Hormones are our body's chemical messengers that regulate key functions including metabolism, reproduction, sleep, energy levels, libido, and growth and development. Hormones are also in charge of mood, producing our body's so-called "happy hormones." Serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins impact how we feel from day to day and can stimulate positive feelings like happiness, pleasure, and love. Our body produces endorphins to help reduce stress, relieve pain and improve our mood.
Understanding how these hormones work is key since research has linked happiness and a positive outlook to numerous physical health benefits; finding that happy, optimistic people tend to have a longer life-span and increased longevity.
When we feel happiness or joy, four main chemicals in our brain are at play:
Serotoninis made in the center of the brain stem and largely responsible for boosting our mood. It acts on various parts of the brain, including areas that affect memory, fear, sleep, digestion and the stress response, as well as happiness and mood. Appropriate serotonin levels can help to balance mood, while low levels can contribute to a lowered mood state.
Known as the "feel-good" hormone, dopamine is made in an area at the base of the brain and plays a role in many functions including movement, heart rate, sleep, and our response to pain. It's largely associated with pleasurable sensations, where our brain releases dopamine when we're expecting a reward or something pleasurable. Even just thinking about a certain activity you enjoy can raise dopamine levels, which is why you continue to reinforce the pattern that brings these good feelings, like going back for another one (or more) of those freshly baked cookies or second helping of food. The intense feeling of reward is also what can trigger addictive behavioral traits.
This hormone made in the hypothalamus and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland is often called the "love hormone." It's an essential hormone for childbirth, successful breastfeeding and parents bonding with their children. Levels of this hormone typically rise with physical contact like kissing or cuddling.
Endorphins are the body's natural painkiller. They're released by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland when we feel stress or discomfort, generating feelings of well-being. There are about 20 different types of endorphins. The most common one is beta-endorphin, which is linked with a "runner's high." Endorphins rise when we eat a great meal, exercise, laugh or fall in love.
These hormones produced in the brain are also closely linked to the gut. For example, more than 90% of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin is made in our gut, and changes in the microbiome have been shown to directly impact its production affecting how we feel.
Often, imbalances in our happy hormones can lead to lowered mood, energy, sleep irregularities and feeling down. There are plenty of ways, however, to help boost our happy hormones.
You can boost these hormones naturally through diet and lifestyle changes that can have a positive domino effect on your overall health and well-being.
Nutrient deficiencies are sometimes linked to low mood, so making sure you're getting all the nutrients you need in your diet is essential. Certain foods can function as precursors for healthy hormone production.
Consuming specific foods trigger hormone production directly:
Small changes to your day-to-day routine can also make a big difference when it comes to healthy hormone production and your mood. Lifestyle changes might include:
In addition to a healthy, well-balanced diet, nutritional supplementation can be used to help support our mood. Deficiencies in key vitamins like vitamin B6 - needed to produce the happy neurotransmitter, could be the reason why you are experiencing low mood or greater symptoms of PMS. Restoring nutrient deficiencies and eliminating accumulated toxicities is a helpful way to rebalance the body and support your overall hormone function.
Understanding your current hormone levels can help you to identify and address any underlying imbalances that may be contributing to a low mood. A simple at home lab test can provide valuable insight into your neurotransmitter levels and wth this information your can work alongside an integrative health coach to establish the diet and lifestyle changes that best support you. Working alongside a certified Health Coach, armed with your individual test results you'll get an appropriate diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplementation plan to rebalance your hormones, mind and body.
Dopamine is a crucial neurotransmitter that controls the reward and pleasure center of the brain and if your body is not making enough it can lead to low mood, low energy, poor circulation and increased sugar cravings. Listen to this podcast to learn more about healthy foods that can support dopamine and have you feeling more energetic and alive.