How Neurotransmitter Dysfunction Affects Our Mood

As we discussed in our intro article to this series, the health of our gut affects many physiological and psychological conditions. The gut is connected to the brain stem through the vagus nerve through a bi-directional channel which allows not only our mood to affect our gut (stress causes “butterflies” in the stomach) but our gut health to affect our mood. As a side note, I have never had a client who struggled with mood issues that did not also have gut issues. I have witnessed the beauty of how healing the gut has allowed them to taper from medications for depression and anxiety. I have seen first hand how addressing the issues in the gut can not only make digestion feel better (less gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation), but it can change the entire mood state of a person and the way they see the world. Bottom line, addressing your gut and your food can CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

We have established that the vagus nerve connects the brain and the gut, but let’s talk through the things that affect that communication. Gut bacteria is one of the most integral determiners of the function of the vagus nerve. It is the gut’s nerve cells and microbes that release the neurotransmitter that allow the gut to speak to the brain. This is the “language” spoken by the gut. Gut bacteria and microbes affect neurotransmitter function. Neurotransmitter function affects mood expression (anxiety, depression, mania). Mood expression affects gut function. Remember the butterflies in the stomach? It is one big loop, and any disruption in the loop causes a disruption in all parts that are involved. Understand that when you feel depression (chemical depression, not depression caused by a short term situation), the root is actually in the gut! That is why doctors often give psychiatric medications for IBS. The understand the gut-brain connection, but unfortunately their treatment is just symptom control, not the actual root of the problem….gut health.

Because the nerve cells in the gut are so plentiful, it is often named the “second brain.” This second brain is not only responsible for muscle function and immune function, but they also produce the neurotransmitters that affect how we feel. 80-90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut! Many traditional physicians are starting to see that dietary changes can be more effective than psychiatric medications and when patients wish to stay on meds, making dietary changes greatly enhances the efficiency of the medications.

  • Serotonin – Often called the “happy” neurotransmitter, serotonin is like the master of all feel good chemicals in the gut/brain communication. Leaky gut (see 4 references linked in last article) causes a “loss” of this neurotransmitter leading to conditions like depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, and trouble sleeping. There are fantastic supplements to raise serotonin, the leading one being 5-HTP. If you are taking any psychiatric medications, this supplement is ONLY to be taken under the care of a physician as there can be serious interactions. Brand is important as well. DO NOT just purchase this supplement from the grocery store.
  • GABA – GABA is an amino acid that is produced by the gut bacteria that helps to calm nerve activity. This neurotransmitter helps to normalize brain waves and help the nervous system to “calm” after a stressful event. Normalizing GABA through supplementation can help someone who struggles with chronic anxiety.
  • Glutatmate – This neurotransmitter has been found to control learning, cognition, and memory. A healthy brain has plenty of this neurotransmitter while a deficient brain results in symptoms like depression, behavioral issues, and anxiety. Many of today’s “common” behavior and mood conditions have been linked to a deficiency in both GABA and glutamate.

These are just 3 of the most common neurotransmitters that can be greatly affected by the health of the gut, but starting simple is important. If you currently have gut issues (constipation, food intolerances, chronic gas, bloating, diarrhea), the first step is to HEAL. Adding in supplements to a leaky gut will only be marginally effective. You must first heal and seal the gut before supplements can be effective. The next step is to contact a healthcare professional that can help you determine which supplements are right for you. Our Heart In Motion coaching program includes a comprehensive assessment of gut health and supplement recommendations, and we work with your personal physician to determine the safest course of action for you.

I encourage all of my clients who struggle with mood challenges to read THE DIET CURE by Julia Ross. It is an amazing education on how neurotransmitters affect mood and breaks symptoms down by chapter. This book gives specific supplement recommendations based on your unique symptom profile. It is one of the best books on the market to help you understand how to balance your neurotransmitters naturally and feel better. I have seen amazing results when clients use this book as a guide.

Better health and mood are within you reach!

Heart with Leaf


  • Assess your status in the gut health protocol (4 step articles listed in last article). Make sure that you have completed all 4 steps before attempting to re balance neurotransmitters.
  • Take note of your symptoms. Keep a journal of both food and mood for 1-2 weeks. Note any patterns between specific foods and mood changes. This may be difficult at first as cross reactivity can occur (like a reaction to dairy and wheat which occur together on pizza). If you notice any patterns at all, an elimination diet may be warranted to figure out which foods are causing reactions.
  • Read The Diet Cure. It can really help you to narrow down which deficiencies might be causing your symptoms.
  • Clear any new supplements with your physicians if you are currently taking medications. Most physicians are not educated on these supplements, but it is important to make sure there are not any contraindications before you get started with a new protocol.
  • Pick a good brand. If you have questions about reputable brands, send me an email at Do not choose the cheapest brands on Amazon or at the store. They often do not contain what they say they contain.
  • Start supplementing slowly with ONE AT A TIME. Just like cross reactivity of foods, supplements affect the body in different ways. Choose one supplement to start with, and increase slowly until you see what is the minimum dose you will need to regulate/eliminate your symptoms.
  • Continue to keep a journal of food/mood,and add supplements into that journal. Keep track of how you feel as you start and increase the dose of your supplements. Because this is subjective, it is important to keep track of how you are feeling on a daily basis for a while until you feel like you have found the right combination of food and supplements.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Contact a wellness professional near you that can help you walk through the process.