mood swings, autism, Alzheimer’s, and brain fog.
The Skeptism Of Neurotransmitter Testing
Neurotransmitter testing is a hot debate that has strong reasons on both sides of the mattter. While some doctors do recommend these sort of testings to better understand their patients, many are discrediting the results saying they are not accurate. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that some doctors believe these tests are ineffective.
Neurotransmitter Levels In The Brain Can’t Be Measured
This starts with the way that lab technicians test for the neurotransmitter levels. Standard tests are done through blood, urine, or saliva samples. This means that neurotransmitters live outside of the brain throughout the rest of the body. In fact, about 95 percent of the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced within the intestines.
Those neurotransmitters produced in other areas of the body are unable to enter the brain. This is due to the blood-brain barrier of the body. So essentially, when a technician tests for certain chemical levels, they are only getting a reading on the rest of your body, not your brain.
There is currently no way to correlate the amount of neurotransmitters you have in the rest of your body to the number that you have in your brain. For example, you can’t say for every two serotinin neurotransmitters in the saliva test the person has one serotinin neurotransmitter in the brain. There is no correlation to make this testing relevant to the brain to treat mental or mood disorders.
Levels Change Often
Neurotransmitters are rapidly changing. Their half-life of many of these chemicals is between a fraction of a second and a couple of minutes. For example, serotonin has a half-life of one second. So testing at any given point in time will provide different results than testing at another.
Just becuase neurotransmitters are present within the brain, doesn’t mean they are working. There are a few reasons why these chemicals could be present but not used. These include:
- Failure Of Receptors
- Too Few Receptors
- Receptors Are Used By Other Substances
As you can see, lack in neurotransmitter function could be a result of another part of the process, such as a lack in the receptors doing their job correctly.
What Are Alternative Ways To Test For Neurotransmitter Levels?
One of the most used methods of testing is done verbally. By asking patients a series of questions relating to deficient behavior in specific chemicals, a doctor can better diagnose what chemicals could be lacking.
For example, GABA is the neurotransmitter in the brain that is responsible for relaxation. Doctors may ask patients whether they are experiencing the depletion of this chemical through a series of questions. Some examples are:
- Do you have racing thoughts that keep you awake at night?
- Do you get overwhelmed and find it hard to unwind?
- Do you find it hard to relax and always end up worry about something?
By asking questions specific to the functions of each neurotransmitter, a doctor can gain a better understanding on areas where a neurotransmitter may be lacking in numbers within the brain.