Welcome to our series, What Causes Lyme Brain – Part 4. Today we are talking about neurotransmitter imbalance. This may be a cause or an effect of Lyme disease – imbalanced neurotransmitters such as GABA and serotonin can create anxiety and depression, and contribute to Lyme Brain, and can also be a secondary effect of chronic infection. Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book Lyme Brain:
Another contributing factor to Lyme Brain is neurotransmitter imbalance. This may be more of an effect than a cause; however, it is something that I frequently see in my patients and is prevalent enough to warrant a discussion here.
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that transmit impulses from one nerve cell to another. There are many different neurotransmitters and each has a different role and influence on brain function (so far, there are over 100 identified).[i] They play a central role in mood, cognition and emotional state.
Perhaps the best-known neurotransmitter is serotonin—so well known because many antidepressants function as SSRI’s, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They prevent serotonin from being discarded, and cause it to be recycled and reused in the brain. Why? Because low serotonin levels can cause depression (newer generation antidepressants work on a variety of pathways, but serotonin is still one of the more significant).
Some neurotransmitters are stimulatory, while others are inhibitory. By definition, this means that some are likely to promote a nerve impulse while others will inhibit it. In terms of how they affect people, some are more “awakening” and some are more “calming.” Epinephrine and norepinephrine are examples of more stimulating neurotransmitters, while serotonin and GABA are more calming. Dopamine is related to emotional states, pleasure centers and motivation. Dopamine and norepinephrine together influence working memory. Acetylcholine relates to motor system function but also plays a role in emotion, learning and short-term memory.
Glutamate is the most prevalent excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. While it is inherently an excitatory neurotransmitter, excessive glutamate can cause overstimulation in the brain and excitotoxicity. This has been implicated in a range of different neurological issues including ALS, epilepsy, autism and Parkinson’s disease.
GABA is the most prevalent inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA is often used clinically to treat anxiety and can be easily obtained in supplemental form. It has a very calming effect and a valuable role in Lyme treatment. GABA can also be used to balance excess glutamate.
Neurotransmitter imbalances will be discussed in more detail in the treatment section, as we can use amino acids to fuel certain pathways and help balance altered neurotransmitters. This can help stabilize mood as well as assist with focus, concentration and memory recall.
[i] “Neurotransmitter.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. March 1st, 2016. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurotransmitter.
For more information on the book and to register to be notified when Lyme Brain is published, go to www.lymebrainbook.com.