This blog is not intended to replace medical intervention or treatment and is not intended to provide nutritional advice.
Our brain produces chemicals known as neurotransmitters which send signals between cells. The neurotransmitters enable our bodies to function correctly, for example, controlling breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat, and muscle movement. That’s enough biology for one blog!
There are at least one hundred known neurotransmitters in the human body, four of which are also known as ‘Happy hormones.’ These chemicals have a positive effect on our mood and emotions, helping us feel happy, contented, and relaxed.
It is worth increasing these hormones in a bid to reduce stress. However, while they will help to manage emotions by improving mood and reducing stress, they should not replace medical intervention for mental health conditions and help should be accessed where necessary.
The four main happy hormones are Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and endorphins.
Dopamine is linked with motivation and accomplishment and is often called the Reward Chemical. It is released when we experience satisfaction or pleasure.
Activities such as listening to music, completing tasks, and exercising all help to increase dopamine. Think how you feel if you complete a task, especially one that you maybe thought you’d not be able to do.
You feel good about yourself and your achievement, this is the result of dopamine.
Increasing dopamine levels can help improve a positive attitude and outlook. Dopamine also has a downside, if over stimulated it can contribute to addictive behaviour.
Serotonin or the “feel good hormone” is a mood stabiliser, helping to regulate appetite, improves sleep and mood, improving overall well-being. It is often found in low levels in those with depression or anxiety. Serotonin levels can be increased by exercising, spending time outside in nature and being exposed to sunlight, meditating, and eating a balanced diet. Although it is important to limit our exposure to sun and avoid sunburn, we do need some sunlight.
Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone.” It is linked with love, trust, and feelings of empathy. Levels are increased during social interactions such as holding hands, hugging, and spending time with loved ones. Playing with a pet or playing with a baby or listening to music also helps stimulate oxytocin production. Oxytocin also helps in the release of serotonin and dopamine and increased levels can help in the reduction of stress and anxiety.
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. They are automatically released during childbirth. They are stimulated during physical activities such as sex and exercise. Endorphins can produce a feeling of euphoria.
Going for a walk outside in nature will increase serotonin and endorphins. Oxytocin will increase if you combine the walk with spending time with a friend, partner or dog and having a sense of achievement will increase your dopamine levels. That’s not a bad reward for a little bit of exercise.
What we eat can also have an influence on the production of these happy hormones and a healthy balanced diet is recommended. Complex carbohydrates, oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids, nuts and seeds and fermented foods can all help to increase hormone levels.
Combining physical activity with a healthy balanced diet will help to activate and increase levels of happy hormones and improve mood.