Brain chemical imbalance does not have to be permanent. We are all born with a certain predispositions when it comes to brain chemical imbalance and we all have a relative imbalance to some extent. Put another way, what is normal to one may be imbalance to another. Still this inherent chemical framework can be manipulated by many things. Whether we know it or not, things as basic as food and sleep can have dramatic effects on our mental well being. Like food many of these things are within our control.
Whether you yourself have mental illness or you know someone who has struggled with this, it is not to hard to relate to it. We all have some feeling of worry and stress about things as well as down and depressed from time to time. However someone with a true brain chemical imbalance and mental health illness will experience these ups and downs with much greater peaks and valleys.
The imbalance can be initiated from many different sources. For instance, problems can arise from not enough of the right types of foods like protein (more on this below). Problems could also arise from inadequate rest, constant life stress, changes in medications, chronic or new illness, etc. These things disrupt the balance in brain chemicals by shifting the amount of stimulating or sedating neurochemicals present.
There are 4 main stimulatory neurochemicals Dopamine, Norepinephrine (and Epinephrine), Glutamate and Seratonin (can also be calming in small amounts). While each is unique in how it makes us feel and what it does, they all act to make us more awake generally speaking. On the Sedation side there is really only one major neurotransmitter and that is Gama Amino Buteric Acid (GABA). Opiates made by the body like endorphins and enkephalins are also sedating. On both sides the balance can be effected by changing the amount of these chemicals that are made or the amount and efficiency that they are broken down at.
Adequate nutrition is fundamental to brain chemical balance. The neurochemicals themselves come from proteins, more specifically amino acids (which come from proteins). So not consuming enough protein would be a major insult to brain chemical balance. This kind of brain chemical imbalance can be seen in athletes who don’t consider their nutrition, those that restrict calories for long periods of time. Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet makes you more susceptible to protein deficiency and the correspond amino acids. However, with a little effort you can get enough amino acids by eating vegan and vegetarian diet. Weather you are Vegan or omnivore, knowing the fundamentals of nutrition is good place to start.
Nutrition can be broken up into macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. Macro-nutrients are the big aspects of nutrition and consist of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Micro-nutrients are everything else and consist of the smaller aspects like vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients. For a balanced brain chemistry it is important to have adequate amounts of all of the above. For instance, low blood sugar (carbs) can trigger a cortisol or epinephrine spike leading to anxiety or stress response. Fatty acids are the main component the brain tissue is made up of. One particular fatty acid, omega 3, is important for mood stability. Certain vitamins and minerals are needed for both the production and breakdown of neurotransmitters. The list of possible roles of nutrition in mental health is very long. As such good nutrition is fundamental to good mental health.
Typically when we think of genetics we think about things that we cannot do anything about. While this is true of our genetics it is not true of how the genetics are expressed. Expression of genes refers to how they actually influence our lives, our physical bodies and biochemistry. When it comes to brain chemistry, there are several genetic factors that influence the balance of chemicals in both the breakdown and production side. Two of the most common are the MTHFR enzyme and COMT enzymes.
The MTHFR enzymes effects brain chemistry balance through its effect on neurotransmitter production. When the MTHFR enzymes are genetically altered the body has reduced ability to make some neurotransmitters. Conversely a genetic alteration in the COMT leads to a slow down in the bodies ability to breakdown some neurotransmitters. Fortunately both of these can be improved with adequate nutrition.
There are many influences on brain chemical imbalance and many of them are discussed above. When mental health problems are present it is important to address these fundamental aspects of brain chemistry first and foremost. In many cases approaching these aspects of brain chemistry can be the real problem to begin with. In other cases it can have a huge impact on improving mental health disorders.