For the Family & Loved Ones

Here’s to Neural Networks!

This article originally appeared on https://www.breakingthecycles.com/blog/2021/10/13/heres-to-neural-networks/ and was written by Lisa Frederiksen.

Neural networks form the basis of our brain and body’s communication system. In other words, they are how neurons in the brain – called brain cells – “talk” to one another and then to and from others throughout the body via the nervous system. Two important pieces in this “talking” process are neurotransmitters and receptors. [FYI – neural networks are also referred to as neural circuitry and the electro-chemical signaling process.]

The health of these networks is important to normal brain functioning and therefore a person’s emotional and physical health.

About Neural Networks

We are born with about 100 billion brain cells (also known as neurons) but only a small fraction are ‘wired’ at birth. Basically, this means “talking to one another.” And it is this talking, along with key brain developmental processes in utero through approximately age 25, that allows our brains to control everything we think, feel, say and do. Everything!

The image below shows the five primary components of a neural network:Understanding neural networs

Key components of neural networks.

When “something” changes any of these components, that something changes thoughts, feelings and behaviors. For purposes of this post, I’m going to zero in on two components: neurotransmitters and receptors.

About Neurotransmitters and Receptors

Neurotransmitters and receptors are the keys to moving the electrical signal (the message) from one neuron to another. In other words, they are the “something” that converts the electrical signal when it reaches the end of the outgoing branchlike extension on one neuron into a chemical that can cross the synapse (the gap between two neuron’s branchlike extensions) to bind to receptors on the receiving neuron’s branchlike extension, where it is converted back into an electrical signal to carry on the “message.” And notice the words, “bind to receptors.”

Receptors are what accept the neurotransmitter, like a “key in a door lock,” and convert the signal back into an electrical signal that can then travel up the axon (the incoming branchlike extension) to carry on the message to the receiving neuron. Each neurotransmitter has a specific type of receptor that can only accept that particular neurotransmitter.

Four common neurotransmitters include:

Dopamine is our “feel good” neurotransmitter — in other words, it’s the one that connects the neurons responsible for motivation, interest and drive; the neural networks in the brain’s “pleasure/reward” system.

Serotonin is key to our moods, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation and some social behavior.

Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain –the accelerator, if you will.

GABA (Gamma amino butyric acid) GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter — the brakes.

When the neurotransmitter / receptor combination is not in balance (meaning equal parts of each), then the neuron’s message – the electrical signal – does not get through optimally.

What Can Change the Neurotransmitter / Receptor Balance & thus Change Neural Networks

Genetics – some people are born with higher or lower levels of one or more neurotransmitters and/or receptors for a specific neurotransmitter. For this, a person may take medications that increase or inhibit specific neurotransmitters.

Poor nutrition – the body “makes” neurotransmitters from proteins and certain vitamins, minerals and amino aces. When a person’s nutrition is poor (aka, they don’t eat a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet), their body cannot make the healthy levels of neurotransmitters needed for healthy neural network communications.

Toxic Substances – the chemicals in drugs, alcohol, pesticides and other substances taken at a toxic level harm the production of neurotransmitters in the brain or they bind to receptors but not as intended. Thus they change how neural networks work. These changes can change a person’s thought, feelings, and behaviors. For this, a person might reduce the amount of alcohol they consume, restrict their drug use to only those prescribed under the care of a medical doctor, and/or find a treatment program that may help them recover from an alcohol or other substance use disorder.

Hormonal Changes – such as those caused by conditions affecting the thyroid, adrenal, male and female sex hormones, for example, can cause neurotransmitter imbalances. For this, a complete physical with one’s doctor can help identify any problem areas and what courses of action may be taken to correct them.

Health Conditions – such as a head injury or mental health conditions (disorders) or a sugar imbalance or the stress associated with secondhand drinking – anything that interrupts the brain’s natural ability to produce, maintain and balance neurotransmitters. For this, a person should seek the help of a trained professional (neurologist, psychiatrist or psychologist, for example).

In Summary

Basic Brain facts to explain neural networks

There is a great deal we can do to heal and protect our brain’s health overall. The place to start is with understanding neural networks as the basis of our brain and body’s communication system and then doing what we can to keep them working at optimum levels.

For a more complete explanation of this and other aspects of how it is our brain controls everything we think, feel, say and do, check out Lisa Frederiksen’s book Changing the Conversations.