Have you been feeling a little out of sorts recently, perhaps more than a little disconnected, moody, tired, hopeless, sexless and unmotivated? If so, your happiness hormones could be in need of a boost. So, before you resign to the fact that you may never feel pleasure again, keep reading for some healthy tips on how to boost your happiness hormones naturally.
The Dopamine Effect
Dopamine is responsible for your feelings of pleasure and motivation. It is the surge of dopamine that you are seeking when you pour a glass of wine after a particularly long day. It is also the hormone in need of a boost when you find yourself procrastinating on the work you had scheduled for today or when you look at your life and think, is this it?
Depressing, I know. But just because you find your unfamiliar zombie self groaning through life unable to pay attention to what your kids have to show you today, does not mean you're disinterested in their sweet angelic faces.
The good news is that it's not that life is terrible and you have to suck it up and deal. It could be that your dopamine levels are killing your buzz.
Here are symptoms to watch out for:
a lack of motivation
feelings of self-doubt
inability to connect with loved ones
inability to feel pleasure in things you once enjoyed
trouble remembering things
difficulty completing tasks
engaging in self-destructive behaviours (excessive shopping, increased alcohol and/or sugar, reduced exercise, etc.)
What is Dopamine Exactly and How is it Created?
As you probably guessed, dopamine is your Motivation Molecule because it is responsible for your drive, focus, and concentration. It is the force that pushes you to achieve your goals and plan ahead. Dopamine is also responsible for your pleasure-reward system, allowing you to feel enjoyment in life.
Dopamine is a chemical neurotransmitter used by nerves to send messages. When a nerve releases dopamine, it crosses a synaptic gap within the brain and then attaches to a dopamine receptor on the next nerve. So, when dopamine levels are depleted in our brain, messages can’t be transmitted properly, sort of like broken telephone, and our feelings of purpose and joy get lost in translation.
What Causes Dopamine Deficiency?
The most common causes of dopamine deficiency include an unhealthy diet, nutrient deficiencies, addictions, obesity, thyroid disorders, and the use of dopamine antagonist drugs (drugs which block dopamine receptors, such as antipsychotics used in treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and stimulant psychosis. Other dopamine antagonists are antiemetics used in the treatment of nausea and vomiting.)
Natural and Healthy Ways to Boost Dopamine
Healthy Dopamine Rich Foods
It is important to note that dopamine consumed in food doesn’t cross the blood–brain barrier and so has no impact on your brain. To work around this issue, ensure you are eating a diet high in l-tyrosine (as dopamine is made from this amino acid), commonly found in protein-rich foods, for proper dopamine synthesis.
Here's a quick glance at some foods, drinks, and spices containing l-tyrosine for the greatest increase in dopamine:
Animal products (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy)
Sesame and Pumpkin Seeds
Green Leafy Vegetables
In addition to these foods, you can eat Fava beans (broad beans), which contain l-dopa, a direct precursor to dopamine that is used to treat Parkinson's disease, and foods high in natural probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut.
Not surprisingly, as many of us who work in functional health care already know, the health of your intestinal flora impacts the production and proper function of neurotransmitters, like Dopamine and Serotonin. An overabundance of bad bacteria in your gut will leave you with toxic byproducts called lipopolysaccharides that destroy dopamine making brain cells.
Dopamine Supplements Worth Trying
In addition to increasing your intake of the foods listed above, you could try L-Tyrosine if you don't get enough in your diet, or if your body doesn't covert it.
It is important to note that stress, exhaustion, and illness can increase your need for l-tyrosine.
Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume that contains l-dopa, a dopamine precursor. These supplements are sold to enhance mood, memory, overall brain health, anti-aging, and libido.
Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It easily crosses the blood-brain barrier to boost levels of dopamine whereas some foods cannot without the help of the synthesizing agent l-tyrosine.
Ginkgo biloba, one of my favourites, has been used to treat a variety of brain related problems by raising dopamine levels. It can be an effective treatment for poor concentration, memory problems, headaches, fatigue, mental confusion, depression, and anxiety. I'm taking Ginkgo Biloba right now, post baby, to support my wayward mommy brain.
L-Theanine is a unique compound found in green, black, and white teas. It works by increasing the levels of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA (gamma-amniobutyric acid) - the relaxing neurotransmitter.
Healthy Lifestyle Habits to Increase Dopamine
Exercise, meditation, music, massage, and, believe it or not, cold showers can boost your levels of dopamine significantly.
Dr. John Ratey, psychiatrist and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, has studied the effects of physical activity on the brain. His studies have shown that exercise raises baseline levels of dopamine by promoting the growth of new brain cell receptors.
Meditation works by increasing your ability to focus and concentrate while inducing a relaxed state of awareness and increasing dopamine.
Music has similar effects on the brain's pleasure centres as eating, having sex, and doing drugs. No wonder music has been known to rouse euphoric emotional states in many musicians and their followers.
Massage, or the sense of touch, increases dopamine and serotonin while reducing cortisol, the stress hormone. Petting your dog can actually give you and your furry best friend a much deserved happiness boost on a rainy day.
And if you're feeling adventurous, taking a cold shower or swimming under a waterfall can increase dopamine substantially - up to 250%! Try it instead of tomorrow's morning coffee and let me know what you think.... brrrr.
That's enough of the Dopamine Effect. Let's move on to the the moody issue of Serotonin.
The Serotonin Enhancer
Serotonin, the hormone of willpower, is the main neurotransmitter (and one of the most important) used by brain cells to communicate to each other. It is responsible for your feelings of happiness, worth, relaxation, and confidence.
A decrease in serotonin activity can lead to feeling listless, depressed, anxious, worthless and lacking in impulse control.
And similar to the way I outlined how to boost dopamine above, there are healthy and natural ways to boost serotonin using food, habits, and supplements.
First, self-awareness is the key to pinpointing whether you may be low in serotonin.
Some symptoms include:
Feelings of anxiety and panic
Trouble paying attention
Obsessive compulsive tendencies
Seasonable affective disorder
Unusually sensitive to pain
Carbohydrate cravings and binge eating
Feeling overly dependent on others
Poor cognitive function
Note: Speak to your doctor if you find you are suffering from any of these symptoms
Using Foods to Boost Serotonin
Boosting serotonin with food is a little trickier than using food to boost dopamine.
There are some foods that naturally contain serotonin - like walnuts, hickory nuts, bananas, pineapple, kiwi, plums, and tomatoes - and like dopamine, the serotonin in these foods do not enter the brain and requires a precursor, tryptophan, to do so. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in most protein sources. But there's an interesting paradox present when trying to increase serotonin using protein based source of tryptophan and that is that protein blocks serotonin synthesis resulting in both serotonin and tryptophan levels decreasing rather than increasing, which was the intent.
There are only a few foods that increase serotonin naturally. You could try eating dark chocolate, cold-water fatty fish, green tea, fermented foods and turmeric.
Supplements for a Serotonin Boost
Taking supplements to boost serotonin, like foods, is a bit trickier than supplements that boost dopamine, especially if you are taking any kind of anti-depressant or SSRI's. It's very important that you speak with your health care provider before mixing any kind of supplement or herbal remedy with medications.
Two supplements that you may consider are Tryptophan (much like the foods discussed above without the issue of protein blocking) and 5-HTP.
Tryptophan supplements work better than food because they increase brain levels of serotonin while bypassing protein's negative effect.
5-HTP is converted into serotonin and melatonin, which makes it popular for treating those suffering from depression and sleeplessness. However, 5-HTP comes with a serious warning of serious side effects, especially when taken with anti-depressants and SSRI's.
Other supplements that increase serotonin safely include SAM-e, B complex vitamins, magnesium, l-theanine, omega-3 essential fatty acids, curcumin, Arctic root, and probiotics.
The Special Role of Probiotics in Serotonin Boosting
I'd like to take a moment to highlight the use of probiotics to increase serotonin as our gut plays a key role in the level of serotonin in our bodies.
95% of the serotonin in our bodies is found in our gut, or as scientists have come to call it "The Second Brain". It's no coincidence that when our gut is unhealthy we suffer from serotonin deficiency symptoms and their accompanying mood disorders.
An overabundance of bad bacteria in the gut is called dysbiosis, which creates toxic byproducts called lipopolysaccarides. Probiotics are good bacteria found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and unpasteurized sauerkraut. They help to establish a balance between good and bad bacteria in your Second Brain (enteric nervous system), which that is extremely relevant to the health and function of your brain.
To avoid messing with your gut flora, avoid chronic stress, alcohol, sugar, exposure to toxins, and taking birth control pills and antibiotics unnecessarily.
Lifestyle Habits to Boost Serotonin
Just like boosting dopamine, your lifestyle habits play a huge role.
Make sure to get enough exercise, sunlight, massages, and meditation.
Sunlight exposure is important for the natural production of Vitamin D, a known mood booster. And thoughts play a pivotal role in serotonin levels.
Your brain does not know the difference between thoughts that are based on reality and thoughts based on your fears. So when you think negatively, allowing fear to control your mind, serotonin is reduced. But when you think happy thoughts, serotonin levels increase.
Now, moving on to the bonding "Love" hormone, oxytocin.
The Oxytocin Connector
This one is much more simple than her two previous counterparts.
Oxytocin creates intimacy, trust, and builds strong relationships. It is essential for creating powerful bonds and improving real life social connections.
You don't have to be in an intimate relationship with someone to increase levels of oxytocin in your body. All you need to do is give someone a hug, not a handshake.
Research shows that at least one 20 second hug every day releases oxytocin, which is a natural anti-depressant and anti-anxiety agent that allows you to feel love and connection.
The Endorphin Craze
Fourth, and final, on our list are the endorphin hormones, which are released in response to pain and stress as natural pain killers, alleviating anxiety and depression. They act as an analgesic and sedative, similar to morphine, to diminish our perception of pain. You may notice the effects of endorphins after running or after an intense workout. That euphoric feeling you get, also known as a "runner's high", are endorphin sedative effects.
Although most commonly associated with intense exercise, the easiest way to induce an endorphin release is through laughter. Even the anticipation of laughter, such as planning a night out at a comedy show or playing with a giggling baby.
Other ways to increase the production of endorphins is through aromatherapy treatments using vanilla and lavender, as well as eating chocolate and spicy foods.
See below for reference links
Serenity Coach & Meditation Teacher
Kara-Lee is passionate about overcoming adversity, finding balance in a chaotic world.
She is a certified yoga professional, trained in India at a traditional Yoga Gurukul (ashram) in Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga, Mindfulness & Vipassana Meditation and Yoga Therapy. She is also a certified Advanced Reiki Healer.