How many times have you eaten dark chocolates or sweets to feel better instantly? Or listened to music or went for a walk to clear your head? Such practices have worked magically for most of us, so much so that these often manifest as our habits. But have you wondered why eating chocolates or listening to music makes you feel better or clears your headspace? The answer is hormones.
We have been repeatedly told that our brain is one of the most important organs in our body. It helps us think, make decisions, is responsible for our body movements, posture, balance, so on and so forth. But there is another important activity that the brain performs: managing our emotions and mood. Even though there are brain regions exclusive to this work (like the amygdala), our brain also takes help from the hormones secreted by these brain regions.
This blog talks about those hormones that induce feelings of happiness and relaxation. It also focuses on the ways we can accelerate the production of these happy hormones. Before we get into which hormones do what, let us first look at the very basics of hormones.
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by certain glands in our brain. These hormones function differently and have various effects on our physical as well as psychological well-being. For example, glucagon, a hormone secreted by our pancreas, improves blood glucose levels in our body. Another hormone, called melatonin, controls our sleep and wakeful stages and is regulated by the pineal gland found in our brain. Similarly, there are specific hormones that function to make us happy!
These hormones are:
Endorphins: helps in relieving stress and reducing pain-related feelings
Serotonin: stabilizes our mood and promotes well-being
Dopamine: induces feelings of pleasure when we are motivated or rewarded
Oxytocin: predominant during feelings of bonding and trust
Endorphins are your body’s pain killer. They signal the brain to stop the transmission of pain signals in the central nervous system. Apart from reducing pain, endorphins also induce feelings of “euphoria” or excess happiness and excitement. The term “runner’s high” has been associated with the rush of endorphins in an individual’s body. Runner’s high explains why some individuals get “hooked on” or “addicted” to running. Thank your endorphins when you start feeling good and energetic after a good run!
The hormone serotonin is a multi-tasker of our body. It plays an important role in our digestion, brain functions, sleep cycles, circadian rhythm, and our emotions. You will be surprised to know that around 90% of our body’s serotonin is produced in our gut! Thanks to the gut bacteria and the trillions of microbial cells that develop serotonin. This is interesting because it suggests that we can take care of our mental well-being as long as we maintain our gut health and dietary patterns. Fiber-rich plant foods with meat or fruits like apples, berries, etc., also help promote the production of serotonin in our gut.
Dopamine is our brain’s reward system. It is because of dopamine that we experience feelings of pleasure and motivation when rewarded. It is also involved in functions such as body movement, cognition, memory, attention, impulse control, and motivation. It makes us come back for more and is also considered the motivational cog in our system. Like serotonin, around 50% of dopamine is also produced in our gut. A second brain in our gut, called the enteric nervous system, is as important as our central nervous system or the brain. Hence, caring for our gut microbiome can definitely contribute to our mental well-being.
Oxytocin is our love hormone. Warm hugs, holding hands, feelings of being trusted, loved, and gratitude are all a result of oxytocin. It is also predominantly active during childbirth. In addition, oxytocin also helps regulate stress responses, calms our nervous system, and regulates our immune system. By now, you will not be surprised to know that gut microbe has a fair share of work in stimulating the production of oxytocin as well! This further promotes wound healing and muscle health that leads to healthy longevity in the long run.
We now know that most of our happy hormones are produced by the bacteria in our gut. Thus, needless to say, we need to consume a good diet in order to maintain the production of our happy hormones. Diets rich in a substance called ‘tryptophan’ can help in this area. Examples include milk, butter, egg yolk, meat, fish, bananas, cottage cheese, almonds, dried dates, and other high protein foods.
Apart from diet, you may also participate in the following activities to maintain the levels of your happy hormones:
Exercise: as it can boost the production of such hormones and protect us from diseases and other mental degeneration.
Participating in fulfilling activities: wherein you may involve family members, friends, and other loved ones. Any activity that brings a smile to your face can do the job of producing hormones like endorphins and serotonin! It could be painting, dancing, singing, or even just having some “me time.”
Exposure to sunlight: exposing oneself to sunlight during the early hours or late evening helps produce vitamin D. This keeps our bone and immune system strong, and it stimulates the production of serotonin (also responsible for reducing depressive symptoms).
Other activities that produce such hormones include spending quality time with your loved ones, playing with your pet, eating chocolates (but in moderation!), and meditating. Overall, a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in promoting the body’s natural production of happy hormones.
Understanding the role of these hormones on our emotions and even our bodily patterns encourage us to take active steps towards improving our mental health automatically because happy hormones are responsible for a happier you!
Dfarhud, D., Malmir, M., & Khanahmadi, M. (2014). Happiness & health: the biological factors-systematic review Article. Iranian journal of public health, 43(11), 1468.
Ghosh, S. K. (2018). Happy hormones at work: applying the learnings from neuroscience to improve and sustain workplace happiness. NHRD Network Journal, 11(4), 83-92.
Hasin, D., Pampori, Z. A., Aarif, O., Bulbul, K. H., Sheikh, A. A., & Bhat, I. A. (2018). Happy hormones and their significance in animals and man.