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What are Neuromodulators & How they Work? The Key to Unlocking the Brain’s Full Potential.

Learn how neuromodulators can be utilized to improve brain function and treat a variety of neurological disorders.

The brain is the most fascinating and perplexing organ of the human body since it regulates our mental, physical, and physiological activities. But the main question is how can the brain do so much activity simultaneously?

The simple answer may be found in the neural activity that causes the formation of the connection that links the cell to the rest of the body and, ultimately, to the brain.

Cells that act as receivers and interpreters of the signals sent out by many neurons are called neuromodulators. In addition, they regulate and enhance the signals that are sent from cells to the brain. They can influence our bodily activities, such as mood, pain, sleep patterns, cognitive abilities, and whatnot?!

Millions and billions of neuromodulators collaborate with one another to carry out the usual functions of life. Some of these functions include learning, attention, and heartbeat regulation.
They can also influence emotions like happiness, pleasure, fear, or temper.

This article will discuss neuromodulators’ fascinating roles in the nervous system and how they operate our bodies and mind. So keep learning.

How Neuromodulators Function

Neuromodulators

 

Neuromodulators communicate by migrating between cells and attaching to specific receptors on their target cells. Each of them binds to a distinct receptor. Dopamine molecules, for instance, bind to dopamine receptors. They initiate an action in the intended cells upon attachment. This whole process is known as Neuromodulation.

However, neuromodulators and neurotransmitters both play a role in this interaction. These are two essential substances that facilitate neuronal communication. Consider them vital information-carrying messengers transmitting from one neuron to the next.

Whereas neuromodulators are similar to coaches in this process. They alter neurotransmitters’ activity and receptors instead of directly activating the receptive neuron. Neuromodulators also make it easy to change the amount and speed of neurotransmitters, thus maintaining proper neural balance in the brain.

In this interaction process, neurotransmitters serve as sprinters. They are rapid and effective, and they activate the receiving neuron directly. They initiate a response by binding to specific receptors on the postsynaptic neuron.

The duration of action is another area where neurotransmitters and neuromodulators differ. The neuromodulators work slower than neurotransmitters, but their actions sustain, whereas the other wears off rapidly.

Neuromodulators

They are capable of acting on a greater number of molecules simultaneously.

Types of Neuromodulaotrs.

This group includes acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cannabinoids.

  • Dopamine. A type of neuromodulation that is produced in the brain and relays information between neurons and between the brain and the rest of the body. It’s a “reward center” that helps with things like remembering, moving around, being motivated, feeling happy, paying attention, and including decision-making, movement, processing rewards, focus, memory, and cognition.
  • Epinephrine and Nor-epinephrine. These molecules are used to generate our energy and thoughts as well. It works closely related to dopamine.  Mood, alertness, memory, and stress are all connected with it, along with our well famous fight to flight response.
  • Serotonin. Multiple bodily processes rely on serotonin. Because of its positive effects on one’s mood, it has earned its “happy” chemical title, which lowers stress and anxiety.  Serotonin influences mood, emotions, reduction of the feeling of pain, appetite, and digestion. As the precursor to melatonin, it also regulates sleep-wake cycles and the circadian rhythm.
  • Acetylcholine. This neuromodulator directly affects muscle tissue, facilitating the transmission of motor instruction information from our neurons to our skeletal muscles. However, it also facilitates neuroplasticity (a process of learning something new) throughout the cortex and helps direct attention elsewhere in the brain.

Other neuromodulator type includes,

  • Oxytocin. Also known by the name of the “love hormone” because of its major role in attachments and feeling with partners and children.
  • Endorphins. Endorphins are similar to opioids in structure and function, also making up the state of euphoria. The hypothalamus and pituitary glands produce them in response to pain, and can be released during physical activity.

Changes During the Day.

To better understand how these variate during the day period, let’s divide the day into 3 phases within 24 hours. The first phase begins when you awaken until nine hours past the time. In this phase, the dopamine and norepinephrine levels peak to their maximum and dominate the neuromodulatory mechanism.

The second phase occurs almost after nine hours and lasts around 16 to 17 hours post-awakening period. This phase causes the above-mentioned norepinephrine and dopamine levels to decrease and serotonin levels to increase, making it the dominating set of molecules.

The third phase begins 17 hours later, around the time of sleeping, and there is a huge variation in the levels of dopamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin; however, not many peaks of epinephrine and norepinephrine as are related to wakening and action mode behaviors.

Age-Related Changes in Neuromodulators

The brain is the only organ in the body that undergoes significant change over the course of a lifetime. The brain’s intricate structures and functions are constantly evolving, with new networks and pathways forming and old ones dying out.

In old age, decreased production of neuromodulators, including dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, has been linked to memory loss, cognitive decline, and depression.

Norepine

Dopamine and acetylcholine are two examples of neuromodulators whose levels have been demonstrated to decrease with age. This decline may play a role in the deterioration of cognitive abilities as people age and in the development of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Boosting Neuromodulators.

We are now familiar with Neuromodulators that are essential for regulating physiological functions such as mood, sleep, appetite, and cognition.

By increasing the concentration of specific neuromodulators, it is possible to improve these functions and promote well-being. Numerous research methods are being explored, and some of these methods are discussed below.

1. Exercise.

Neuromodulators

Our old school Physical activity or exercise is an excellent way to increase neuromodulator levels. And only 30 minutes of good exercise is all you need. Even only 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can boost your mood, but the benefits really start to kick in after 20. !!

If you’re familiar with the concept of a “runner’s high,” then you probably know that exercise causes the production of endorphins and a feeling of good sensations. Even a recent 2023 review showed that exercise induces a more potent effect than any antidepressant, up to 1.5 times its efficacy.

As for serotonin, studies have shown that regular cardiovascular exercise can increase serotonin levels in the brain. Reduced aggression and depressive symptoms have been linked to serotonin. As a bonus, it promotes a spirit of harmony.

Even martial arts as an exercise have been found to boost the levels of oxytocin in the body. One study found that high-intensity training in martial arts led to an increase in the levels of the hormone oxytocin.

Not only does it increases the amount of neurotransmitters, but also the amount of blood flowing to the brain is by blood-brain barrier-forming neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

Exercising has several benefits beyond the release of feel-good endorphins. Dopamine and serotonin levels rise in response to regular physical exercise, making this a wonderful method for improving your mood.

2. Diet.

Neuromodulators may also be increased via dietary means. Some of the most common strategies are,

  • Eat Tyrosine-rich foods. Dopamine synthesis relies heavily on the amino acid tyrosine, which is abundantly found in protein-rich foods, including turkey, cattle, eggs, dairy, soy, and legumes.
  • Eat Omega 3 fatty acids food. 
  • Food High in Vitamin B6 and B12. Food High in Vitamin B6 and B12 is essential for proper neuromodulation in the body as they are required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Similarly, Myelin another less-focused substance that protects nerve cells and is synthesized by Vit B12. Vitamin B6 is found in chicken, fish, potatoes, bananas, and avocados, while vitamin B12 is found in animal-based products such as meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. For vegan or vegetarian diets, fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, and plant-based milk are good sources.

4. Get the Sunlight.

Soak up some rays. The sunnier it is, the more neuromodulators our bodies make.

The lack of sunshine during the winter months can cause symptoms of depression and sadness in certain people, a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Sunlight stimulates the brain’s dopamine production, which is associated with elevated mood and motivation. Recent research has shown that exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s DDR4 (also known as dopamine receptors), leading to an increase in dopamine.

Sunlight boosts the production of dopamine in the brain, which is associated with improved mood and motivation. Recent research has proven that sunlight exposure has been found to increase the DDR4 (also known as dopamine receptors) in the brain, increasing dopamine as a result.

Multiple neuromodulators, not just dopamine, can be increased by time spent in the sun. Serotonin, sometimes known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, is one of the most well-known. Serotonin is released in response to sunlight, and this has been shown to improve mood and alleviate depressive symptoms.

The natural painkillers and feel-good molecules called endorphins can also be stimulated by time spent in the sun. In addition, melatonin, a hormone that helps control sleep and wake cycles and whose disruption has been related to depression, may be regulated by exposure to sunshine.

How much to get? In order to boost your body’s natural supply of all the mentioned molecules a boost, experts recommend spending 15–30 minutes outside every day. Dr. Huberman has also suggested getting exposure to sunlight, specifically in the earlier part of the day, as it has been proven for many health benefits.

However, it is always suggested to have safe sun exposure habits, for example, wearing a cap and applying sunscreen to the body. What other benefits can you get from safe sunlight exposure? We have the whole article here ready for you HERE!!

4. Supplementation

Many prescription medications and supplements can increase the body’s neuromodulatory activity.

Drugs like Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Schizophrenic drugs, and amphetamines are used.  Remember that these drugs are not to be used solely on our decision and must be prescribed by the doctor or neurologist, as they can also have some other drug reactions. So discussing with a doctor beforehand is crucial.

Other than drugs, supplements have been found to work to a much extent to enhance the neuromodulatory activity in the brain.

Supplements like

  1. Mucuna prunes are one of the most used supplements In this category as they are 90% dopamine in their constitution, but caution has to be made as they can raise the leaves of dopamine really high. Suggesting a low dose and then increasing your prescribed dosage by the doctor is still advised.

2. L.tyrosine.  The other supplement is L.tyrosine, which is an amino acid supplement used in the production of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. L-tyrosine supplementation has been proven to enhance cognition, memory, and mood in stressed or sleep-deprived individuals. Dr. Huberman suggests a dosage between 500mg to 1000mg once a week.

3. Phenylethylamine (PEA) is another supplement that enhances the levels of dopamine and other motivation-related neuromodulators in the body. It is a very short-acting compound, and dosage can be used between 600-800mg.

4. Myo-inositol. Another famous compound that can also be used as a neuromodulatory booster is Myo-inositol. It has been found that Myo-inositol supplements reduce panic disorder symptoms in women with panic disorder and ameliorate depressive symptoms. The reason behind this is Myo-inositol increases the levels of circulatory serotonin in the body.

5. Sip Caffeine.

Yes, this favorite and popular beverage has been known for improving our mood, energy, and attention. It works by raising the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine’s level in the body and at the same time reducing the adenosine content, a compound needed for sleep induction.

Research has also been conducted proving the increase in receptor sites (D3 and D4 for dopamine) with consumption of 100-250 mg of caffeine.

How much to get? It has been proven by many researchers that the optimum amount of coffee to be taken to reap benefits is around 100-250 ms with a maximum upper limit of 400mg.

6. Stay Cold.

Cold exposure can be a great way to boost the neuromodulatory activity in the body. According to previous research, immersion in cold water increases dopamine levels by 250 percent.  The research has proven that a 60-degree Fahrenheit temperature of water for two hours has been found to boost dopamine levels in the body.

Another recent research shows that 45 degrees Fahrenheit temperature of water exposure for only 30  seconds can also boost dopamine and other neuromodulators you need.  Our brief article has already discussed exposure to cold and its benefits. Go and have a read HERE.

7. Avoid Bright Lights.

Another method to keep up the levels of all neuromodulators high is by avoiding bright light.

The idea that exposure to strong light, especially in the late evening, might disturb the circadian rhythm and impact melatonin output in the body may strike some people as odd, yet it has been the subject of a significant amount of research that suggests such an effect.

Additionally, it has been found that exposure to bright light can disrupt the equilibrium between dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, leading to significant behavioral shifts and an imbalance in cognitive function.

Therefore, the best action is to avoid exposure to light, particularly artificial light, between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Another approach suggested by experts is to avoid light exposure around 17-18 hours after a person has woken up.

8. Focus!!

Focusing on any target or a point can increase the neuromodulatory activity in the brain. Research has backed this claim as doing any practicing task, such as playing video games, or doing puzzles, can increase ht levels of neuromodulation found in the brain.

Combining tasks and exercise has also been found to give better results. Things like staring at a particular visual target and narrowing your focus to one point for 30 to 60 seconds increase the acetylcholine receptors and improve focus further.

Undoubtedly, neuromodulators are very important for normal functioning and physiological processes. And now, progress in science and technology has also led to more novel treatments and therapies targeting specific neuromodulatory systems. Research is ongoing to enhance this field further so we can learn more about how our brain works and provide treatment strategies to people in need.

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Dr Aimen

Being a Doctor by profession, Aimen is passionate about helping people get better health in their lives. Aimen enjoys her research on Prime With Time subjects and strives to create better awareness of the problems and changes related to women's health.
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