Health and happiness go hand in hand—you can’t have one without the other. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that “[h]ealth is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing.” So how healthy are you?
In this article, you’ll learn about one of the key components to both health and happiness: serotonin. You’ll also discover natural ways to increase serotonin and boost your physical and emotional wellbeing.
The Happy Hormone
Serotonin is often referred to as the body’s “happy” or “feel good” hormone. It is one of the most important neurotransmitters for health. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that enable information to be communicated between the brain and the rest of the body by sending signals from one nerve cell to another.
You’ve probably heard of serotonin’s effect on mood, but did you know it also affects your physical body? Serotonin plays a role in many of the body’s functions, and this fits in with how it is produced; while some serotonin is made in the brain, the vast majority is manufactured in your enteric nervous system, otherwise known as the “gut-brain.” Around 90% of the body’s serotonin is found in your digestive tract.
What It Regulates
Serotonin affects nearly all of our 40 million brain cells, so it is no surprise that it has a part to play in regulating many aspects of your health:
- Memory and learning
- Social behaviors
- Sexual desire
- Body temperature
- Endocrine system (hormones)
- Cardiovascular system
The Importance of Serotonin
Because serotonin affects so many aspects of mental and physical wellbeing, it is paramount to keep your levels topped up. Low serotonin levels are linked to a host of issues, including:
- Low mood
- Sleep disturbances
- Chronic pain
What’s more, research published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience finds that people with frequent low moods are more likely to experience chronic illnesses like heart disease.
The link between mind and body has been studied widely and gains in support each year. Indeed, happiness is important in its own right but also because it has been found to protect against both mental and physical disorders.
The Limits of Pharmaceuticals
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are usually prescribed to people experiencing anxiety or depression. As we’ve seen, serotonin is a messenger chemical. Once it has delivered its message, it is usually reabsorbed by the nerve cells. This is known as “reuptake.” SSRIs work by blocking (inhibiting) this reuptake, which results in more serotonin being available in the brain.
These medications take a while to work because, initially, the brain’s serotonin receptor (known as 5-HT1A the Serotonin Receptor) blocks the release of extra serotonin. Coupled with a long list of side effects, pharmaceutical anti-depressants may not be that helpful after all.
The good news is that there are plenty of natural ways to increase serotonin. Take a look at the tips below, and see how easy it can be to boost your levels of feel-good hormone.
Eat Your Way to Happiness
As we’ve seen, there’s a definite brain-gut connection; the majority of serotonin is found in the intestines. So it will come as no surprise that diet plays a key role in increasing your levels of serotonin.
The body synthesizes serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan. This is an essential amino acid because the body doesn’t produce it on its own; you need to obtain it from your diet. Foods that are high in protein, vitamins B2 and B6, and iron tend to be rich in tryptophan. For example:
- Nuts and seeds like sesame, sunflower and walnuts
- Oily fish like salmon
- Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, watercress and mushrooms
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut
To boost your absorption of tryptophan, pair these foods with healthy carbs like whole grains or grain-like seeds such as amaranth, millet, quinoa and buckwheat. These are great sources of high-protein carbohydrates that will give your serotonin levels a boost.
Reducing your consumption of processed foods, which are high in chemical additives, refined carbohydrates, sugar and trans-fats, will also have a direct impact on your mood. These foods are known to cause mental and physical health conditions. What’s more, they rob the body of energy, which creates feelings of lethargy and depression. Focus instead on natural wholefoods. Fill your plate with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, go for healthy sources of protein, snack on nuts, and see how quickly you start to feel better.
Think Your Way to Happiness
Many a life-coach has extolled the virtues of positive thinking, but this has a basis in science too. A study carried out by the Department of Psychology of the University of Montréal finds that self-induced changes in mood can influence serotonin levels. In other words, if you think happy thoughts, you boost your happy hormone and, therefore, increase your feelings of happiness.
Avoid activities that will cause you to think dark thoughts. TV and newspapers can be filled with negative and stress-inducing messages; turn away from media, and do something that makes you feel good. Spend time with friends, try a yoga or meditation class, read an uplifting book, or surround yourself with inspiring quotes. Thinking happy thoughts CAN alter your brain chemistry—choose to see your glass half-full.
Light Up Your Way to Happiness
This is probably one of the easiest things you can do to make yourself feel happier. Natural light is a well-researched and established treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, but researchers have found that it also affects levels of serotonin in the brain.
In our fast-paced modern lives, we spend much of our time indoors, either at our place of work, on the train, or at home. Make a point of including more light into your day by taking a walk at lunchtime or a gentle stroll after dinner instead of watching TV. The fresh air and movement will also do your mood a world of good.
Happy and Healthy
Being healthy doesn’t just mean being free from disease. It means feeling happy, contented, and at peace. You have the right to complete health. With a holistic diet of whole foods, positive thoughts and natural light, you can boost your levels of serotonin and start feeling happy and healthy. What are you waiting for?
What are your thoughts on the WHO’s definition of health? Do you feel healthy? How to do you make yourself feel happier? What do you think of the tips above? We always love to hear your thoughts and experiences, so feel free to drop us a line in the comments section below.