How to Optimize Brain Chemistry- Naturally
Stop the negative withdrawals, first!
Have you ever been shocked when you check your bank balance at the end of the month? You’ve been working hard, diligently following your budget but notice that your balance is $500 less than anticipated. The first response is often to think that someone else (the bank) must have made a mistake. But after examining the items line by line, you notice that everything is correct. Youhave simply been making too many tiny withdrawals (debits) without paying attention or recording them in your ledger- fancy coffee here, quick snack there, happy hour with friends, fast food, etc.
If those small withdrawals happen infrequently, they may not have a huge impact, but when done repeatedly, those debits can really impair our bottom line. Our neurochemistry works in much the same way. We keep chugging along fine, meeting all our obligations, thinking we are making the proper deposits, until one day we are sadly overdrawn, and didn’t see it coming. We come to a crashing halt!
So, how do we prevent that shock and increase our overall bottom line? Two choices, we either stop wasting resources unnecessarily ormake more deposits to increase our balance. When we apply this concept to our neurochemistry, the medical system attempts to increase the desired chemicals in our bodies through the use of pharmaceutical agents (akin to making more deposits to raise our bank balance). Each medication, however, comes with the possibility of side effects, so let’s quickly investigate what may be draining the system and stop the leaks. First, do no harm!
Our “Fab Four”Neurochemicals
Dopamine- The “feel good” hormone- Integral for motivation and helps one focus on desired goals… Set achievable, small goals along the path, and celebrate completion… tyrosine rich foods help.
Serotonin- Helps us “feel important”- helps regulate mood, sleep and appetite… Sunshine x 20” daily along with tryptophan rich foods.
Oxytocin- The “bonding” hormone… Touch, hugs (8/ day, lasting 20 seconds), massage, LOVE
Endorphins- These help us overcome our stress and pain caused due to physical activities. Creates a briefeuphoria that masks physical pain; stimulated bypain… Exercise, laugh, cry and stretch- all stimulate our body to release its OWN endorphins, as does dark chocolate & the use of vanilla and lavender aromas.
Identify and Modify the Negative Impacts
The most common problems are rooted in our American diet. As Huang (2019) points out, “high-fat Western diets and sugar-sweetened beverages have been associated with higher risk of depression or depressive symptoms” (lower dopamine and serotonin levels). Fats and sugars are essentially draining our critical neurochemicals!
I envision physicians sharing this information and prescribing “the balanced dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet and certain foods such as fish, fresh vegetables, and fruits”, explaining that these foods “have been associated with a lower risk of depression or depressive symptoms”. As a bonus to improving our moods, these dietary changes also improve cardiac health and stave off hypertension, cognitive decline and diabetes.
Chronic stress, inactivity and poor sleep patterns have also been shown to reduce serotonin levels along with deficiencies in vitamin D, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins and folate. It is empowering to know that we can start feeling better naturally by avoiding the things that harm us and replacing them with healthier choices. When we know better, we can do better! Before looking outside for answers, it is so helpful to take an honest look at ourselves and change any habitual daily actions that may be draining our neurochemistry mood banks.
Improving our bottom line
Take one baby step at a time, with confidence! Consider replacing high-fat, sugary fast foods with nutritionally dense foods, and decreasing stress by turning off electronics and taking a 30” walk after work/ dinner with your family each day. Great way to unwind and reconnect! At the end of the day, how about creating a relaxing bedtime ritual (with gratitude) to get everyone to sleep earlier. This is how we set the foundation for a healthier, more vibrant and loving life; one positive choice at a time.
In an article exploring ways of increasing serotonin without drugs, Young (2007), reminds us, “Another reason for pursuing nonpharmacologic methods of increasing serotonin arises from the increasing recognition that happiness and well-being are important, both as factors protecting against mental and physical disorders and in their own right.” (p. 394) Key suggestions for improvement (p. 395-396):
a. Positive mood focus- “Reported levels of happiness were positively correlated and reported levels of sadness were negatively correlated with serotonin synthesis in the right anterior cingulate cortex.” Plant seeds of positive moods by asking yourself (or clients)to rate pain on a scale of 10/10 with “10 being the BEST you’ve ever felt”? Relive happy, loving memories and enjoy and natural increase of healing neurochemicals.
b. Exposure to bright light- “The mood-lowering effect of acute tryptophan depletion in healthy women is completely blocked by carrying out the study in bright light (3000 lux) instead of dim light.” Get outdoors in the sunshine 20-30”/ day or bask in the light of seasonal affective disorder lamps in the winter.
c. Exercise- “A comprehensive review of the relation between exercise and mood concluded that antidepressant and anxiolytic effects have been clearly demonstrated.” Combine your physical exercise outdoors in the sunny garden and reap a 2 for 1 benefit (exercise and bright light).
d. Diet (healthy one)- “… tryptophan, which increases brain serotonin in humans as in experimental animals, is an effective antidepressant in mild-to-moderate depression.” Examples of some tryptophan rich foods include egg, turkey and chicken with complex carbs like whole grain breads, cereal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes, corn and carrots.
So, the next time you hear about a “chemical imbalance”, you don’t have to be frightened or feel like a victim. You understand that levels are not set in stone and can be improved with knowledge and simple changes in daily life! The neurochemicals in our bodies are constantly fluctuating, like the tides, based not only on innate physiology but also on the environment and our response to it. These variations are important, wherein “imbalance” can be seen as the positive struggle forhomeostasis and health.
Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to make one healthy choice today to add value, and modify one harmful issue that may be draining your body’s neurochemistry. Your health and vitality are built upon a series of daily choices- Reclaim that wisdom and co-create your best self ever!
Huang, Q., Liu, H., Suzuki, K., Ma, S., & Liu, C. (2019). Linking What We Eat to Our Mood: A Review of Diet, Dietary Antioxidants, and Depression. Antioxidants, 8(9), 376. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/antiox8090376 (6/28/21)
Young S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 32(6), 394–399. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/
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