Do you sometimes find yourself feeling down in the dumps? You are not alone. Across the UK, 1 in 6 adults are affected by depression,1https://www.ons.gov.uk and over 8 million people are experiencing an anxiety disorder.2https://mentalhealth-uk.org/help-and-information/conditions/anxiety-disorders/what-is-anxiety/ At Chuckling Goat, we are exploring ways to ‘hack’ our hormones to make us feel good and less stressed 😁.
Hormones influence our mood, appetite, tiredness, digestion, emotional states, and other bodily processes. The endocrine system produces and distributes these hormones. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland control the endocrine system. Exposure to extensive stress disrupts hormone secretion, leading to inflammation, accelerated cell ageing, depression, and other negative health consequences – certainly not what we want. Luckily, there are a group of four hormones known as the “feel-good hormones” due to the happy (and even euphoric) feelings they create. The good news is, you can boost your level of these happy hormones, and lower your stress hormones (such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline) with some easy lifestyle considerations.
What are the Happy Hormones?
- Serotonin – a happy hormone mainly produced in the gut, a natural mood booster.
- Oxytocin – triggered by closeness, “the cuddle hormone”, “the love drug”. It’s main function is to facilitate childbirth.3https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/oxytocin-the-love-hormone
- Dopamine – a motivational molecule made in the gut, “the pleasure hormone”, “the happy hormone”.
- Endorphins – “the runner’s hormone”, painkillers (the body’s natural morphine), released in response to pain or stress. About 20 different endorphin types exist.4https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/endorphins-the-brains-natural-pain-reliever
10 Steps to Boost Happy Hormones & Lower Stress Hormones
- Increase consumption of prebiotic fibre – think vegetables, fruit, and legumes. Probiotic bacteria can use this prebiotic fibre to produce serotonin.5https://atlasbiomed.com/blog/serotonin-and-other-happy-molecules-made-by-gut-bacteria/
- Sleep deprivation increases cortisol (the stress hormone). Getting 8 hours of sleep each night can positively affect oxytocin production.6https://atlasbiomed.com/blog/serotonin-and-other-happy-molecules-made-by-gut-bacteria/
- Mind your mind! Practising mindfulness and even engaging in cognitive behavioural therapy can minimise stress hormones and help tackle rumination. Studies show that during meditation dopamine is released.7https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/dopamine-the-pathway-to-pleasure
- Take up a hobby – yoga, gardening, and art have all been linked with cortisol reduction.8https://atlasbiomed.com/blog/how-to-lower-cortisol-levels/
- Simply hugging a loved one (family/friend/partner) or a pet can increase oxytocin levels!9https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/oxytocin-the-love-hormone Not that we needed an excuse to hug our furry friends 🐶.
- Exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, can boost serotonin levels and is also good for your heart. That’s right, ‘runner’s high’ is a real thing! This euphoric feeling after a run or an intense workout is serotonin at work.10https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/serotonin-the-natural-mood-booster Regular physical exercise will boost your serotonin, dopamine and endorphins!11https://www.healthline.com/health/happy-hormone#exercise A fast-paced walk or aerobic activity is great for releasing endorphins.12https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/endorphins-the-brains-natural-pain-reliever
- Have a laugh! Laughing naturally reduces levels of cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Laughing also boosts serotonin levels,13https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28536272/14https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3267132/ dopamine levels, and releases endorphins.15https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/endorphins-the-brains-natural-pain-reliever
- Get outside. Spending time outside, in the sunlight is great way to boost your serotonin and endorphins!16https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/17https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/serotonin-the-natural-mood-booster
- Cook a delicious meal. Eating something you really enjoy can trigger both dopamine and endorphin release. Sharing this experience of cooking and eating with a loved one may give the added benefit of an oxytocin boost too18https://www.healthline.com/health/happy-hormone#food. Add some foods from the lists below for an extra happy hormone boost!
- Play some music, sing, dance, or play an instrument to release a rush of endorphins. By the same way, research suggests that music may increase tolerance to pain19https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/endorphins-the-brains-natural-pain-reliever. Music, especially singing in groups, also increases oxytocin levels20https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/oxytocin-the-love-hormone.
Tryptophan is the essential amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin.21https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/serotonin-the-natural-mood-booster Here is a list of foods rich in tryptophan:
- Sunflower seeds
- Salmon, cod
Dopamine is made from tyrosine. Furthermore, evidence suggests that consuming a tyrosine-rich diet may improve mental performance and memory.22https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/dopamine-the-pathway-to-pleasure Here is a list of foods rich in tyrosine:
- Dairy foods (e.g. milk, yoghurt, cheese)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
Foods that are naturally high in polyphenols can lower cortisol. Eat plenty of the following foods whilst restricting sugar intake to keep your stress response controlled:
- Probiotic foods e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi
- Probiotic yoghurt drinks
- Prebiotic fibre
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea
- Black tea
Take a look at some of our favourite Gut-Brain friendly recipes for some inspiration!