So in part 2, we looked at what serotonin and dopamine actually do. A short recap is that Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that promotes happiness and joy and Dopamine is a chemical that helps you focus as well as make good choices.
So what happens when you have to little serotonin or dopamine?
Since these neurotransmitters are so integral to our behavior patterns and emotional health, changes in personality and habits can point to a deficiency in them. The reason I tend to think regulating dopamine plays a particularly large role in treating depression is that if you take a look at individuals with low dopamine, they have difficulties with memory, thinking, organization and are unable to feel pleasure. Schizophrenics also tend to have abnormally low levels of dopamine levels as well, and as a result are unable to maintain motivation or stay productive. Those with low dopamine levels can display Parkinson’s like symptoms, with slowed reaction times. Those with deficient levels of dopamine are prone to attention deficit disorders, and addictive behaviors.
Low serotonin can result in OCD-like symptoms including obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. It can display as impulsivity, suicidal thoughts, aggressive behavior, etc. Lowered levels of serotonin are linked towards unstable moods, sugar cravings, constant worrying, insomnia and pervasive-sadness.
So what are some natural ways we can raise these neurotransmitters?
We’re learning more and more how these neurotransmitters are connected to various food and lifestyle choices and there are quite a few ways we can intervene without drugs that can greatly improve our hormone balance. Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Change your Brain, Change your Life has done quite a bit of research on these subjects and has extensive studies available to review. Noting the level of success he’s had with his patients, I’ve drawn inspiration from his work in my recommendations.
Increasing the amount of foods you consume that contain tryptophan, a precursor for serotonin, will help boost this hormone. Seeds and nuts are fairly high, as well as most animal sources of protein. Temporarily increasing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet, especially from sources such as lentils and oats, can make serotonin more available in your bloodstream, though long term increased carbohydrate consumption can cause other issues such as impaired glucose tolerance.
The link between serotonin and dopamine as they relate to exercise is still unclear, though studies suggest that regular exercise that is at least a moderate intensity contributes to a favorable balance and can improve the conditions associated with too little of these hormones. Note that voluntary exercise that you find enjoyable will stimulate the release of appropriate hormones, whereas if you feel like your exercise is a chore, or you feel forced into it, you’ll instead be increasing stress hormones and causing harm instead of promoting health.
Vitamin D is an essential backbone to the production of these and all of our hormones, so it makes sense to optimize your vitamin D level. I choose to take Usana’s vitamin D as they are a pharmaceutical grade vitamin (www.usana.com). You can also add some additional sunlight to your skin by exposing it on a daily basis, aiming for at least 30 minutes of sun on as much skin as your are able to show.
Omega 3 fatty acids, preferably from fish oil, is an ideal choice when aiming for hormone balance and brain health. Again I choose to take Usana’s Bio-Omega as the quality is pharmaceutical grade. These specific fish oils are high in DHA, which helps the brain to function better and balances the release of various chemicals that improve our overall brain chemistry and integrity. DHA protects neurological function and hormone balance even for those with severe disorders, so while it may not restore your serotonin and dopamine levels immediately, it may be the biggest step you can take towards regaining balance. DHA is the structural backbone of many neural tissues and is in the greatest need when our brains are developing in youth and in cases where there is damage to the brain tissue, such as in head injuries and cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.
While DHA can have a calming effect on the brain, EPA, which is another component of fish oil, is energizing to our neural processes. Most fish oil is 60% EPA and 40% DHA and this combination can make our brains work more efficiently, needing less energy to regulate moods and processes inside the body, as well as increasing our ability to think quickly and form new memories. EPA is a type of Omega 3 that is constantly used and depleted and supplemental EPA has been linked to increased academic performance, reduced inflammation and improvement in mental health issues such as depression and addiction. While DHA can be considered the structural foundation of neural tissues, EPA is like the maintenance team, making sure everything runs smoothly.
Adding a magnesium powder before bed can not only help you sleep better, but will help restore reserves of this mineral that is often quite depleted and is difficult to replenish through diet alone. Adding a well-formulated B complex in the mornings will help you to maintain energy balance throughout the day and these vitamins are co factors in allowing our tissues to respond correctly to transmitter signals.
Armed with a more complete picture of the factors that cause these imbalances, I believe that we should have hope that we can create not only improvement, but a picture of your ideal health.
A point to ponder on my friends…