Everyone has days that get you down. We all go through periods when we might not feel confident or our mood plummets. For some, these periods might last a couple of days, for others weeks and for some even months.
Scientists have long researched what biologically affects our moods and found that four essential hormones impact our happiness and well-being. While it may be things out of your control that are causing you to feel stressed or depressed, there are things you can do to boost your mood naturally. In this comprehensive guide, we help you discover ways to uplift yourself and get yourself feeling your usual self.
What are the happy hormones?
Hormones are chemicals produced by different glands of the body that travel through the bloodstream and act as transmitters, regulating many bodily functions.
Consequently, happy hormones are the hormones that promote positive feelings, including happiness and pleasure. The four main “happy hormones” are:
- Dopamine: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of pleasure, motivation, and reward. It is released when we do something we enjoy, such as eating, having sex, or exercising.
- Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, sleep, appetite, and pain. This is why low serotonin levels are linked to depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.
- Endorphins: Endorphins are hormones that act as natural painkillers. They are released in response to pain or stress and can also be released during activities such as exercise, meditation, and laughter.
- Oxytocin: Oxytocin is a hormone that is released during social bonding, such as hugging, kissing, and childbirth. It is known as the “love hormone” because it promotes feelings of trust, empathy, and bonding.
How can you boost your happy hormones naturally?
About 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, which helps regulate bowel movements, secretions, and pain sensations. Serotonin is released from enterochromaffin cells in the lining of the gut, and these cells also release other chemicals, such as histamine and gastrin, which help to control digestion. Serotonin binds to receptors on nerve endings in the intestinal wall, sending signals to the brain and other body parts.
Serotonin plays a role in the following digestive functions:
- Motility: Serotonin helps regulate food movement through the digestive tract. It does this by stimulating the contraction of smooth muscle in the gut.
- Secretion: Serotonin helps to regulate the secretion of fluids and enzymes in the gut. As a result, food is broken down, and nutrients are absorbed.
- Pain sensation: Serotonin plays a role in pain perception in the gut. It does this by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain.
This is why Serotonin is believed to play a significant role in various conditions, including in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a very common condition that affects the digestive tract. IBS is characterised by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhoea.
In people with IBS, there is often an imbalance in serotonin levels in the gut. This imbalance can lead to increased pain perception, decreased mobility, and altered secretions.
If you need to improve serotonin levels in the gut, there are several ways. These include:
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet rich in fibre and low in processed foods can help improve serotonin levels.
- Getting regular exercise: Exercise helps to increase serotonin levels in the brain and the gut.
- Managing stress: Stress can lower serotonin levels. Finding ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation, relaxation massages or hypnotherapy, can help to improve serotonin levels.
- Spending time in nature: Nature reduces anxiety, stress, and other negative emotions, and when you are outside, the fresh air can help raise oxygen levels in your brain, which increases serotonin levels.
- Taking supplements: There are several supplements that can help to increase serotonin levels, such as 5-HTP and L-tryptophan. You can also take Vitamin B6 supplements. However, talking to your doctor before taking any supplements is important.
If you are experiencing digestive problems, seeing a health professional to rule out any underlying medical conditions is critical.
There are also certain foods that can help boost serotonin levels:
Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate contains high levels of cocoa, which is a good source of magnesium and phenylethylamine. Magnesium is a mineral that helps regulate mood, while phenylethylamine is a compound that has mood-boosting effects.
Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that is used to produce serotonin. Some good choices include almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
Fish: Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids help to improve mood and cognitive function. Some good choices include salmon, tuna, and mackerel.
Eggs: Eggs are a good source of protein and tryptophan. They also contain vitamin B12, which is important for mood regulation.
Bananas: Bananas are a good source of potassium and magnesium, both of which are important for mood regulation. They also contain tryptophan.
Yoghurt: Yoghurt is a good source of probiotics, which are live bacteria that are beneficial for gut health. Gut health is linked to mood, so eating yoghurt can help to boost serotonin levels.
Whole grains: Whole grains are a good source of fibres, which are essential for gut health. They also contain B vitamins, which are important for mood regulation.
Berries: Berries are a good source of antioxidants, which can help to improve mood. They also contain vitamin C, which improves brain health.
Green leafy vegetables: Green leafy vegetables are a good source of magnesium for mood regulation. They also contain folate, which is vital for brain health.
By making some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help to boost your serotonin levels and improve your mood.
The brain releases the hormone dopamine when we expect a reward. When your brain begins to link an activity, such as sex or a favourite hobby, such as shopping or an item like your favourite food, to a rewarding feeling, the mere anticipation of it can cause your brain to release dopamine.
Dopamine helps to:
- Feel reward and pleasure: One of the most well-known functions of dopamine is its role in the brain’s reward system. It’s often called the “feel-good” neurotransmitter because it’s released when we experience pleasure or reward. Eating delicious food, engaging in enjoyable hobbies, or receiving positive feedback can trigger dopamine release.
- Encourage motivation and goal-oriented behaviour: Dopamine is associated with motivation and the drive to pursue goals. When you achieve a set goal, dopamine is released, which gives you a sense of accomplishment and encourages you to keep working toward your targets. Low dopamine levels can lead to decreased motivation and difficulty concentrating.
- Regulate your mood: Dopamine is involved in regulating mood and emotional responses. Imbalances in dopamine levels have been associated with various mental health conditions, including depression, schizophrenia, and addiction. Drugs that affect dopamine transmission can alter mood and emotional states.
- Maximise focus: Steady dopamine levels are essential for maintaining focus and attention on tasks. People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have imbalances in dopamine; this is why medications used to treat ADHD work by increasing dopamine activity in the brain.
- Regulate sleep: Dopamine helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Low dopamine levels can lead to sleep disturbances, while balanced dopamine activity is necessary for a healthy sleep pattern. If you have trouble sleeping you can try a sleep patch, a relatively new form of treatment that could make all the difference in getting a good night’s rest.
- Regulate appetite and food intake: Dopamine regulates appetite and food intake. It can influence both hunger and the pleasure gained from eating.
Dopamine deficiency can have negative effects on your physical and mental well-being. Parkinson’s disease, restless legs syndrome, depression, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are all linked to low levels of dopamine.
If you need to boost your dopamine levels, there are certain types of foods that can support the production of this happy hormone. Food that is rich in protein and tyrosine is the most beneficial for boosting the production of the hormone. For those of you who have meat-free diets, there’s no need to worry, as both protein and tyrosine can be found in other foods besides meat. These are:
- Protein-Rich Foods: Protein provides the amino acids needed for synthesising dopamine. You should include lean protein sources, such as chicken, turkey, fish, and lean beef in your diet. If you’re vegetarian, tofu and legumes are great substitutes that give off the same effects.
- Tyrosine-Rich Foods: Tyrosine is an amino acid and a precursor to dopamine. Foods high in tyrosine include lean meats, dairy products, nuts, seeds, and soy products.
- Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are high in folate, which is vital for producing dopamine receptors in the brain.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are good sources of tyrosine and can be included in a dopamine-boosting diet.
- Bananas: Bananas contain a precursor to dopamine called L-dopa, which can support dopamine production in the brain. They also contain vitamins and minerals that are important for overall brain health.
- Avocado: Avocados are particularly good for increasing dopamine. They are rich in tyrosine and provide healthy fats that support brain function. It’s a nutritious addition to a dopamine-friendly diet.
There are other ways that you can naturally encourage the production of dopamine. These are:
- Improve your sleep schedule: Sleep quality has a massive impact on your mood. Everyone knows a bad night can easily ruin the next day right until your head hits your pillow again. Ensuring you get enough sleep is vital for regulating your dopamine levels and other hormones. You should aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. If you can’t get enough sleep you may want to try a sleep patch or a valerian supplement.
- Set achievable goals: As we have said, dopamine is released when we achieve our goals, and it motivates us, so by setting small achievable goals, you will release dopamine when you complete them. This should motivate you when it comes to more significant tasks.
- Socialise more: Spending time with friends cheers everyone up. This is because positive social interactions and bonding with friends and loved ones can lead to increased dopamine production. If you’re ever feeling low, take a moment out of your day to catch up with your friends and family, even if it’s just a quick call or text.
- Steer clear of addictions: Avoid addictive behaviours and substances like excessive caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. These can lead to dopamine imbalances and dependency, which can cause severe damage to your health and mental well-being. It should go without saying that recreational drugs are a no-go in general, but when it comes to dopamine, they can give you a much more powerful rush than what occurs naturally, which your body cannot keep up with. This leads to a dependency that will lead to serious harm.
- Do things you enjoy: Pursue creative hobbies and activities that you enjoy. Whether it’s art, music, writing, or any other form of creative expression, these activities can boost dopamine levels. When you engage in activities you genuinely take pleasure in, like listening to your favourite music, watching a funny movie, or beating your favourite video game, your brain releases dopamine.
Oxytocin is a potent hormone commonly called the “love hormone” or “the cuddle hormone” as it plays a massive role in bonding. When we hug, kiss and are sexually intimate, it is released to strengthen our bonds with our partners. It’s also the hormone that helps mothers bond with their babies, as it is produced during childbirth and breastfeeding. While oxytocin is powerful, it doesn’t magically alter our behaviour and make us fall in love. It just boosts the positive feelings we get from feeling close and secure.
Oxytocin helps to:
- Lower Blood Pressure: Oxytocin lowers our blood pressure and helps us to relax, which helps us deal better with stress as it also lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Give Birth: Oxytocin production is triggered when a parent goes into labour. Its main function is to aid in childbirth. As the vagina and cervix begin to widen for childbirth, oxytocin causes the contractions to help the baby move through the birth canal. It also plays a key role in regulating and controlling processes that ensure a safe birth.
- Breastfeed: Oxytocin’s secondary function is to stimulate the contractions of the breast tissue to aid with breastfeeding by making it easier for the milk to flow once a baby is born. This is commonly known as the “let-down reflex”.
- Regulate appetite: Oxytocin can affect our appetite and eating behaviour. Scientists have discovered that the hormone reduces activity in the area of our brain that controls our hunger and stimulates our impulse control.
- Provide anti-inflammatory effects: It has been found that oxytocin has anti-inflammatory properties that help our bodies fight inflammation. It can prevent autoimmune diseases caused by chronic inflammation from arising. These qualities also mean that oxytocin plays a part in making our wounds heal quicker.
Autism spectrum disorders and depression have been linked to low levels of oxytocin. It has been suggested that boosting oxytocin levels may help to treat social phobia, depression and anger problems. So, just like dopamine, there are some foods that can help your oxytocin production. These are:
Foods that are rich in vitamins A and B: These foods are particularly good for giving your oxytocin a lift. Some food suggestions that fit this category include carrots, fish, dairy products, spinach, leeks and parsley.
Water: staying hydrated is a big factor in our overall health, and keeping your hormones happy is no different. It is recommended to drink 8 glasses of water daily to stay well.
Foods that are high in Omega 3: Don’t think this means you have to eat a lot of fish to improve your oxygen levels. There are also other options when it comes to omega-3-rich food, such as olives and walnuts.
Cereals: Another great addition to your diet is lots of cereals and grains, as they also grow your oxytocin levels.
Eggs and other dairy and proteins: Egg is a brilliant source of protein that will help improve your oxytocin levels. They are incredibly healthy and full of nutrients. Eating just one egg a day will help you see an improvement in your well-being. Red meat, poultry, lentils, beans, chickpeas and quinoa are other great sources of protein that can benefit you.
Chamomile: Chamomile has long been used as a natural remedy, but studies have shown that it actually works to calm us down by activating the same part of our brain that anti-anxiety drugs do. Chamomile has been shown to increase oxytocin while lowering cortisol.
Besides improving your diet, there are also other ways you improve your oxytocin levels, including
- Spending time with your pet: Spending time cuddling with your furry friends is a great (and cute) way to boost your happiness. Studies have shown that stroking cats and dogs relieves stress. A study by the University of Tokyo found that stroking a cat’s fur releases oxytocin.
- Basking in the sun: Vitamin D naturally increases your oxytocin levels, so relaxing in the sun is a simple way to lift your mood. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to anxiety, depression and poor sleep quality. Alternatively, you can take Vitamin D supplements.
- Aromatherapy: Some aromatherapy oils have been shown to have a positive effect on lowering our stress and heightening our oxytocin. Jasmine oil and clary sage oil are both good for making us feel relaxed by reducing cortisol and boosting our happy hormones.
Endorphins play a crucial role in how we experience pain and pleasure and are often called “feel-good” hormones or neurotransmitters. For example, when you get a paper cut, endorphins are released to block pain and ease discomfort temporarily. They are also released when we experience something we enjoy, like eating our favourite foods, exercising and laughing.
Endorphins help you:
- Regulate Pain: The main role of Endorphins is to regulate pain. When you hurt yourself, your brain releases endorphins to block the pain. They bind to receptors in the brain and spinal cord, reducing the level of pain and discomfort you feel. This natural pain relief helps you endure challenging situations or recover from injuries.
- Increase Pleasure: Endorphins are also responsible for feelings of pleasure and euphoria. They can create a sense of well-being and even a “high” in some cases. Activities that stimulate endorphin release, such as exercise, laughter, or even certain foods, can improve mood and a sense of happiness.
- Reduce Stress: Endorphins are highly important in reducing stress. When you feel anxious, they are released to help calm your mind and alleviate stress. This is why activities like meditation, yoga, massages, hypnotherapy or deep breathing exercises are often recommended for stress management, as they can trigger the release of endorphins.
- Support your immune system: Endorphins also regulate the immune system. They can boost the immune response to infections by interacting with immune cells and increasing their activity.
Low levels of endorphins may increase the risk of unintentional weight loss. It also increases body aches and pains, depression and anxiety, while it is also associated with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes chronic pain throughout your body.
There are no specific foods that will help boost your endorphins. However, proteins like lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and legumes provide amino acids important for producing neurotransmitters, including those involved in mood regulation. As mentioned before, eating dark chocolate can also have a positive effect, as it contains compounds that can promote the release of endorphins.
The best advice is to follow a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg because your overall health contributes greatly to your mood. You can think of the following way as the means of increasing your endorphins:
- Exercise: Physical activity is one of the most effective ways to increase endorphin levels. It is one of the most recommended ways to improve your mood instantly. Aerobic exercise like running, cycling, dancing or even weight training can cause a surge of endorphins to be released. This intense feeling is often referred to as a “runner’s high.” Even moderate exercise, like brisk walking, can positively impact your mood.
- Laughter: It’s often said that laughter is the best medicine, and it’s not wrong. Laughter is a natural way to stimulate endorphin release. Watching a funny movie, spending time with friends who make you laugh, or engaging in activities that amuse you can all trigger laughter and boost endorphins. Some people even take laughter therapy sessions to work through their problems with the help of laughter (and endorphins) to get them through.
- Massage: Treating yourself to a spa day might be a good idea, as getting a relaxing massage can release endorphins, which provide relaxation and pain relief. The physical manipulation of muscles and tissues can stimulate these feel-good chemicals
- Meditation and Deep Breathing: Mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. As stress decreases, your body is less likely to release stress-related chemicals and more likely to produce endorphins.
Listen to your favourite tunes: Listening to your favourite music, especially upbeat and lively tunes, can boost your mood and potentially increase endorphin levels. Dancing along can also help to boost your mood. While boogying to the radio in the kitchen while you get ready for work may appear embarrassing, it actually does good for you in the same way exercising does, so don’t be afraid to let loose!
Dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin promotes happiness and pleasure while reducing depression and anxiety. If you want to boost these feel-good hormones you can boost them easily by changing your diet and doing activities that make you happy!
If you’re having difficulty regulating your mood, contact us to talk with our healthcare expert, who can recommend therapies or treatments that may help.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog post and you want to learn more about digestion, we suggest reading our blog post, Eat Well to Feel Well: 3 tips on supporting your general and mental health or just visiting our blog section for more interesting stories.