There are several “feel good” chemicals in the body: serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins.
Today we look at serotonin – the original “happy hormone”. It is essential for mood, digestion, sleep, brain function and circadian rhythm.
Now, here is the interesting bit…most of your serotonin is made in your gut, and your gut bacteria contribute to serotonin production.
So Hippocrates was right – all health and disease starts in the gut!
Furthermore, the gut and the brain are deeply connected. A happy and healthy gut equals a happy and healthy mind.
I always tell my patients that everything is connected to everything, and fascinating research suggests that taking care of your gut microbiome can support your mental health. The best way to look after your gut is through diet and micronutrients.
The more varied and natural your diet, the more diverse your gut microbiome will be. Whereas it has been shown that a typical Western diet high in processed foods produces far fewer beneficial bacteria.
Along with gut health, here are some other ways to enhance serotonin production:
When you exercise, it increases the firing rates of serotonin neurons, which results in increased release and production of serotonin.
In addition, there is an increase in the brain of the serotonin precursor tryptophan that persists after exercise – this keeps you feeling good in the hours after you have finished exercising. As hunter-gatherers, we were engaged routinely in vigorous exercise. Today we are mostly desk-based. Sitting for prolonged hours has a negative effect on our wellbeing. One way to mitigate this is by ensuring you get up at least every 45 minutes and do two minutes of movement. This could be climbing the stairs in your office or doing a quick round of squats and press ups. This will be hugely beneficial.
- Connection with others.
Being connected with people you love and respect and who love and respect you in return is a powerful way to increase serotonin. (Conversely, hostility and low perceived social support have both been shown to be a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease and mortality). Find the time to be with people in whose company you feel good.
- Exposure to bright light.
Bright light is already a standard treatment for seasonal depression, but some studies it is an effective treatment for nonseasonal depression also. (In post mortems carried out, serotonin levels are higher in those who died in summer than in those who died in winter.) The best thing to do is get outside in the morning for 20 minutes, even if it’s grey and overcast you will still be getting light exposure. Please see my article Night and Day for more information about light exposure.
- St John’s Wort – this is known to boost serotonin availability in the brain and can be just as effective as an anti-depressant in mild to moderate depression. Please speak to your physician about starting this.
I do hope that you find the above tips useful and that you can implement them into your daily routine. Please let me know how you get on!
Wishing you all health and happiness.
Dr Maria Amasanti
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