Physician's Fact #4: The Brain's Chemistry Set

The brain is filled with nerve cells all interconnected by their “axons”. Would you like to see an axon?

Here is an illustration of a “neuron”or nerve cell.



See how the “axon”ends in a club like appendage? And immediately next to that appendage is the tip of an axon from another nerve cell. Nerves generate and conduct electrical impulses. These impulses travel from our brain out to the body and cause our muscles to move in a co-ordinated manner. Likewise, feeling and pain generate electrical impulses that move back up the spinal cord to the brain and tell us to take our hand off the stove, for instance.


The small gap between the ends of two adjacent axons is called the synapse. If the synapse were not a gap to be filled in, then electricity would run through our brain and body all the time. The synapse is a type of switch that allows control of the impulses going back and forth between the brain and the body. So, what fills in the gap to allow the switch to be “on”?

Neurotransmitters. Big word but simple concept. As an electrical impulse nears the end of the axon, chemicals flow into the gap and provide a way for the electricity to jump across the gap and carry on down the next nerves cell. These “neurotransmitters”are absolutely essential to the switching on and off of the synapse. One of these chemicals is serotonin and we discuss the role of this chemical in depression in our book. Suffice it to say that in depression, these chemicals get depleted and are at a low level. Thus, they are out of balance and this phenomenon is where we get the idea of a “chemical imbalance”.

The key to conquering depression on the physical level is to restore a normal level of neurotransmitters. This can be done in a number of ways such as antidepressant medication, sleep, exercise, certain foods, sunlight, etc.

Now you understand what is happening in your brain to slow down your body and your mind in depression. It is a low level of these essentials “neurotransmitters”. Knowledge is power.


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