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Brain Chemistry 101

Our brain is comprised of 100 Billion nerve cells, thousands of different types of neurons, and innumerable connections between all those cells. It's not surprising that the brain is almost like the "last frontier" when it comes understanding how our bodies work. Here are some simple things to know about our brains in relation to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Brain cells communicate with each other chemically. If there isn't enough chemical to communicate, things get rough. (This is my super scientific explanation!) For a helpful 2 minute video about how this works check out this video:

The chemicals most often related to Depression & Anxiety are: Serotonin, Norepinephrine, Dopamine, and Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). There are more but for our purposes we are going to focus on these four.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and none of the advice offered here, or anywhere else on my blog, am I encouraging you to make decisions without consulting your medical professional. I also don't claim to be a neuroscientist or dietician. I'm sharing information provided by Dr Nedley and others. (See reference list).


A lack of Serotonin can cause:

  • inability to stay calm

  • sleeplessness

  • intermittent feelings of panic or impending doom

  • low frustration tolerance

  • sadness

  • feelings of emptiness

  • thinking errors

  • obsessive thinking

  • social phobias

  • anxiety

  • trembling/shakiness

  • on edge

Medications designed to manipulate serotonin can help improve many of these symptoms. There are side effects to medication so boosting serotonin levels naturally can be beneficial.

Increasing serotonin in the brain requires tryptophan (the amino acid precursor to Serotonin) but also enough carbs to get the tryptophan into the brain. Higher amounts of magnesium and vitamin B6, bright light, and physical exercise can all help. The supplement 5-HTP can also help--and taking it right before bed can help sleeplessness.


Deficiencies in norepinephrine can produce:

  • lack of concentration

  • fatigue

  • irritability

  • brain fog

  • memory loss

  • struggling with pattern recognition

Boosting norepinephrine not only requires foods high in tyrosine, foods low in protein and high in natural carbohydrates. It also takes folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B12.


Signs of a lack of dopamine includes:

  • apathy

  • lack of pleasure

  • lack of motivation

  • social isolation

  • diminished libido

  • lack of appetite

  • loss of desire for learning new things

Boosting dopamine requires tyrosine, folate, and vitamin B12.

Unhealthy foods (sugary sweets and chocolates) and unhealthy sexual practices decrease dopamine receptors and dopamine levels. Sometimes a 90 day fast from addictive substances and behavior helps to restore dopamine levels.

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

GABA slows the brain down. It inhibits neural activity, facilitates sleep, reduces stress, and lowers anxiety. Low levels of GABA lead to:

  • anxiety

  • chronic stress

  • insomnia

  • muscle pain/headaches

  • difficulty concentrating

GABA can be found in natural sources as well as supplements. Food containing GABA include whole grains, soy, lentils, nuts, fish, citrus, tomatoes, berries, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes.


Breus. M.J. (2019). 3 Amazing Benefits of GABA. Psychology Today.

Nedley, N. (2018). Nedley Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program Workbook. Nedley Publishing.


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