Serotonin - made in the center of the brain stem and largely responsible for boosting our mood. It acts on the parts of our brain that affect memory, fear, sleep, digestion and the stress response, as well as happiness and mood. High and low levels can dictate mood variability.
Boost serotonin with 15 minutes of sunlight daily, physical activity/daily movement, stress management techniques likes breath work, relaxation, massage, etc., eating probiotic rich foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, apple cider vinegar), and tryptophan rich foods (turkey, pumpkin seeds, eggs, salmon, omega 3s).
Dopamine - Known as the "feel-good" hormone, it 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 your favorite dessert or second helping of food. The intense feeling of reward is also what can trigger addictive behavioral traits like smoking, gambling or drug use. Healthy ways to naturally increase dopamine:
Oxytocin - made in the hypothalamus and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland; 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 as well!
Endorphins - the body's natural painkiller. They're released by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland when we feel stress or discomfort, helping us feel better. 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.
Ways to boost your endorphins naturally: dark chocolate, regular exercise/ your favorite type of movement, get outside in nature, try something new, listening to your favorite music, dancing, or spending time with friends and family.
All of these hormones are closely linked to the gut. For example, more than 90% of serotonin is made in our gut, and changes in the microbiome have been shown to directly impact its production affecting how we feel. Often, hormonal imbalances can lead to lowered mood, energy, sleep irregularities and feeling down. Here are some ways to nutritionally boost these happy hormones:
Select nutrient dense foods like dark colored vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains and selecting more plant-based proteins like tofu, beans, legumes, and soy.
Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine, which can be found in chicken, avocados, bananas, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Endorphins are linked to spicy foods. When we consume the chemical in spicy foods, capsaicin, our body interprets the sensation as pain, which triggers the release of endorphins.
Serotonin's precursor is the essential amino acid tryptophan. You can get tryptophan from complex carbohydrates, including vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains.
Probiotics can also help promote an overall healthier gut, found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and the drink kefir.
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: mediation, massage therapy and acupuncture, exercising, yoga, walking, 10-20 minutes of sun exposure and finding joy in the small things in your life whether that's through a hobby, your job or your family and friends!
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