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What Is a Chemical Imbalance?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2014
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Chemical imbalances are health issues in which various essential vitamins and minerals are missing from the body, resulting in an improper production of various types of neurotransmitters. When an imbalance of this type takes place, the brain, the nerves, and the various organs of the body may not function within normal limits. Many health care experts from a wide range of disciplines believe that a chemical imbalance is the underlying cause for ailments like depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental disorders.

A chemical imbalance in the brain comes about when the body does not receive an adequate supply of nutrients, or is unable to absorb nutrients properly. When either of these conditions exist, the brain is unable to manufacture neurotransmitters that help trigger the nervous system to communicate efficiently with the various organs in the body. This leads to a general decline in function that can manifest itself in a number of ways, such as mood swings, a loss of appetite, thyroid problems, or the sudden increase in heart rate and a sense of being in danger.

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In order to diagnose a chemical imbalance, many physicians will utilize samples of blood and other body fluids to determine which nutrients are currently lacking in significant amounts. Usually, other tests are used to make sure that there is no type of malignancy or other underlying health issue that is causing various organs to function improperly. If there is no apparent damage to the organs that can account for the health issues, but the blood tests show a lack of nutrients in the bloodstream, there is a good chance all the health woes are due to an imbalance.

Treating a chemical imbalance often requires a combination of several different approaches. In the event of a depression or anxiety chemical imbalance, prescription medications will be administered to either prompt the production of neurotransmitters or compensate for the lack of transmitters in some fashion. This helps to alleviate the chemical imbalance symptoms over time, allowing the physician and the patient to work toward a more permanent solution.

Long-term treatments often include lifestyle changes such as adjusting dietary habits to ensure the body receives adequate nutrition, daily exercise to promote the production of endorphins which help to elevate mood, and using supplements to infuse the body with nutrients that provide the building blocks for neurotransmitters in general. Therapy is also often helpful in treating the underlying cause of the imbalance, especially when stress is involved. Since prolonged periods of stress can undermine the body’s ability to absorb nutrients properly, learning to minimize or more effectively deal with stress is imperative to the recovery process.

Correcting a chemical imbalance is a task that is not accomplished overnight. Depending on the severity of the situation, it may take months or even years to restore the individual to an equitable state of health. Fortunately, modern medicine has made it possible to employ methods that were unheard of a few decades ago, bringing relief to many people who would have suffered with an undetected and therefore untreated imbalance for many years.

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anon953387
Post 6

@Anon336729: Um yes they do. When I was a child, I had a chemical imbalance and I still do.

anon336729
Post 4

Kids don't have chemical imbalances.

GlassAxe
Post 3

@ Georgesplane- You make an interesting point. I am a little skeptical of all the drugs on the market meant for depression. I believe that people can truly be a little short on some of the neurotransmitters that keep people stable and happy (in other words I believe depression and mental disorders are real),but I also believe that a lot of these drugs only exist because of good marketing.

It seems like the definition of depression and bi-polar disorder are becoming softer and softer every year so they include more and more people. I also think that this is why some of the side effects, like thoughts of suicide and worsened depression, are so commonplace with these drugs. This is just my opinion, but maybe these side effects are only showing up in those who don't really have chemical brain imbalances. Maybe they are showing up in people who doctors diagnose with depression, but are only a little sad.

Georgesplane
Post 2

@ Anon85845- You bring up the biggest criticism of the brain chemical imbalance hypothesis. There is no way to measure chemical imbalances, and doctors often make the diagnosis based on a psychological examination.

The idea of a chemical imbalance is still just a hypothesis, albeit one that the general public accepts, because there is no measure of a brain that is chemically balanced. To many, the lack of evidence of a balanced biochemical make-up is enough to make the hypothesis of a chemical imbalance invalid.

Many people see psychopharmacology and the current system of diagnosing a chemical imbalance as an educated guess that pharmaceutical companies have over promoted as a diagnosis based on fact, and holding the weight of scientific theory. Many of those that dispute current chemical imbalance treatments are also well-regarded medical professionals and scientists, not just consumers.

anon85845
Post 1

You have not specifically stated how chemical imbalances are measured, except that drugs are prescribed "willy nilly" to see if a change is produced.

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