Hormones and neurotransmitters control our heart rates, digestion, energy levels, even our mood and feelings. These happy chemical messengers work behind the scenes to give us our ability to bond, feel joy and experience pleasure. Of course, our happiness is more complex than just balancing some chemicals, but it’s important to understand these chemicals and how they impact our mental health and well being, because ultimately they do. So, if we can influence them, then how do we do that?
Find out more in the article below.
Here are some quick basics on hormones …
• they’re chemicals produced by glands in our bodies
• they are responsible for the communication between our organs and body parts
• our endocrine system (a network of glands) controls the release of hormones into our bloodstream
The hormones responsible for our ‘happiness’ are serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. These hormones have the ability to alleviate anxiety and even prevent depressive symptoms or trigger pleasure.
It’s important to understand these hormones and how they influence our bodies as well as our mental health so that we can take better care of our nurturing our bodies to produce healthy, happy hormones.
In other words, happy bodies mean happy hormones, and happy hormones mean a mentally happy you!
Let’s take a look at our happy hormones
The feel-good hormone – The original ‘happiness’ hormone responsible for our good mood, healthy digestion, sleep and brain function. This hormone is produced in our gut.
90% of serotonin production occurs in our gut
The motivation molecule – This molecule is part of the brain’s pleasure and reward system. It’s what gives you the sensation of pleasure and what keeps you coming back for more. Our bodies release dopamine when we perceive food, sex or drugs. It’s the molecule that gets us hooked on something and it’s also the “chemical messenger” which our nerve cells need for relaying messages from one to the other. It is said to be essential for treating Parkinson’s.
50% of dopamine production occurs in our gut
The cuddle hormone – This chemical messenger helps your body regulate stress responses and calms the nervous system. Oxytocin is produced in response to either physical touch or interactions with another, but is also released by the body to counter the cortisol during times of stress.
The “runner’s high” hormone a.k.a. euphoria hormone – These hormones give you that rush of energy and excitement. They also act to reduce the feeling of pain, as they are the body’s adaptive response to pain and so offer natural pain relief. Endorphins are released in the body during certain events or can be stimulated (to some extent) through certain types of food.
So, how do we keep our happy hormones happy?
What can we do to stimulate our happy hormones, or keep them balanced so that we can be happy …
Our happiness hormones are broadly a reflection of the following
- Healthy food choices (diet)
- Exercise (movement)
- Harmonious relationships
- Our external environment (surroundings, nature)
- Our internal environment (mental dialogue)
- Gut microbes (our gut microbiome a.k.a., our mini-brain)
As you can see there are understandably many complex factors that contribute to our happiness hormone production, some of which we can control and others may be somewhat out of our control or more difficult to control. Although we cannot control all the factors above per se, we can control 100% control 50% of these factors, which are our gut health, mental dialogue and diet. Of the remaining 50%, let’s just say our control fluctuates, but we don’t have zero control of it so, in essence, we have about 70% control over our happy hormones. That’s enough to be statistically significant!
Eat gut nurturing foods to stimulate the production of happy hormones: serotonin & dopamine
One recent revelation is that your gut bacteria participate in your serotonin and dopamine production. As mentioned above, about 90% of our serotonin and 50% of our dopamine is produced in our gut. This means that trillions of these microbial cells in our gut have the ability to influence our mood or mental health, not to mention that our gut is also responsible for regulating over 70% of immune systems. Even more reason for feeding our gut the nutrients it needs.
Although the production of these hormones is rather complex, we do know the following about the production of serotonin and dopamine:
- Serotonin production in the gut microbiome increases with the availability of certain short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and the availability of its precursor, tryptophan. The gut can turn tryptophan into serotonin and uses certain SCFAs to produce serotonin.
- Since dopamine production is also partially managed in the gut, if we keep our gut microbiome healthy it will be better equipt to produce dopamine and convert its precursor tyrosine, to produce dopamine.
For our gut to effectively keep our mood balanced and regulate our happy hormones, it needs gut nurturing nutrients: probiotics, prebiotics, short-chain fatty acids: acetate and butyrate, fibre and foods rich in our happy hormone precursors (tryptophan and tyrosine).
Gut nurturing superfoods that stimulate serotonin and dopamine production:
Mucuna is a potent plant known as ‘nature’s anti-depressant’ for its powerful ability to stimulate a vital neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining our ‘happiness’ and good mood. It contains bioactive tryptamines, including serotonin and 5-HTP, as well as high amounts of the powerful neurotransmitter, L-dopa. The amino acid L-dopa is vital for your happy hormone production, as it converts into dopamine. Mucuna has a mild ‘white bean’ taste that goes best in warm drinks, but it’s best not to overheat to ensure its nutritional quality is preserved. Try these mucuna recipes: Mucuna Hot Chocolate and Mucuna Mini Pancake ‘Cereal’.
- Raw cacao – This powerful, prebiotic, fibre-rich superfood feeds your gut flora and keeps your serotonin levels healthy. It is also a source of tryptophan which is the precursor to serotonin. What’s even more interesting about raw cacao is that, when we eat it, our bodies release a combination of endorphins and dopamine that make us feel euphoric. This is due to the natural ingredients: tryptophan, tyrosine, anandamide and phenylethylamine, found in cacao. Raw cacao is also a source of theobromine which is a stimulant that boosts blood flow, which gives it it’s natural sought after aphrodisiac qualities.
- Hemp seeds – These beautiful little protein, omega seeds give our bodies the essential whole protein, fibre and fatty acids, that make a crucial difference to our gut health. Hemp seeds are a great source of SCFAs, which our gut needs to produce serotonin.
- Chia seeds – Are fibre-rich omega seeds, which is a plant-based food source that promotes the production of SCFAs as it feeds our gut bacteria with the right nutrition it needs to produce our happy hormones.
- Baobab – An essential prebiotic, gut-nurturing superfood consisting of 50% fibre, of which 75% is soluble, prebiotic dietary fibre. As a prebiotic, it offers our gut specialised plant fibre that looks after our probiotic “good” gut bacteria already in our colon. Prebiotics nourish our probiotic gut bacteria and acts as a fertilizer for the good bacteria to flourish. They help our good bacteria to grow and improve our good-to-bad bacteria ratio.
Our mental dialogue is quite essential as it doesn’t directly alter the state of our hormone production, but it can impact our overall mental health, relationships (with both our bodies and our people) and happiness factor. As mentioned above, oxytocin is not released through food as is the case with the rest of our hormones, it’s rather shy compared to the others. To stimulate our happy hormone, oxytocin, we need to engage and socialise (with family, friends, pets, animals and other people).
We need to pay extra attention to our mental dialogue as it is what shapes our perception of the world, our relationships, and how the world perceives us. If we can perceive the world in a loving, kind way, so can we perceive our encounters and relationships in a loving kind way. And when we are able to foster these bonds, our oxytocin levels will be better balanced naturally.
Our daily food habits and food choices play a major role in our overall health and well being. Our diets impact not only our immune system and weight but our gut, energy levels, digestive system, ageing, fitness, mental health and more. Although it is a critical factor, we won’t be delving into it too deeply n this article as it is a well-researched topic of interest with many scientific papers to back its worth. Though, it is worth mentioning that our diet is a key factor influencing the composition of our gut microbiome, and builds our microbial diversity and stability.
The bottom line is …
To keep our happy hormones happy we need to nurture our gut and make sure it is well balanced and looked after, be kind to ourselves and monitor our inner mental dialogue, as well as give our bodies nurturing foods so that they can function optimally to give your body what it needs! Our gut microbiome has a positive role to play in the production of our happy hormones: dopamine and serotonin. When our gut health is in order, these hormones are produced in abundance, to keep us excited, happy and motivated.
These hormones not only communicate with each other, but they also connect our nervous system with our gut, as they are the essential messenger molecules that keep our gut-brain dialogue going. In other words, a happy gut means a happy mind!
We can increase our levels of happy hormones dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in natural ways, which will help our mental health, emotions and even happiness factor. Things to take into account when looking to increase your happy hormones naturally are healthy food choices, exercise, harmonious relationships, our external environment, our internal environment and gut microbes (a.k.a., our mini-brain). Consider exercise, eating more healthy, diverse foods that are functional to the body (not just a source of calories), share a meal with loved ones, and up your intake of prebiotics, probiotics and fibre-rich foods that feed your gut back to health.