The Chemical Imbalance Test: Does It Exist?

chemistry

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)

Scientist conducting an experiment


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.

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  • micky

    This is an interesting article though because it is such an important topic I would like to ask the author to add dates to match the sources of information which they base their opinions/conclusions on. Without these, it makes the process of researching the topic much more difficult for viewers and also reduces the credibility of the information.

    Thanks,

  • http://anxietyguru.net Paul Dooley

    Hey Micky, as of November 22, 2011 all the information in this article is still up to date. Thanks.

  • https://www.neurorelief.com/index.php?p=testing Teri

    Hi Paul, My son recently had a test done where he had to collect urine and saliva to test levels of several neurotransmitters. We received the results and it showed major deficiencies in several major neurotransmitters including Serotonin.
    Please check the website https://www.neurorelief.com/index.php?p=testing and tell me what you think of it.
    Thank you

  • http://anxietyguru.net Paul Dooley

    Hi Teri, That’s great. Now let’s hope that the research and treatment for anxiety disorders catches up to the detection of neurotransmitter deficiences. Thanks for sharing.

  • Micky

    Hi Paul, thanks for replying.

    In regards to your comment “as of November 22, 2011 all the information in this article is still up to date,” this does not actually clarify anything for the reader. For example, you state research from Dr. Hintz but do not provide any dates as to how recent the info is. We are left to wonder whether this research was done lately or whether it was done decades ago but has not been proven incorrect.

    Additionally, the link to Dr. Hintz (on bullet point 3) does not work.

  • Wis Kat

    The Hintz article (you can copy/past it in your google or other search box) refers to TUMORS. It has nothing to do with testing for chemical imbalance in regards to mental health disorders. Just FYI.

  • RJ

    I just wanted to add that neurotransmitters occur anywhere there are nerves, which obviously are not exclusively in the brain. While it is true that the concentration of neurotransmitters in cerebral spinal fluid may differ from peripheral serum levels, finding low levels of peripheral neurotransmitters may imply low brain levels as well.

  • RJ

    One more thing~ What concerns me about the “neurotransmitter and/or hormone testing” craze that seems to be on the web is that the companies selling the home kits are also selling the very supplements said to “cure” the deficiency that the test says you have. Conflict of interest bells are going off in my head. It is a nice idea, but I think the assessment-to-treatment dynamic is still in its infancy here. However, curiosity and impulsiveness got the better of me and I did buy a kit. I will keep you posted with my experience if you like.

  • Black Panther

    Interesting isn’t it that “chemical imbalance” is used for a wide range of psychiatric disorders – however, from thorough research there seems to be no proof whatsoever of a chemical imbalance.

    RJ – as for your bells ringing for conflict of interest. Very interesting to find out that over 55% of Psychiatrists that actually vote disorders into existence in the DSM (Diagnostical Manual for Mental Disorders) have undisclosed ties to the major pharmaceutical companies.

    Yep, I did say vote those disorders into existence. These Psychiatrists sit round a table and actually vote disorders into existence.

    Having spent hours of fastidious on the matter, I find absolutely no evidence what a chemical imbalance in the brain exists. However, I find a lot of evidence that Drug companies are deliberately misleading the public on the positive effects of vitamin treatment and are actually pushing laws through to ban vitamins, purely because drug companies cannot profit from Vitamins.

    And what would the drug companies do with a healthy population – dry up is what they’d do and they know it…

    Depression is massively relieved by B1, B12 and Calcium Magnesium – the drug company know this, yet can you find and no surprise when you go searching for B1 or B12 in most chemists you find a measly 100mg, which wouldn’t even up lift a mouse, let alone a human.

    Above all this, a good long walk always settles out most mental discomfort.

  • Rich

    30 years suffering from anxiety steady dose of Xanax and pail still not helping. What’s left

  • B

    The reason there is no proof that a chemical imbalance exists is because there is not scientific measure for direct levels in the brain. That’s why psychiatry is so controversial and such a guessing game.

    What is true however is that there are several neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood and emotions in humans, and altering those neurotransmitters can have both positive and negative outcomes.

    It is sad that this is such an epidemic in our current day in age and there is such little progress with testing and research. Many people would save years of anguish and frustration if only given an accurate treatment plan the first time based on clinical support. Unfortunately, we are just not there yet with the brain’s biochemistry.

  • Bri

    Myself having an anxiety disorder, having studied such disorders and been chemically treated with great success- I thoroughly believe that chemical imbalance is valid reasoning. However, I,also, believe that most any bodily malfunction is generally triggered by lack of proper nutrition (vitamin, mineral and nutrient balance), adequate exercise and laughter, as well as an excess amount of stress (which often may be avoided using good judgement). Many diabetics can get off meds after correcting their diets and likely activity level, as well; which in turn corrects the chemical imbalance. The same is true for those with a mental disorder. However, this would take great discipline and there are not many with such.

  • http://www.fiftytolife.com Sally_Oh

    Bri said: “However, this [clearing a mental disorder naturally] would take great discipline and there are not many with such.” Which is why doctors love calling it an addiction or disorder. Then they can treat it with drugs and make money on their investments and Big Pharma kickbacks. If people are going to use lack of discipline as an excuse to maim themselves with foul pharmaceuticals, that is their choice. They should tell the truth about what they are doing, though, lest their kids think this is the way to live.

    Rich says: “30 years suffering from anxiety steady dose of Xanax and pail still not helping. What’s left” Very definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I’d stop taking the pills. Very slowly, of course. The withdrawal is when homicidal and suicidal tendencies are the greatest.

  • http://www.fiftytolife.com Sally_Oh

    You make some very good points in this article, thank you.

    After years of study on the topic, I am convinced Big Pharma is complicit in the creation of this hypothesis. Robert Whitaker’s book “Making of an Epidemic” lays it out beautifully. I’m also reading this website: http://www.cchrint.org/psychdrugdangers/TheChemicalImbalanceMyth.html.

  • Tri Tek

    I believe clearing a mental disorder naturally is difficult to do but It is the best way to clear. If you take pharmaceuticals often times you will get side effects, your brain chemistry may change and alter your personality and what not. The point is don’t play around with your brain, it is the most important organ of the human body. Don’t feed it mental changing drugs, don’t destroy it with street drugs, and more comonley do not do anything that will alter brain chemistry… such as consuming alchol, doing all sorts of drugs stated above, and in some cases sexual activites, alone or with partner can release dopeomine and change chemistry there. Honestly I don’t know much of this internally (brain processes) but I do know based on experience. I wrote this in under 2 minutes I dont care about any errors. Don’t do anything excessively limit everything you do, whether its consuming alchol, (any sort of drug should never be done unless completely reliable on to cure) or whether its sexual activies, well with that being said.. DO WHAT OF THE FUCK YOU WANNA DO! but you’ll suffer the consequences. religion trys to keep us off of these things so we dont have to suffer.

  • Tri Tek

    Quit doing any sort of drug (street or pharmaceutical that alters brain chemicals), Do not drink alcohol, Do not jack off everyday. There you go. DO WHAT EVER THE FUCK YOU WANAN DO! this helped me out. keep strong many people don’t suffer that long but I atleast expected you to find out what triggered it. And in some cases pharmaceuticals can help.

  • t0mr

    Glad I found this page. It is nice to see not everyone believes the serotonin hypothesis. Psychiatry and psychology are not legitimate science. But there is big money to be made on the suffering. I remember when I took psychology it was the only “science” class that had a section specifically on pseudoscience. It needed to distinguish itself from things like palm reading, phrenology and astrology. It is supprising to think a group of people that have devoted there lives to this stuff have the authority to vote in these illnesses like Black Panther said. No one knows enough about how the brain works to make the claim that neurotransmitters are the cause of your problems. Yes increasing some neurotransmitters will make you feel good, but so will tylenol and thc. Playing around with brain chemistry without completely understanding the brain and the body it is connected to and making a claim that you have discovered an illness is wrong. This shows that those who invent such hypotheses have a complete lack of understanding of the complexity of the system they are dealing with. The human body is the most complex machine we have encountered. Stop letting the pseudoscientists make decisions about how it ultimately works.

  • Joyce Stringer

    My 92 year old mother was given three different antidepressents and ativan while recouperating in a nursing home in Altamonte Spgs, Fl..from HIP replacement surgery…..against my orders as her POA and her outside Dr. This is protical in Nursing homes to subdue elderly patients so they dont have to look after them and rehab them….I should have taken her out immediately…but she was so weak from the surgery….and she had a BRAIN BLEED which left her unable to ever walk, talk, or eat again on her own…and I couldnt sue for the damage these drugs, this bad doctor and bad nursing home did to my mother…I took care of her ….she was totally crippled, until she died …oh yes…she developed a urine infection…which had MRSA in it…and the Fl Hosp did not tell us…it traveled to her blood and that finished her off…Im leaving Florida…they dish out antidepressents like CANDY in this state…I think Medical Pot would be a thousand times safer…bunch of QUACKS in this state running and ruining our helathcare.

  • Andrew Joseph

    This whole argument that “anxiety” or “depression” or whatever else is caused by “inbalances” of the brain I just can’t buy. I put a challenge out to the author and every person here in your life have you been unsure about doing something for example speaking in a large group, meeting new people? If you were how did you overcome your initial situation. Simple you used a strategy such as laughter, joking with people creating and environment where you felt assured of your surrounds secondly has anyone had the experience of loosing someone through death, had a family divorce how did you overcome that. I put it forward to you one strategy might have been talking to people about it having a private time to grieve or cry what I am saying is you had to find a way to cope because your a human being complete with every emotion known to man. This is not a “Mental Illness” this does not need medication, this is not a chemical inbalance get back to be a human being warts and all and forget about this unproven theory of deficiency.