How to boost happiness hormones?
Published Jan 23, 2023 • By Claudia Lima
Hormones are substances produced by a gland, that regulate numerous body functions such as growth, temperature, sleep, stress and mood.
Among these hormones, we find the so-called "happiness" hormones.
What are they? What are they used for? How are they produced? How can they be boosted?
Read our article to find out more!
What are happiness hormones?
Hormones are produced by the glands and various organs of the endocrine system: the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, thyroid, thymus, adrenal glands, pancreas and testes or ovaries. Hormones are used to transmit chemical messages through the body and to stimulate or inhibit a body function.
Hormones are thus involved in many processes such as nutrition, growth, reproduction, sleep and mood.
Neuroscience has identified these "happy" hormones, as they are responsible for a person's well-being. They are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin. Each of them is secreted in specific situations and promotes positive emotions. They are fundamental to maintaining good physical and mental health.
These hormones are in fact a survival mechanism for humans. They are important for our happiness and have an advantage: we can actually boost them!
Dopamine, what is it?
Dopamine is linked to immediate pleasure and action, it is the reward hormone.
It is essential for brain activity. The effects of dopamine vary between neurons, but it is involved in controlling movement, attention, sleep, memory, cognition, pleasure and motivation.
This hormone is released by our brain when the latter associates an experience or activity with pleasure and also when there is hope of reward. For example: eating chocolate, doing well in a maths test or making a great catch. In the case of our ancestors, dopamine would release energy when they were about to satisfy a vital need (hunting, gathering). This release of energy gives a pleasant feeling and reduces the levels of stress hormone cortisol.
Dopamine also serves to store information that will allow the renewal of this pleasure. It directs the brain's reward circuit. Addictions put a lot of pressure on the dopamine production circuit.
If dopamine levels are well-balanced, it provides motivation and focus to achieve goals. If a person's dopamine level is low, they may suffer from procrastination and lack of enthusiasm. At the physiological level, dopamine deficiency is responsible for a dysfunction of the nervous system, found in particular in Parkinson's disease patients whose receptors for this hormone are lacking. If the level of dopamine is too high in certain areas of the brain, there may be symptoms associated with schizophrenia.
How to stimulate dopamine?
- Set achievable micro goals and congratulate yourself on each step,
- Engage in physical activity,
- Take up a creative activity,
- Listen to music,
- Eat foods that increase tyrosine (amino acid precursor of dopamine) such as hard cheeses, cod, almonds, avocados, turmeric, etc. or tyrosine capsules directly,
- Try being more adventurous and look for challenges.
Serotonin, what is it?
Serotonin is linked to mood regulation and is the feel-good hormone.
It is used by all the major organs of the body, apart from the brain. It is involved in the regulation of sleep, satiety, behavior, anxiety and learning. It is produced by our brain from an amino acid, tryptophan, but our body does not synthesize it.
Serotonin is responsible for the sense of peace and security we feel when we feel valued, when our self-esteem is sufficient. This pleasant feeling makes us feel serene and optimistic.
Serotonin is often linked to depression. In case of deficiency, people are more irritable and impulsive. This is why there is a class of antidepressant drugs called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine or sertraline.
Serotonin deficiency can lead to cravings for high-sugar or high-calorie foods.
How to boost serotonin?
- Be proud of yourself when you have completed a certain task or activity,
- Practice letting go, meditation,
- Practice physical activity,
- Expose yourself to daylight or try light therapy,
- Drink enough water,
- Eat foods rich in tryptophan and vitamin D (brown rice, bananas, eggs with runny yolk, 80% dark chocolate, legumes, etc.),
- Use certain medicinal plants (griffonia, St. John's wort) and food supplements that prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed.
Oxytocin, what is it?
Oxytocin is related to emotional and romantic relationships and is also called the "love hormone".
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, a combination of amino acids. It is secreted by the hypothalamus. It plays a major role in human bonding, but also during pregnancy and childbirth as it promotes attachment between mother and child.
Oxytocin is involved in the pleasure experienced during a social relationship. When released, this hormone helps to reduce the levels of stress hormone cortisol. It promotes self-esteem, generosity, empathy and also strengthens relationships and emotional bonds. It is secreted during quality time spent with family, upon receiving compliments or witnessing an act of kindness. It's level is higher in people who are in a relationship.
Physiologically, this hormone participates in the ejection of sperm in men and promotes contractions of the uterus and the progression of spermatozoa to the ovum in women. During pregnancy, it ensures the tone of the uterus and at the time of delivery, it induces contractions. It then allows the ejection of milk when the infant is breastfed.
How to boost oxytocin?
- Spend time with your loved ones,
- Cuddle, express tenderness, massage or get a massage from your partner; touching is an important source of oxytocin secretion,
- Have sex and experience orgasms,
- Trust and be trustworthy,
- Pet your cat or your dog,
- Spend more time in friendly environments,
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 to help trigger secretion.
Endorphin, what is it?
Endorphin is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. It is the hormone of relaxation and euphoria.
There is not one, but many endorphins, and they have analgesic properties similar to those of morphine. Physical pain is what causes a release of endorphins that will temporarily mask this pain. The sensation becomes pleasant for a short time and allows you to forget the pain and to react (for example: to run for cover in case of danger). Endorphins are also produced during continuous effort, such as hiking or cycling. They generate a feeling of calm and euphoria. They make us feel better despite physical pain. They are also produced when we laugh.
How to boost endorphin?
- Practice sports, especially cardio sports, for at least 30 minutes,
- Try doing extreme sports
- Laugh, go to a comedy club,
- Engage in leisure activities,
- Cry to release tension,
- Stretch daily,
- Practice cardiac coherence,
- Be sexually active,
- Try transcutaneous neurostimulation (TENS) (in some cases),
- Eat foods rich in tryptophan and vitamin D.
Happiness is thus mainly the result of a biological phenomenon: the secretion of the happiness hormones dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins.
The level of these hormones for each person depends partly on their genes, but also on their behavior. However, although happiness hormones are important for our survival and provide us with pleasant emotions, they should not be dissociated from the unpleasant emotions like fear and stress, which are equally essential for our psychological well-being.
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