Neurotransmitter Testing and Screening

One of the most popular methods used by practitioners to test neurotransmitter levels is a urine test that measures the actual levels of neurotransmitters in the urine.

However, in an article in the Townsend letter titled, Urinary Neurotransmitter Testing: Problems and Alternatives, by Julia Ross, M.A., founder of Recovery Systems in Northern California, that this type of urine testing is not very reliable.

She cites a study that states “levels of neurotransmitters in urine vary rapidly in reaction to both stress, chemistry and diet-related (especially pH) changes.” When urine testing was compared to cerebrospinal fluid, which is well known to be the most accurate method for measuring neurotransmitters, results did not correspond. Additionally, Julia states that this is what has found to be true in her own recovery center. She also feels that using a screening tool that she designed that asks a variety of questions is just as reliable as a lab test.

Dr. Charles Gant, of the Academy of Functional Medicine, tells us that the level of neurotransmitters in the blood or urine tell us nothing about what is going on in the brain. He recommends testing for the neurotransmitter precursors (aminos, b vitamins, minerals and fatty acids) and neurotransmitter metabolites through an Organic Acids test an Amino Acid Plasma and an RBC mineral test. However, he also uses a written questionnaire that he designed as a screening tool as well. If you have the funds, I recommend testing all the precursors and metabolites. If not, then his screening tool will be beneficial.

Although random supplementation with amino acids may be helpful for some people, the most effective approach is to be tested and know exactly which neurotransmitters you are deficient in and take the supplements that are needed for your specific body chemistry.

Taking too much of amino acid or supplement when you don’t need it can put the neurotransmitters further out of balance and create new problems. Either way, lab tests or screening tests should always be used as a guide and not a Rule.

Additionally, amino acids must be accompanied by their vitamin and mineral co-factors or they are ineffective. So, for example, if you are deficient in vitamin B6, which is needed to make the conversion from tryptophan to serotonin, then tryptophan by itself will not be effective. Knowing which neurotransmitters are out of balance is also important because they work together and sometimes one is the precursor to another.

It’s also really crucial to know what your goals are, because even amino acids and herbs can be counter-productive if you don’t know what you’re trying to address. If you’re trying to decrease levels of norepinephrine and increase serotonin at the same time, then some supplements are not the best choice.

For example, St. John’s Wort is a popular herb used to treat depression, however it is not good for someone with excessively high levels of norepinephrine, because it also increases norepinephrine.

Melatonin which is often used to help people sleep will also increase norepinephrine levels and tyrosine will also increase norepinephrine, so anyone with high levels of norepinephrine would not want to take these products.

So, if you try to address a depression problem and aren’t aware you have high levels of norepinephrine as well, then the product you take could be counterproductive and exacerbate some of your symptoms.

Dosage is important as well.  The amount of particular nutrients needed varies from person to person depending on biochemistry. Taking an amino acid supplement from the health food store without some guidance from a professional may not have the correct dosage or combination of nutrients needed for your body.

I cannot stress enough, how important it is to work with a knowledgeable health provider anytime you take a product like Sam-e, 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort or any amino acid, herbal or nutritional formula that manipulates neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are a very complex issue with many variables to take into account.

This is THE REASON why DBM Practitioners do not use supplements as a general rule.  Adjusting diet and dealing with external and internal causes, is mandatory practice for all DBM Physicians.

Source: Holistic