Many migraineurs have a neurotransmitter deficiency.

Neurotransmitters play a huge role in our lives, controlling things like pain, memory, mood, libido, energy, and sleep.

There are approximately 86 billion neurons in the human brain, which communicate with each other through neurotransmitters, or messengers.  So far, research has identified about 100 neurotransmitters.  Neurotransmitter deficiency can be caused by:

  • Poor diet
  • Toxins
  • Chronic stress
  • Drugs
  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine

Types of Neurotransmitters

Understanding neurotransmitter function is important, especially the ones that regulate pain and stress.  Many natural supplements will include ingredients like amino acids, vitamins, and herbs that will help your brain produce more neurotransmitters.

Unfortunately, however, there is a problem with this approach:  How do you know which neurotransmitter is deficient?

The primary types of neurotransmitters that cause problems are:

  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin
  • GABA
  • Acetylcholine

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Dopamine – Motivation

Dopamine is coined the “motivation molecule” because it gives us focus and drive.  It is also responsible for the brain’s pleasure/reward system, delivering a sense of satisfaction when needs and/or goals are met.

Signs of low dopamine levels include:

  • Low energy
  • Little motivation
  • Decreased libido/sex drive
  • Loss of zest for life
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Apathy/lethargy
  • Anhedonia

Dopamine deficiency can look and feel like depression, but with the main symptom of lethargy, which is different from a serotonin deficiency that can lead to anxiety.

The best, healthiest, and safest way to increase dopamine levels is through food, supplements, and lifestyle activities.

Tyrosine is the chemical primarily needed for dopamine production. It can be found in a variety of foods and increased with some activities including:

  • Animal foods
  • Avocado
  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Chocolate
  • Acetyl-l-tyrosine
  • Curcumin
  • Gingko biloba
  • Meditation
  • Physical exercise

Serotonin – The Happy Hormone

Labeled the “happiness molecule,” serotonin is vital for overall well-being.  It is no wonder that it gets most of the attention.  Low levels of serotonin are linked to:

  • Mood disorders like depression and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • OCD
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder

Most patients presenting with any of the above are given SSRI antidepressants, which are thought to increase serotonin levels.  Unfortunately, however, it is not entirely understood how SSRIs work.

Symptoms of serotonin deficiency include:

  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Low sex drive
  • Digestive disorders
  • Negativity
  • Binge eating
  • Low self-esteem

Increasing serotonin can be relatively simple.  Tryptophan is the primary amino acid responsible for its production.   It can be found in the following:

  • Meats
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Dairy

Unfortunately, the relationship between serotonin and food is not straightforward.  The levels drop after eating protein because it blocks synthesis; however, eating carbs only for some meals may help boost levels.

Supplements often work better, especially 5-HTP.  Exercise, good quality sleep, and sunshine can help serotonin production as well.

GABA – Natural Valium

GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is the relaxer.  It helps brain activity slow down, but if you’re deficient, then the brain will be continually running and usually at fast speeds.

GABA deficiency symptoms include:

  • Easily stressed out
  • Feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Sensation of being overstimulated
  • Racing thoughts at night
  • Dreading nothing in particular
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold hands and/or feet

GABA deficiency is linked to disorders like:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines

Foods that will increase GABA include:

  • Whole grains
  • Bananas
  • Spinach
  • Organ meats
  • Nuts and lentils
  • Oats
  • Fish
  • Broccoli
  • Brown rice
  • Citrus fruit
  • Unpasteurized yogurt
  • Sauerkraut

Since GABA is too large to cross the blood-brain barrier, supplements are not recommended; however, taurine may be of benefit to help overcome the barrier. Further GABA-strong supplements include:

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • L-theanine
  • Kava
  • Magnesium

Acetylcholine – Learn and Remember

The first neurotransmitter ever to be discovered, acetylcholine is primarily responsible for our ability to learn and retain memories.

An acetylcholine deficiency leads to difficulty with:

  • Remembering words, items, places, or people
  • Focus and concentration
  • Following plots

You may also find yourself craving fatty foods, so the first thing you’ll want to do is stop following a low-fat diet.

Choline is the precursor to acetylcholine, and this can be found in high-fat foods like dairy, fish, poultry, and meat.  The best source of choline is whole eggs and egg yolks.

Without choline in the diet, the brain will start to digest itself for the materials needed to make acetylcholine.

Most choline supplements will do very little good; however, a few may help:

  • Alpha GPC
  • Citicoline (best option)
  • Huperzine-A
  • Galantamine

Finally, avoid anticholinergic medications, which will destroy the neurotransmitter. 

These drugs include:

  • Atropine
  • Cogentin
  • Advil PM (or other PM medication)
  • Benadryl
  • Unisom

Any drug that starts with “anti” is likely going to have a negative effect on acetylcholine.

Neurotransmitters are the “messengers” in our brain, and a deficiency can lead to many problems, especially pain and migraine-brain.  Understanding the four primary neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine), along with how to increase their levels will go a long way to helping you replete your stores and recover your health.

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