By: Erin Orth, PharmD
Your body is made up of countless cells, organs, chemicals, and biological processes, all of which work together to coordinate activities your body can do, from breathing and sleeping to driving a car or doing a cartwheel. At the center of these processes is your central nervous system, most commonly referred to as “the brain”. We all know the brain is responsible for thinking and feeling, but do we know HOW these things occur? What happens in the brain that makes our stomach digest our breakfast, our arm throw a baseball, or our eyes produce tears when we’re sad? All of these actions are controlled by our brain, but more specifically they are controlled by chemicals called “neurotransmitters”. Neurotransmitters are defined as “any of the several chemical substances that transmit nerve impulses across a synapse to a post-synaptic element, such as another nerve, muscle, or gland”1. In other words, neurotransmitters are chemicals released from a nerve after your body gets an input: any sense of touch, smell, taste, vision, feeling, noise, etc acts as an input, and has the potential to affect neurotransmitter release from a nerve. As you may guess, this means that EVERY SINGLE THING that happens to us throughout each and every minute of the day can cause these chemicals to be released. That’s a lot of power these little neurotransmitters have over us! In fact, neurotransmitters regulate cognition, memory, emotions, respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, metabolism, as well as additional hormone responses2.
Because neurotransmitters have so many responsibilities in our brains, they also have an enormous influence over things like emotions, mood, perception, awareness, and reasoning. If any of these brain chemicals are even slightly out of balance, disturbances in our personality can occur, which are often defined as “mental illness”. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, approximately 7% of American adults suffer from major depression, and 18% live with an anxiety disorder of some type (panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, etc)3. These statistics are most likely lower than expected, since they only represent SEVERE disease. The typical approach to treating mental illness includes an assessment of the patient’s symptoms by the provider, and then a class of medications is selected first, then that class is narrowed down to a single prescription medication. Often times the best drug (or drug combination in some cases) is NOT chosen by the prescriber due to missing/inaccurate information provided by the patient or an incorrect/insufficient assessment of the patient’s symptoms by the provider. There is so much individual variability when it comes to both the types of mental illness as well as each patient’s response to the “typical” therapies. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we had a concrete, measurable value that could be assessed in addition to the patient’s subjective symptom report?
In fact, there IS a test we can perform to give us an objective, measurable value that we can evaluate in conjunction with the patient’s self-reported symptoms that can help us more accurate diagnose illness as well as choose the most appropriate therapy for that particular illness. The general terminology for the above-defined value is a “bio-marker”, which have multiple characteristics that make them useful. They can predict probability of onset or presence of a (psychiatric) disorder, classify severity, indicate prognosis (or outcome), and track medication treatments and how well they work! Dr. Amnon Kahne, a well-known neurologist and scientist, believes neurotransmitters found in the urine fit the qualifications to be classified as “bio-markers” for psychiatric illness4. This is relevant since the previous diagnostic methods included extremely invasive procedures, like brain biopsies and spinal taps. Using urine as the collection tool is very easy, although it used to entail collecting ALL of your urine over the course of 24 hours in a very conspicuous gallon jug. The scientists at ZRT Laboratories have an ingenious and convenient breakthrough in the study of urine neurotransmitters, and their test kit allows you to collect your urine on urine strips, which are dried and sent in a very discreet package to ZRT Labs in Oregon. The laboratory at ZRT tests both excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitters like glutamate, histamine, epinephrine, and dopamine, as well as inhibitory (calming) neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA2.
You may be asking yourself, “How does this apply to me?”. Aside from the fact that a large number of Americans are diagnosed with mental health issues yearly (either you or someone you love may be suffering), the truth is that prescription medication is not always the answer! In fact, if your neurotransmitters are tested and found to be too high or too low, the vast majority of the time, the correction is through over-the-counter supplements and diet changes. Sounds pretty easy, right? No doctor’s appointments, no prescriptions, no waiting for the pharmacy, no insurance hassles to deal with: many of these imbalances can be corrected with high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade supplementation of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids you may be lacking2.
Don’t suffer needlessly any longer! Get your kit for neurotransmitter testing today and get busy getting on with your life!
- (n.d.).Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved October 17, 2016 from Dictionary.com websitehttp://www.dictionary.com/browse/neurotransmitter
- Placzek, K. ZRT Laboratories [Zava, D]. (2016). Clinical Utility of Urinary Neurotransmitter Testing [videa webinar]. Retrieved from http://info.zrtlab.com
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Mental Illness. Facts and Numbers.; 2013.
- Kahane, A. (2009). Urinary Neurotransmitter Analysis as a Biomarker for Psychiatric Disorders. Townsend Letter, 1, 70-72.