Neurotransmitters are the unsung heroes of our brains. In order for the brain to function, its cells must be able to talk to each other. In order for them to communicate, messages must be able to travel from one nerve cell (neuron) to another, passing through a gap known as the synapse.
Neurotransmitters are the chemicals which transport these messages across the synapse to the receiving neuron. Once our neurotransmitters have accomplished this, the message has been sent and received.
This process is carried out at an unimaginable pace by an astonishing number of these chemicals, as they carry an astronomical number of messages every second of every day.
A healthy brain needs a huge supply of neurotransmitters in order to process thoughts and emotions to fullest capacity. The brain also needs the correct balance of neurotransmitters to function.
What happens to the brain if the supply of neurotransmitters becomes depleted?
Without enough of the right neurotransmitters doing their job we can lose many of our thoughts and memories, as well as our ability to think coherently. These thoughts and memories may still be stored in the brain, but cannot be accessed any longer. We may also experience personality change as our brain's structure has been altered.
The death of neurons can cause neurotransmitter loss. It is also possible that an inadequate supply of these neurotransmitting chemicals may cause areas of the brain to cease working together. A vicious cycle ensues. More and more neurons and neurotransmitters die, which in turn brings on even more destruction, with the end result being dementia.
There are over fifty types of dementia. Alzheimer's is the most common form, followed by vascular dementia.
In the cases of both Alzheimer's and vascular dementia, the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and acetylcholine in particular, are dangerously reduced.
In the brains of Alzheimer's victims, a number of different kinds of damage can occur within brain cells. Neurofibrillary tangles are bits of protein clogging neurons. Neuritic plaques are clumps of dead and dying neurons, other brain cells and protein.