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NERVOUS SYSTEM 101

The Nervous System controls most of the body's functions. It is organised a bit like the internet. The internet is made of billions of computers connected by wires. The Nervous System is made up of billions of nerve cells (neurons) which process information like computers, and are inter-connected by wire-like 'tentacles' called axons.

The axons have fatty myelin sheaths wrapped around them, like electrical wires have plastic coating, to insulate the passage of electrical signals down them.

The neuron produces a parcel of information, and passes it to other neurons in the web. This information travels over the axon as electricity, and the information is transmitted to the dendrites of the receiving neuron.

 

Between the axon of the sending (pre-synaptic) neuron, and the dendrite of the receiving (post-synaptic) neuron, is a space, called the synapse. The electrical signal can not jump this space. The information is transmitted across the synaptic space by neurotransmitters. The sending neuron manufactures and stores neurotransmitters in its axon. When an electrical signal arrives at the end of the axon, the neurotransmitter is released into the synapse, and binds to its receptors on the receiving neuron's dendrite. When enough neurotransmitter binds to the dendrite, the electrical signal is generated and continues down the receiving nerve.

So that the next electrical signal can be transmitted across the synapse, the neurotransmitter must be removed quickly. This is primarily done by pumping the neurotransmitter back into the sending neuron, using special re-uptake pumps. This enables the neurotransmitter to be recycled and used. To help speed up the process of clearing the neurotransmitter out of the synapse, there are degrading enzymes (MAO, COMT) in the synapse that breakdown any left over neurotransmitter.

While there are many neurotransmitters in the brain and body, two important neurotransmitter systems are the serotonin and catecholamine (dopamine -> nor-adrenaline -> adrenaline) systems. These two systems usually work together, in balance, much like the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems.

If there is damage to the sending nerve, then it may not be able to make enough neurotransmitters using the raw materials supplied by an optimal diet. If there is damage to the receiving neuron, it may require more neurotransmitter binding to continue the electrical signal than the sending nerve can make, even on an optimal diet. Either way, the signal is not transmitted, the nerve pathway is not activated, and dysfunction happens somewhere in the brain or body. The damage may be reversible by adding missing good stuff (vitamins, minerals, hormones, growth factors, protein, fats etc), and/or removing excessive bad stuff (man-made electromagnetic radiation, heavy metals, allergens, chronic infections etc). But often there is residual permanent damage that can not be repaired.

Symptoms that may be caused by this neurotransmitter deficiency include

addiction

appetite increase

attention deficit disorder like symptoms

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder like symptoms

anxiety

autism like symptoms

binging behaviour

cognitive decline (subjective cognitive impairment, mild cognitive impairment, dementia)

concentration decrease

Crohn's Disease like symptoms

depersonalisation disorder like symptoms

depression

eating disorders

fatigue

fibromyalgia like symptoms

food cravings

panic attacks

hyperactivity

insomnia

irritable bowel like symptoms

migraine like symptoms

movement disorders (ie essential tremour, restless legs, Parkinson's Disease)

obsessive compulsive disorder like symptoms

pain tolerance decrease

pre-menstrual syndrome like symptoms

seasonal affective disorder like symptoms

Tourette’s Syndrome like symptoms

trichotillomania

Ulcerative Colitis like symptoms

weight gain

weight loss difficulty

However, we can improve the likelihood of signal transmission across the synapse if we can increase the amount of neurotransmitter in the synapse. There are two ways of doing this:

1. block the recycling process by inhibiting the re-uptake pump. This way the sending neuron can't take back all of the neurotransmitter it released, so when the next signal arrives, there is some residual neurotransmitter in the synapse, and the receiving nerve is more likely to fire. The Re-Uptake Inhibitor drugs (RUI) do this. They re-distribute the drug from inside the sending neuron to inside the synapse. In theory they should work, but in practice they are only 7-20% more effective than placebo (doing nothing). And they affect neurotransmitter levels and chemical reactions in other parts of the brain and body, leading to many unwanted 'side' effects. But worse, they lead to depletion of the total amount of neurotransmitter in the system, which was the problem in the first place. This happens because as the neurotransmitter spends more time in the synapse, it is broken down by the degrading enzyme in the synapse. Because more neurotransmitter can't be made by the sending nerve as the dietary intake of raw materials is already maximised, there is a depletion of the total amount of neurotransmitter in the system. So while the drug initially worked, eventually it will stop working (tolerance) as there is less neurotransmitter for it to block. Usually the doctor will then increase the dose and/or add another drug to block a different neurotransmitter. This may help a little briefly, but will make the whole problem worse eventually. Indeed, if the drug is ceased, and the re-uptake pump starts working again and pumping neurotransmitter back into the sending nerve, there will be less neurotransmitter in the synapse than before the drug was started, and the symptoms will return, but worse than before starting the RUI. We call this Discontinuation Syndrome, but what it is, is addiction.

2. make more neurotransmitters, by loading the sending neuron with more raw materials than can be achieved by dietary intake alone. These raw materials are amino acids and the vitamins and minerals needed in manufacturing the neurotransmitters.

L-tryptophan and 5-HTP are converted into serotonin, and tyrosine and L-Dopa are converted into dopamine, which is then converted to nor-adrenaline and adrenaline as required. Once the amount of neurotransmitter is increased to the level required by the person's particular needs, the symptoms caused by the raw material (precursors) relative deficiency cease. If the person is taking a re-uptake inhibitor, the RUI now starts working, as it has more neurotransmitter to block. Once the supplements are optimised for a person, it is possible to start slowly reducing then ceasing the  RUI without getting any withdrawal effects.