What is a neurotransmitter?

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that help relay information throughout the body. They transmit information through nerve cells called neurons. In its most basic form a neuron has two ends (although either can have multiple branches): an axon and a dendrite. A neuron communicates with other neurons by sending neurotransmitters from its axon to a dendrite of another neuron. The space between the axon and the dendrite is called a synapse; this is the space across which a neurotransmitter must cross.

Neurotransmitters are stored in the axon (or pre-synaptic neuron) in little packages called synaptic vesicles. They are released if an appropriate charge is sent down the axon. Once released, they cross the synapse to dock with receptors on the dendrite of another neuron (often called the post-synaptic neuron). If enough neurotransmitters dock with the receptors, a signal is sent down that neuron and the message continues on. However, if not enough neurotransmitter docks with the receptor, then the message stops.

It’s a lot like electricity going through a wire.  Turning up the voltage will cause more electricity to go through the wire.  In our case, the neurotransmitters act like electricity – if we have enough electricity, the lights will come on and things will run smoothly.  If we don’t have enough electricity, things just don’t work like they should.

Either way, once the neurotransmitter is released from the receptor, it is either taken back up into the synaptic vesicle of the axon by a neurotransmitter reuptake pump/transporter or it is destroyed by enzymes that are present in the synapse.

If the neurotransmitters are taken back up into the pre-synaptic neuron via the reuptake transporters, they are protected and can be used again.  However, if the transporters are blocked (as is the case with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other medications), the neurotransmitters are eventually destroyed and cleared from the system by enzymes.

Bundles of neurons run from your brain to every organ and system in your body. Therefore, neurotransmitters help to control and regulate most of your body’s functions, including:

Mood Sleep Coordination
Memory Focus Concentration
Heart rate Body temperature Pleasure
Hunger Learning Arousal
Cravings Binging Addiction
Pain sensation/tolerance Digestion Breathing
Breathing Blood pressure Kidney function
Hormone balance Weight Behavior

Most neurotransmitters are classified in one of two types – inhibitory and excitatory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters slow down the flow of information by calming and reducing the activity of neurons; they help to bring balance to the body. Excitatory neurotransmitters generally increase the flow of information. It is the balance between the inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters that has the greatest effect on your body functions.


  1. Nancy Abler

    Ant Depressants alter the Neurotransmitter functioning system with intention to balance the system. Much evidence now exists that these Psyche Drugs are damaging the balance of Neurotransmitters and causing severe physical and mental problems that the patient did not have initially. These drugs have been called Chemical Lobotomies. The court filings against these drugs or abusive prescribing of them are increasing every day. What is your opinion?

    • aatadmin

      Hi Nancy – thanks for your thoughts on this subject. It is certainly true that many/most antidepressant medications can exacerbate and/or cause neurotransmitter imbalances which can lead to numerous symptoms. However, it has been our experience that these symptoms can be managed/overcome using appropriately dosed amino acid therapy. Some of the neurotoxic damage from the medications may be permanent, but even in these cases we can almost always compensate for the damage by pushing through sufficient/balanced amino acids/neurotransmitters using the viable neurons. Marty Hinz, MD has published some great work in this area; here is a link where you can find out more:

      Dr. Chad

  2. Dian

    If I discover that this therapy helps me, how long would I have to be on it? Is this something I would have to take the rest of my life or will it get better with therapy?

    • aatadmin

      Hi Dian – thanks for contacting us; the length of time a person needs to maintain their amino acids depends upon several factors, the most important of which is whether the dysfunction is due to nutritional imbalance (which is correctable and generally does not require amino acid therapy longer than 12 months) or neurotoxicity (which would require life-long amino acid therapy, although possibly at lower doses). Your provider would be able to give you a better idea which category you fall into after working with you for 3-6 months –

      Hope that helps –

      Dr. Chad


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