Today I want to explore a basic question: Is there such a thing as a test for a brain-based chemical imbalance? Sounds simple enough but as you’ll soon see there is nothing simple about the question. And this is mainly because there is currently a debate raging about the matter, and there seems to be no clear cut answer.
Given the monstrous size of this issue it is mind bending that after sending people to the moon (and back), creating weapons of apocalyptic destruction, and the flowbee, that absolutely no one has a firm handle on what causes anxiety disorders.
My own frustrations aside, and in all fairness to the medical research community, there have been serious strides in understanding our hated enemy (anxiety). One of the most important developments is related to the diagnosing and treatment of anxiety disorders and other mental ailments via urinary neurotransmitter testing.
Currently when you see your doctor or therapist to determine what kind of anxiety disorder you have, the test is question based. Doctors look for a certain cluster of symptoms and rely on this to know what is wrong with you. But there is no blood, saliva, or urine test that positively diagnoses anxiety disorder.
“Urinary neurotransmitter and salivary hormone testing is not a diagnostic for any condition or disease, however testing can identify one or more biochemical imbalances that maybe playing a role in various conditions” – Neuroscience.com
I think some clarification is in order. The idea that brain chemicals cause mental illness is first and foremost a hypothesis. It is not a theory or scientific law by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, an idea based on sound inductive reasoning (i.e., making observations and drawing generalizations from them) that should be respected and considered.
Researchers have found that when people lack certain neurotransmitters in the brain, then symptoms related to anxiety disorder, depression, and other conditions may arise. Moreover, increasing levels of certain neurotransmitters has also been shown to relieve some symptoms for some patients.
So, is it accurate to say chemical imbalance is to blame? I believe that it isn’t because it is not very specific. It is more accurate to think of it as a neurotransmitter imbalance. Neurotransmitters are the ‘brain juices’ that control mood, aggression, fear, etc. Things like serotonin, GABA, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and others are the chemicals in chemical imbalance.
There are those that believe that taking a simple urine test can reveal a great deal about a person’s mental condition but there are a lot of problems with this notion. Dr. Marty Hinz of the Neuro Research Clinics has said the following about Neurotransmitter testing: (direct quote follows)
1. Baseline urinary neurotransmitter testing prior to treatment is of no value.
2. Baseline urinary neurotransmitter testing prior to treatment has no value in diagnosing disease or selecting a nutrient starting dose.
3. Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine do not cross the blood brain barrier. (Dr. Hinz cont’d)
So, you can take a test to measure your neurotransmitter levels but this does not say anything about what condition you have. It does not diagnose you the same way a urine test can confirm diabetes, for example.
On the other hand, there are those that support the idea that by knowing your neurotransmitter levels one can take the appropriate supplements and vitamins in correct doses to reduce or even eliminate symptoms of anxiety disorder and other mental ailments.
If you haven’t already asked yourself this question, then I will ask: why don’t doctors currently use this urinary neurotransmitter test to help in identifying and treating anxiety disorders? This is perhaps my main point of skepticism. Like all anxiety sufferers I would love to pee in a cup and know what to do exactly to make the anxiety stop but so far no such luck.
What can we infer by this? Mostly that this is all in the testing and development stage. So, is there a test for a chemical imbalance? No there is not. This is because there is still a lot of debate about what a chemical imbalance is and how it works to cause the abnormalities in good folks like ourselves.
Some have argued that the idea of a chemical imbalance was a scare tactic designed by drug companies to force people onto antidepressants. Others are convinced that there is a direct link between our brain chemistry and anxiety.
Clearly this is a very complex problem. But before you lay down some money for a lab test, talk to a doctor. Maybe we all should, given that we all have a stake in this. I have asked my own doctor and he advised me in no uncertain terms that there is no test that can measure, discover, or treat mental ailments.
The value in having a real chemical imbalance test lies not in diagnostics however (come on you know when you have an anxiety disorder). It lies in selecting and testing treatment options. If you know what balance you need and what to balance than you have a solution.
The truth of the matter is that the human brain is breathtakingly complex and poorly understood. Despite all the good ideas out there we simply don’t know what causes anxiety disorders, and the treatments (which kinda work) are a direct reflection of this. It seems that researchers are onto something, but no legit test for anxiety disorders or the El Dorado known as a chemical imbalance yet.