While philosophy has been trying to define and explain happiness in all sorts of ways, anatomy has spoken lightly “after all, it’s just hormones.”
Article medically reviewed by Dr. Adriana-Valentina Șeicăreanu- resident psychiatrist
Table of content:
1. What are hormones?
2. The 4 happiness hormones
3. How happiness hormones are produced
4. Happiness hormones in women vs men
5. Symptoms of low levels of dopamine and serotonin
6. The link between happiness hormones and mental balance
7. Foods rich in serotonin
8. Methods to increase the level of happiness hormone
Hormones are “chemical messengers” produced by the glands, particularly endocrine glands and have the role of sending out messages between different parts of the body. These are released into the blood, operating in two modes of communication: between two endocrine glands or between an endocrine gland and a target organ. There are many types of hormones that act on the body’s functions and processes such as growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, cognitive and mental function, maintaining homeostasis.
There are four main hormones present when you experience happiness, emotions and well-being. They moderate feelings of well-being and are influenced by the level of stress and lifestyle of each of us.
Serotonin – the mood stabilizer – is a neurotransmitter that sends out messages between nerve cells. It plays an important role in regulating mood, emotions, appetite, digestion, sleep-wake cycles and the biological clock.
Dopamine is considered to be the motivational engine, part of the brain’s reward system. It gives pleasant sensations and makes you come back for more, that’s why dopamine is the active neurotransmitter in addictions to substances (drugs, alcohol) and behaviors (sex, gambling).
One of the main functions of oxytocin is its involvement in birth and lactation. Your body also produces oxytocin when you are excited about your sexual partner and when you fall in love. Due to its role, it was called the “love hormone” or “hug hormone”. It is also responsible for establishing social relations between people.
Endorphins act as natural sedatives for the human body, relieving pain and creating a general feeling of well-being. The name originates from the term “endogenous morphine” – “Endogenous” because they are produced in our bodies, and “morphine” refers to the opioid pain killer whose actions mimic them. There are about 20 types of endorphins, the most studied so far being beta-endorphin.
Serotonin is produced predominantly in the intestines, in the brain, in thrombocytes. You can stimulate serotonin secretion by:
– Sun exposure
– Nature walks
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain by a two-step process. You can stimulate its secretion by:
– Achieving a goal
– Self-care activities
Endorphins are released from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in response to pain or stress. You can stimulate endorphin secretion by:
– Essential oils
– Dark chocolate
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland into the blood. You can stimulate oxytocin secretion by:
With serotonin, it has been shown that there are differences in its levels in the body of women and men. It seems that women have more serotonin receptors than men, so the effects are more visible in women. However, the protein that carries the hormone in a woman’s body is slower than that of men, which is the reason for the higher rate of depression in women.
Given the role of oxytocin in childbirth and breastfeeding, for a long time it was thought to be produced only by the woman’s body. In men, the level is lower, but it helps in the production of testosterone. At the same time, studies have shown that due to oxytocin, fidelity and attractiveness are maintained in a monogamous relationship.
It seems that the reason why addictions are more common in men than in women is that the dopaminergic system of men is more active than that of women.
Women are more prone to physical and mental pain than men due to lower endorphin production.
If you experience any of the symptoms below, your dopamine and serotonin levels may be low and you may need to see a doctor.
– Chronic pain
– Persistent constipation
– Weight loss / gain
– Difficulty swallowing
– Sleeping disorders
– Attention disorders
– Low sexual appetite
– Hallucinations and illusions
– Sad mood
Given that happiness hormones influence both the way you behave (or manage your emotions) and the basic functions of the body, they play an important role in mental balance. When hormone levels are not adequate, certain mental disorders can occur.
· Depression – There seems to be a complex link between depression and serotonin, but it is not fully elucidated. Serotonin deficiency can be a trigger for depression. Decreased dopamine levels create the basis of symptoms associated with major depressive disorder.
· Anxiety – Anxiety that occurs suddenly and seems unrelated to something else, such as a recent trauma or stressor, is often due to a serotonin deficiency. At the same time, high levels of endorphins could trigger anxiety and panic attacks
· Schizophrenia – It seems that many patients diagnosed with schizophrenia have lower serotonin levels than others.
· Parkinson’s disease – It is the result of a number of factors, one of which is the reduced dopamine production in the brain. When there is a dopamine deficiency, there are distinct movement difficulties associated with this condition.
· Dementia – New studies say that low serotonin levels are linked to dementia and may even be an early warning sign. Because serotonin can affect memory, concentration and other cognitive functions, it is possible that low levels increase the risk of developing dementia with age.
· Addictions – Excess dopamine can positively or negatively influence people’s response to certain stimuli.
· Autism – There seems to be a link between low oxytocin levels and the occurrence of autism in children, according to studies.
You can increase your serotonin levels in 2 ways:
– Consuming foods rich in prebiotic substances that support good bacteria and produce short-chain fatty acids: apples, barley, beets, berries, citrus, potatoes, cranberries, garlic, artichokes, legumes, mushrooms, oats, onions, rye, wheat , pasta
– Consuming foods rich in tryptophan, the essential amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin: sunflower seeds, soybeans, oats, wheat, quinoa, spirulina, potatoes, milk, cheese, chickpeas, salmon, cod, eggs, beef, chicken, turkey
Most people are familiar with the fact that exercise releases endorphins. Any form of physical movement that increases the heart rate will cause a positive feeling.
– Certain foods
When it comes to hormones, the food you eat plays an important role. Dark chocolate in small quantities can make you feel better when you are sad. Small amounts of alcohol, such as a glass of wine, can trigger the release of endorphins, however, too much can have the opposite effect. Cooking can also trigger the production of hormones, especially if you cook for or with someone you love.
– Sexual activity
Endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine are all released during sexual activity. They group together to create the feeling of relaxation and sexual satisfaction.
Massage or touching of any kind can encourage the release of endorphins and stimulate the production of oxytocin in both the person being massaged and the masseur. The same goes for other healing therapies (such as acupuncture, chiropractic and hydrotherapy), as it relaxes the body and moderates pain.
Meditation has many benefits, including relaxation and concentration of the mind. This practice triggers the release of endorphins, as well as dopamine, serotonin and melatonin.
Laughter leads to the production of endorphins, lowers stress levels, improves immune function and generally raises your spirits. It is so effective that laughter therapy has been established as cognitive-behavioral therapy in certain situations (depression, stress).
– Nature walks
Spending a few minutes a day outside can improve motivation and well-being.
– Essential oils
The olfactory system causes the brain to release serotonin and dopamine in response to the smell of essential oils such as bergamot, lavender and lemon. This is why aromatherapy is so popular for those experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
– Achieving goals
When goals are reached, even small ones, the brain’s reward system activates and releases dopamine. This not only gives your body a small boost of chemicals to feel good, but also motivates you to achieve more goals.
– Remembering pleasant things
There is an interaction in the brain between mood and memory; when combined with the part of the brain that is associated with attention, it can trigger the production of serotonin. This can happen when you remember something beautiful, when you look at old photos.
Both listening to music and singing can release oxytocin.
– Take a pet
When you play or hold a pet, the level of oxytocin in the body increases.
Your actions, lifestyle and relationships with others influence the secretion of these “happiness hormones”, so you are responsible for your own happiness. However, when you notice certain changes in your general condition and do not know how to manage them, it is important to ask for specialized help.