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Neurotransmitters is a fancy word for chemical messengers in the brain that communicate with the central nervous system. These molecules are essential for human functioning, whether it be something as simple as sneezing or something more complex like solving an algebraic equation. Neurotransmission occurs at the synapse which is the site where chemical and molecular information is exchanged, generating an electrical impulse. For every one of the billions of neurons floating around the brain and body, there are an estimated 125 trillion synapses in the gray matter alone. This is not including the brain stem, cerebrum, and cerebellum. The five primary neurotransmitters that operate 24hrs in the cerebrospinal nervous system are dopamine (DA), serotonin (5-HT), norepinephrine (NE), acetylcholine (ACh), Gaba-aminobutryic acid (GABA), and lastly glutamate.  Not all neurotransmitters are the same, some are created from small molecules and others come from amino acids. Dopamine is famous for being the pleasure-seeking chemical; however, it is more of a reward-seeking chemical because of its involvement in the limbic system. Dopamine is classified as a monoamine and can be both excitatory or inhibitory meaning that it has the power to increase or decrease the likelihood of an action potential firing. When a neurotransmitter is excitatory this simply means that there is more of a chance that it will fire a synapse to the receiving neuron and vice versa for inhibitory chemical transmitters. Chances are dopamine is released when listening to music, exercising, eating food, and engaging in sexual intercourse. Serotonin is another popular monoamine and is responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles, mood, and memory. What is particularly interesting about serotonin is that almost 80% of the body’s total amount of serotonin resides in the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, this is where the saying “butterflies in my stomach” comes from, it is simply just an excess amount of serotonin that causes an upset stomach. Furthermore, norepinephrine is an excitatory chemical messenger that is a close relative of the amino acid known as tyrosine. It works in conjunction with the body’s sympathetic nervous system which is activated during a fight or flight response. The greater norepinephrine received by the postsynaptic neuron the higher strain will be put on the blood vessels as this is essentially the body’s emergency readiness protocol. Another key responsibility of norepinephrine is to work alongside epinephrine which is considered both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. Epinephrine still plays a role in responding to psychological or physiological threats but is secreted through the adrenal glands and then diffuses into the bloodstream unlike norepinephrine. Acetylcholine on the other hand can also be either excitatory or inhibitory and communicates information at the neuromuscular junction telling muscles to contract. Acetylcholine is active when doing bicep curls at the gym or in something as simple as the thoracic cavity muscles contracting when breathing occurs. Gaba-aminobutyric acid, also called GABA, is a fancy name for an inhibitory neurotransmitter that works in conjunction with the rest and digest responses of the parasympathetic nervous system. People who struggle with anxiety disorders have been known to have abnormally low levels of GABA. Glutamate functions completely contrary to GABA in the sense that it is the brain’s most popular excitatory chemical transmitter that significantly contributes to the stages of cognitive development as well as neural plasticity. Now since you know all the nitty gritty stuff about the brain and its chemicals, take care of your brain because it does so much for you! A few practical ways to nourish both the brain and body is to make sure to get adequate sleep each night (6-8 hours), stay hydrated, and eat a well-balanced diet with a plethora of carbs, healthy fats, vegetables, and protein. Your brain just might thank you.

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My name is Kayla Murphy and I was born and raised in Phoenix. I am currently a freshman studying Psychology with a minor in Behavioral Health Science. Apart from writing I love painting and reading books.
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