Urinary neurotransmitter testing: can brain function be reliably measured in the urine?
The brain has been labeled “the final frontier in medicine”. Rightly so, a complex structure that controls aspects of existence that have yet to be understood, the organ is shrouded in mystery. While some of its functions may never be completely elucidated, many of its fundamental processes are clearly mapped out in science. For example, we know that the basic unit of brain anatomy is a cellular structure called a “neuron”. 100 billion of these little workhorses talk to each other using chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, to perform every function of our existence…mood, sleep, breathing, attention, memory, you get the picture. Every time a neuron “speaks”, it releases neurotransmitters. The blood circulating through the brain will pick up some of these molecules and transport them to the kidney, where they are excreted into the urine.
For over 50 years, scientists have been measuring neurotransmitters in the urine. As a result of this work, 1000’s of studies have been published that show neurotransmitters measured in the urine relate to various functions (or dysfunction) in the brain. It is important to note, however, that urine measurements are not direct measures of brain chemistry. Rather, urine levels seem to correlate with specific disease states. This is an important distinction. Direct measures of brain chemistry would require opening up the brain. Obviously, medical science has not yet found a way to do this procedure without inflicting serious harm. Some have proposed blood or brain fluid (CSF) measures are more reliable. These methods have their limitations too. The actual procedure of inserting a needle to collect the fluid causes a change in certain neurotransmitters. This could really skew the results! For the time being, urinary neurotransmitter tests appear to be the most clinically relevant and non-invasive way to assess brain chemistry. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that urine measures are related to various diseases. Identifying these imbalances allows your health care practitioner make more informed decisions about what medicine is best for you. And since there is no risk or harm in performing the test, what do you have to lose?
There was a time where the entire population believed the Earth was center of the Universe. Those who thought otherwise were chastised. Likewise, there are those who believe urine neurotransmitter levels are invalid. New and exciting scientific discoveries are often minimized and downplayed for lack of evidence. However, as history shows us, the most important scientific discoveries have to start somewhere. And those that see the logical, rational value in them, will be the first to benefit.
Director of Medical Education