Neurotransmitters, also known as brain chemicals, enable neurons to fire with the electrical impulses that power all thinking. It comes as no surprise, then, that unbalanced brain chemicals can have a far-ranging negative impact on many different cognitive functions.
Nootropics for neurotransmitters can help by optimizing the production, conversion and utilization of brain chemicals -- helping to unlock the peak cognitive performance associated with a healthy, balanced brain.
What Are Neurotransmitters?
Neurotransmitter, n. - a chemical substance that transmits electrical impulses from one neuron to another.
Neurotransmitters act as messengers, conducting signals across the synapses (gaps between nerve cells) throughout the central nervous system. This neurotransmission enables neurons to communicate and exchange information.
The real puzzle is: What kind of information?
Neurotransmitters (also called brain chemicals) relay information signals that enable muscle contraction and physical movement. But for this guide, we are focusing on neurotransmitters' information signals that determine brain activity -- i.e., if the brain is stimulated or relaxed, awake or asleep. Superficially, this manifests as different cognitive and mood states:
- Focus, attention, anger -- these are attributes of excitatory neurotransmitters.
- Calm, relaxation, tiredness -- these associate with inhibitory neurotransmitters.
A person who is said to be "well-adjusted" can be imagined as possessing a balanced neurotransmitter state. The implication being that a healthy neurotransmitter status manifests as a healthy, enhanced cognitive state.
But what about those who have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels?
What happens when a brain's neurochemical state falls out of balance?
Is it even possible to achieve a better balanced brain?
While the definition of a 100% balanced brain remains somewhat murky and elusive, there are suggested means to achieving better neurotransmitter balance. And one of those means includes nootropics.
Better Brain Chemical Balance
A balanced brain supports a homeostatic relationship between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter activity.
Too much excitation or too much inhibition may throw the cognitive system off balance. Ditto for not enough excitation or inhibition.
And, to complicate this notion further, issues with brain balance don't necessarily indicate an imbalance of neurotransmitters.
For example(s): brain chemical counts may be at their proper thresholds, but neurotransmitter receptors aren't properly receiving their respective neurotransmitters. Or too many neurotransmitters are being broken down by over-active enzymes within the synaptic pathways.
Needless to say, brain balance can get complicated. But if you're willing to take on the task, it may help to learn the differences between:
- Neuronal Excitation - associated with the sympathetic nervous system (SNS); the fight-or-flight state marked by increased heart rate, constricted vessels, enhanced focus and alertness, etc.
- Neuronal Inhibition - associated with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS); the rest-and-digest state marked by decreased heart rate, enhanced immunity, calm and relaxed cognition, etc.
Not to imply that the activation of excitatory vs. inhibitory states works like an On-Off switch: excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters may operate simultaneously within the complex, concentric networks of the nervous system. It's the concurrent balance between such key neurotransmitters that keeps the brain in working order.
With the exact figures remaining a mystery, the total number of known neurotransmitters sits over 100. However, only a marginal percentage of this number receives all of our attention.
Altogether, the vast variety of neurotransmitters may essentially simplify into the two following structural categories:
- Small Molecules - acetylcholine, amino acids, purines, and biogenic amines (e.g., catecholamines).
- Neuropeptides - over 100 types, chain linking 3 to 30 amino acids per.
As far as enhanced cognition is concerned, the small molecule neurotransmitters are the primary targets of nootropic intervention; specifically, the following small molecule neurotransmitters:
The first identified neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (ACh) is an excitatory neurotransmitter associated with neuromuscular junction activitation as well as the cognitive processes of learning and memory formation, knowledge retention, arousal and attention.
Acetylcholine is synthesized from choline and broken down by acetylcholinesterase, the primary cholinesterase enzyme in the body.
During gradual states of neurodegeneration, the cholinergic system has been shown to suffer serious degradation, potentially through heightened acetylcholinesterase activity.<1>
A big name in the pharmaceutical arena, serotonin is viewed as the "master neurotransmitter" for its essential roles in emotional regulation.
While serotonin imbalance is a leading contributor to mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, the brain chemical also doubles as a major "gut chemical" due to its high levels of activity and synthesis within the digestive tract's enteric nervous system.
Depending on the serotonin receptor site, serotonin activation may induce different outcomes. For example, prefrontal cortex receptors correlate with mental processing and perception, whereas hippocampal receptors associate with learning and memory.<2>
The "reward" brain chemical involved our motivational pleasure pathway, dopamine is a catecholamine neurotransmitter that competes with serotonin for perhaps the most talked about brain chemical in the human body.
Released during gratifying moments of pleasure and excitement, dopamine plays a key role in reward-seeking behavior, which encompasses anything from learning something new to eating a bar of chocolate to developing an addiction.
The primary development of dopamine synthesis involves the metabolic pathways from L-phenylalanine to L-tyrosine to L-DOPA to, finally, dopamine -- which in turn may convert into the following catecholamines.<3>
Norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, is the primary acting neurotransmitter of the sympathetic nervous system -- i.e., the bodily state associated with "Fight or Flight" bioactivity.
During conditions of high stress or activity, the brain releases norepinephrine into the locus coeruleus segment of the brain stem, a cerebral location involved in the physiological response to stress and panic.
A healthy norepinephrine response manifests as "attention": feeling sharp, alert, focused, vigilant, aroused, etc. For intense moments of action, norepinephrine works with epinephrine in the bodily response to stress.
Epinephrine is a highly excitatory chemical excreted from the medulla of the adrenal glands, hence the hormone's more famous name: adrenaline.
The function of epinephrine is to trigger the Fight or Flight bodily paradigm, resulting in a number of temporary transformations: constricted blood vessels, increased heart rate, dilated airways, numbed pain receptors, and more.
Epinephrine synthesized outside of the body may be injected to ameliorate life-threatening anaphylaxis.<4> Yet the recreational and professional use of epinephrine remains a contentious topic and is often banned in many cases, most notably in athletics and eSports.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
In cases of too much excitation -- too much norepinephrine, epinephrine, etc. -- the brain relaxes by releasing gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter that enhances alpha brain wave status, effectively inducing relaxation while ameliorating anxiety. Under stress conditions, healthy GABA activity may also enhance immunity.<5>
Using vitamin B6 as a cofactor, GABA is synthesized in the brain from glutamic acid, which also forms glutamate, the principle neurotransmitter in neural activation. Thus, GABA operates as a direct counter to the excitatory glutamate.
Brain Chemical Imbalance
One "knocked over" neurotransmitter may induce a domino effect of chemical and cognitive disruptions.
What "knocks over" neurotransmitters? Any number of risk factors, ranging from poor nutrition, pharmaceuticals, recreational drugs to sensory overstimulation (e.g., Netflix binges), overworking, and G.I. disorders, may affect brain balance.
Considering that an estimated 86% Americans are operating on below optimal neuro activity, such neurotransmitter depletion may be viewed as commonplace.
Cognitive Issues Linked to Brain Chemistry Problems
Individually, each particular neurochemical imbalance and its corresponding features manifest as following:
- Acetylcholine Imbalance - reliable marker of neurodegeneration, learning disabilities, memory issues, and generally poor cognition.
- Serotonin Imbalance - primarily associated with mood disorders, most notably depression and bipolar disorder, as well as phobias and cravings.
- Dopamine Imbalance - low dopamine correlates with low motivation, a significant risk factor in apathy, addiction, and restless leg syndrome (RLS).
- Norepinephrine Imbalance - possibly a key factor in poor focus and attention, panic attacks, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
- Epinephrine Imbalance - hyperactivity in high conditions, brain fatigue and burnout in low conditions; adrenal fatigue resulting from high stress.
- GABA Imbalance - contributes to various non-sequitur cognitive conditions, such as anxiety, impulsivity, unclear thinking, insomnia, and manic behavior -- the unpredictable variety likely due to the give-take relationship between inhibitory GABA and excitatory glutamate.
For serious issues of psychology such as depression, which involves a complicated, elusive pathophysiology, it's recommended to consult with a physician on seeking help.
However, for general, sub-optimal cognition, supplementing nootropics may help in restoring balance for better thinking.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Neurotransmitters
Through every step of neurotransmitter activity -- synthesis, reception, or synaptic availability -- nootropic supplements may help to keep each brain chemical cog in working order.
Arguably, most effective nootropics influence neurotransmitter status in one way or another, either directly or indirectly.
However, we're focusing here on the nootropic substances that seem to have a direct, reliable impact on neurotransmitter expression.
The best nootropics may help cell-to-cell communication and brain chemical balance by:
- Supplying neurotransmitter precursor material.
- Sharpening neurotransmitter receptor efficacy.
- Reducing neurotransmitter breakdown.
While it's unlikely that a single nootropic will achieve holistic brain balance, there are certain nootropics worth adding to your stack specifically for purpose of enhancing brain chemical optimization.
What are neurotransmitters going to do for mental performance? Just about everything from sharpening attention to encouraging calm relaxation.
Some of the brain chemical-supportive nootropics in Mind Lab Pro® include:
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT) is a building block amino acid used in the endogenous synthesis catecholamine neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
- N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine is among the most important nootropics for optimizing brain chemical balance in competitive, performance-driven minds.
During stressful, high-intensity and multitasking cognition, the brain burns through Tyrosine stores and catecholamine brain chemicals faster. Low catecholamine levels are in turn linked with poor attention and sluggish mental performance.
Supplementing with Tyrosine appears to help restore healthy catecholamine transmission and sharp cognition, and appears to be especially effective at enhancing mental performance under chaotic, stressful and even sleep deprived scenarios.
Vitamins B6, B9 and B12
B vitamins are involved in a number of brain chemical pathways, qualifying B vitamins as "foundational" nootropics.
In their active forms, B vitamins may improve neurotransmitter status by contributing to the production, conversion and utilization of: Serotonin, GABA, Catecholamines, and Melatonin.<6>
Vitamin B6 in particular co-facilitates the following pathways:
- Tryptophan → Serotonin
- 5-HTP → Serotonin
- L-DOPA → Dopamine
Vitamin B9, meanwhile, helps with serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine; while Vitamin B12 is a cofactor that is required for the natural synthesis of brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin.
Bacopa monnieri is one of the best natural nootropics and a legendary herbal brain tonic of ancient Ayurvedic tradition.
Valued highly for its stress adaptive and pro-memory benefits, Bacopa seems to serve an important supplementary advantage in improving acetylcholine levels, possibly through the inhibition of acetylcholinesterase -- an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of acetylcholine.
The inhibition of acetylcholinesterase potentially benefits two groups:
- Students - by optimizing ACh levels for memory and learning.
- Elderly - by alleviating cognitive decline associated with decreased ACh.
Other key benefits of Bacopa include antioxidant neuroprotection, reduced inflammation, and enhanced cerebral circulation.<7>
As a nootropic adaptogen, Rhodiola rosea seems to support neurotransmitter status through two bio-pathways:
- MAO Inhibition - Rhodiola may inhibit the action of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.<8>
- Cortisol Reduction - Via the Hypothalamus - Pituitary - Adrenal (HPA) Axis, Rhodiola may help regulate the release of stress hormone cortisol, ameliorating inappropriate stress responses.<9>
Given the rampant effects of stress, the adaptive biochemical benefits of Rhodiola may be felt both mentally and physically. As a result, Rhodiola supplementation helps to not only balance stress-related chemicals but to mitigate the secondary side effects of stress as well.
L-Theanine is most well-known for its Alpha brain wave-boosting activity that promotes feelings of wakeful relaxation. It is also a nootropic that is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier; once in the brain, it helps to regulate brain chemicals.
Specifically, L-Theanine has been suggested to play a role in modulating the brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin and GABA. In addition, L-Theanine appears to help keep the excitatory effects of the brain chemical L-Glutamate in check..
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is known as the best nootropic for memory. It achieves its cognition-enhancing effects via several different bioactivities, including roles in brain chemical regulation.
Some early animal research suggests PS helps with acetylcholine production. Perhaps more significant is PS's role in brain cell membrane fluidity in function.
PS helps to optimize healthy brain cell membranes, which are responsible for "firing' with the brain chemicals that in turn catalyze all types of brainpower. When brain cell membranes are healthy, neurotransmitters can function properly.
This means PS may optimize acetylcholine, but also may optimize the brain's ability to use all brain chemicals by virtue of its brain cell membrane support.
Like PS, Citicoline is suggested to play a role in acetylcholine synthesis, thereby supporting a key brain chemical for memory formation, new learning and overall cognitive function. Some additional early research shows Citicoline may assist with norepinephrine and dopamine.
As an important nootropic for brain energy and cell membrane formation, Citicoline also appears to offer support for the brain structures and functions that are involved in neurotransmission.
Mind Lab Pro® supplies the best nootropics for neurotransmitters associated with healthy focus, memory, clarity, mood and more.
Mind Lab Pro® nootropics -- presented in a safe, clean and premium formula -- help to realize the ultimate cognitive benefits of brain chemical balance, helping to positively influence virtually all aspects of cognition and healthy mind-body performance.
- Mufson EJ et al. Cholinergic system during the progression of Alzheimer's disease: therapeutic implications. Expert Rev Neurother. 2008 Nov; 8(11): 1703-18.
- Raote I et al. Serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) Receptor Function: Ligand-Dependent Mechanisms and Pathways. Chattopadhyay A, editor. Serotonin Receptors in Neurobiology. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2007. Chapter 6.
- Meiser J et al. Complexity of dopamine metabolism. Cell Commun Signal. 2013 May 17; 11(1): 34.
- Kemp SF et al. Epinephrine: The Drug of Choice for Anaphylaxis--A Statement of the World Allergy Organization. World Allergy Organ J. 2008 Jul; 1(Suppl 2): S18-S26.
- Abdou AM et al. Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. Biofactors. 2006; 26(3): 201-8.
- Kennedy DO. B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review. Nutrients. 2016 Feb; 8(2): 68.
- Aguiar S, Borowski T. Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Aug; 16(4): 313-326.
- Van Diermen D et al. Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Mar 18; 122(2): 397-401.
- Olsson EM et al. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb; 75(2): 105-12.