If you feel depressed, undermotivated or have headaches, you might need to boost your dopamine and/or serotonin?
What have depression, headaches, pleasure & gut problems in common?
Recent research suggests that almost everything we experience is strongly influenced by our gut bacteria! We refer to our deep intuitional feelings as ‘gut feelings’ and some have suggested these are our guardian angels. But this awareness of emotions in the gut reflects the inter-connectivity of the brain and the gut rather than any angels.
During our embryonic development, the nervous system develops via the gut and the gut itself ends up with more than 100 million nerve cells that are arranged in two thin layers from the oesophagus to the rectum. As far as we know, these gut nerve cells aren’t capable of thought, but they communicate with the brain with profound results.
This is still a new field of research, but it is well established that gastrointestinal problems can cause mood changes and that anti-depressants can calm gut symptoms (such as irritable bowel) by acting on the nerve cells in the gut. With attention to your diet and lifestyle, you may be able to boost your dopamine and serotonin to an ideal balance.
Neurotransmitters: why should you be interested?
Our bodies are full of chemical messengers of various types that perform many different critical roles in our bodies. Neurotransmitters are one group of such chemicals, and they conduct, boost and balance chemical messages between nerve cells (neurons) and their target cells. The target cells are distributed throughout the body and may be inside glands, muscles, or nervous tissue.
Most of the neurotransmitters are produced in the gut by bacteria. We have literally billions of these neurotransmitters that have roles rather like those of the conductor in an orchestra. They keep our brains functioning, our hearts beating and our lungs breathing. Neurotransmitters also influence our feelings such as pleasure, joy, fear, our moods, and our sexuality.
Mental health & Neurotransmitters
The two neurotransmitters that we currently hear most about are Dopamine and Serotonin.
Dopamine is involved in memory, attention, motivation, and reward. It is the neurotransmitter that is essential for sex. It creates desire for sexual activity and in a man causes his erection and ejaculation. It is critical to sex drive!
Serotonin is another important neurotransmitter, but high levels of Serotonin inhibit sexuality. Too much Serotonin inhibits both sexual behaviour and a man’s ability to ejaculate. The diverse benefits of Serotonin are that it is important to efficient blood clotting, it enhances sleep, and it makes you feel positive. People with low levels of Serotonin are more likely to feel stressed. They may feel depressed and have panic attacks. Interestingly, Serotonin speeds up bowel function and pushes food through the intestine faster.
How to boost your dopamine & serotonin
When you look at the foods that boost each of these neurotransmitters, you will see that they are rather similar.
Foods to boost Dopamine
- Protein foods that are rich in the amino acids, tyrosine, and phenylalanine. Examples are Turkey, Chicken, Fish, Beef, Dairy, Soy, Legumes
- Probiotics (gut bacteria play an important role in Dopamine synthesis)
- Fava beans (these inhibit Parkinson’s disease, which is at least partly caused by low Dopamine)
- Iron, Niacin, Folate, Vitamin B6
- Nuts especially almonds and walnuts
- Pumpkin and sesame seeds
- Milk and dairy
High levels of saturated fats (full fat dairy, coconut oil and palm oil) can disrupt Dopamine
Foods to boost Serotonin
Foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan boost Serotonin levels. Many are the same foods that boost Dopamine because proteins often contain both tryptophan and phenylalanine. Some of the top foods for boosting Serotonin are:
- Nuts (especially almonds) and seeds
- Turkey and other poultry such as chicken but turkey is the highest
- Soy and foods made of Soy, such as Tofu
- Dairy foods, including milk, yoghurt, and cheese
Both Serotonin and Dopamine levels are enhanced by spending plenty of time exposed to sunlight. They are also increased by exercise, listening to music and meditation. It seems likely that music might stimulate Dopamine more effectively than other neurotransmitters.