Get Disappointed Too Much? Your Neurotransmitters May Be Out of Whack

Dimmer switches.  You know, those great things you can turn down to make the room more romantic.  Or bring up so your far-sighted old eyes can read the newspaper.

Well, our brains have one, too, it turns out.  According to a new study, scientists have discovered a "dimmer switch" for mood disorders.

Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have identified a control mechanism for an area of the brain that processes sensory and emotive information that humans experience as “disappointment," newswise com. reports.

This discovery may effectively mean there's a neurochemical antidote for feeling let-down.

“The idea that some people see the world as a glass half-empty has a chemical basis in the brain,” newswise quotes senior author Roberto Malinow, MD, PhD, professor in the Department of Neurosciences and neurobiology section of the Division of Biological Sciences. “What we have found is a process that may dampen the brain’s sensitivity to negative life events.”

 Because people struggling with depression are believed to register negative experiences more strongly than others, the study’s findings have implications for understanding not just why some people have a brain chemistry that predisposes them to depression but also how to treat it.

I'm one of those people who's had to struggle not to see the glass half-empty (of course, then there's the crazy side of it that when something good does happen, I wait for the other shoe to drop!).  

Surprisingly, cancer is what got me started feeling the glass truly is half-full, because I'm alive and I'm here and I'm one of the lucky ones who made it out.  How can you not feel life is good after that?

“Our study is one of the first to rigorously document that inhibition can co-exist with excitation in a brain pathway," said lead author Steven Shabel, a postdoctoral researcher with Department of Neurosciences and neurobiology section of the Division of Biological Sciences. "In our case, that pathway is believed to signal disappointment."

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that neurons feeding into a small region in our brains secrete two opposite and opposed neurotransmitters, one that's excitatry and another that's inhibitory. What does this mean for us? 

Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. They relay signals between nerve cells, called “neurons," according to The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance.

Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter – which means that it does not stimulate the brain. Adequate amounts of serotonin are necessary for a stable mood and to balance any excessive excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitter firing in the brain. If you use stimulant medications or caffeine in your daily regimen – it can cause a depletion of serotonin over time. Serotonin also regulates many other processes such as carbohydrate cravings, sleep cycle, pain control and appropriate digestion. Low serotonin levels are also associated with decreased immune system function and depression.

Inhibitory neurotransmitters are often referred to as “nature’s VALIUM-like substance," the Website notes. When this neurotransmitter is out of range, it is likely that an excitatory neurotransmitter is firing too often in the brain. GABA, this neurotransmitter, will be sent out to attempt to balance this stimulating over-firing.

Dopamine is considered to be both an inhibitory and an excitatory neurotransmitter.  When dopamine is either elevated or low – we can have focus issues such as not remembering where we put our keys, forgetting what a paragraph said when we just finished reading it or simply daydreaming and not being able to stay on task. Dopamine is also responsible for our drive or desire to get things done – or motivation.

"Our study suggests that one of the ways in which serotonin alleviates depression is by rebalancing the brain's processing of negative life events vis-à-vis the balance of both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in this part of the brain," Shabel said. "We may now have a precise neurochemical explanation for why antidepressants make some people more resilient to negative experiences."


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