Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in your brain carrying information from nerve cells, or neurons, to receptor cells, which carry electrical impulses through the spinal cord and out to the nerves in your body. In other words, your brain passes along messages through chains of cells to different body parts, telling them how to operate. According to Mind Disorders, approximately 50 neurotransmitters have been identified and are used by billions of neurons in the brain. Neurotransmitters need vitamins and minerals to be used properly by the brain, and supplements can help facilitate this process.
Certain types of neurotransmitters benefit from adequate amounts of certain types of vitamins and minerals. Prominent neurotransmitters include dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and acetylcholine. The B vitamins are necessary for all of these to work efficiently as well as vitamin C, folic acid and others. This is most likely where the term "brain food" originated. All of the functions under the control of your brain rely on neurotransmitters, which in turn rely on proper nutrition to function optimally.
Features of Dopamine
The neurotransmitter dopamine is necessary for sexual arousal, assertiveness, the immune system, motivation, focus and movement. Dopamine can be depleted in the brain by stress and lack of adequate sleep and rest. This is why when you are stressed, you find it difficult to focus, motivate yourself and get the sleep you need.
Antioxidants help protect dopamine stores. According to the National Library of Medicine, vitamins A, C and E are "excellent sources of antioxidants." Others include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and selenium.
Features of Serotonin
The word "serotonin" has become quite commonplace throughout America due to the increased use of a class of anti-depression medications referred to as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications keep cells in the brain from depleting stores of serotonin, which are important in mood and anxiety stabilization. Serotonin also promotes good sleep, feelings of well-being and calmness, as well as helping to regulate learning, memory, blood pressure, appetite and body temperature. Low levels of serotonin produce depression, insomnia, aggression and obsessive-compulsive traits. Serotonin needs vitamins B1, B3, B6 and folic acid to be utilized optimally in the body.
Features of Norepinephrine
Norepinephrine is known as an excitatory neurotransmitter because it leads to the rush that you feel when you are excited, nervous, fearful and motivated to act. It is also known as noradrenalin. When adrenalin is released, you find yourself capable of doing things you may never have thought possible. According to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, norepinephrine is needed for motivation, alertness, concentration, memories, arousal of brain activity, metabolism and even super-human strength in many documented cases. Both norepinephrine and dopamine rely on amino acids to work properly as well as the following nutrients: vitamins B3, B6 and vitamin C. Folic acid, iron and copper are needed in adequate amounts as well.
Features of Acetylcholine
Acetylcholine is a primary neurotransmitter in the carrying of memory, ability to think and reason, concentration, focus, metabolization of fats and muscle coordination. Low levels of this brain chemical may lead to a marked decrease in memory and cognition. For your body to make acetylcholine, it needs to consume proper amounts of choline, which is a member of the vitamin B family. Supplements that help this neurotransmitter function include phosphatidyl choline, vitamin C and vitamin B5. All of these must be present to synthesize acetylcholine.