Put your Neurotransmitters at Work for Better Mental Health through Diet and lifestyle Management
The problem of stress arises when you put your work at first and your brain health at second. Mindfulness is your happiness factor.
Happiness has a biological dimension to it with the release of certain chemicals from the brain known as neurotransmitters or happy hormones.
Being always on autopilot getting distracted constantly when connected to your phone and social media undermines your happiness.
You probably find it challenging to stay away from distraction and stress. Although there are mindful practices to reduce stress and enhance your happiness quotient through yoga, meditation and gratitude exercise.
But, what if you can get to include some other practices to stay happy. For a healthy body and more productive at work the best approach is to have a fresh, healthy and curious mind.
Happiness is a state of mind that dwindles with our expectations and stress make it seem complex. Happiness has a connection to good health as positive thoughts reduce stress levels and improve health consequently in the long-term.
Little facts about Neurotransmitters:
Neurotransmitters or brain chemicals transmit signals from one nerve cell to another for communication across brain cells, gland cells or muscle cell.
Dopamine: Neurotransmitter for ‘Pleasure’
Dopamine initiates the reward system in the brain for pleasure and also addiction, associated with positive emotions, and desire. In which people develop an urge to repeat pleasurable behaviors leading to dopamine release.
Tips to balance Dopamine levels:
Try to focus on single tasks rather multi-tasking to avoid any hindrance to your pleasure. While eating try to focus on the taste, aroma, flavors of the food and avoid reading emails simultaneously and just enjoy the food. Avoid watching T.V while reading a book and so on.
Take a pause and celebrate: Break down your goals in small targets and celebrate the achievement at each step rather waiting for complete success.
Say ‘No’ to too many options: With each day try to narrow your options to avoid any burden and confusion. Stick to your commitments if made to avoid second-guessing.
Go for quick pleasure activities: playing with your dog, painting and drawing, cooking, celebration with family and friends helps keep anxiety at bay.
Dietary sources of Dopamine
Fruits: Banana (8µg/g), plantains, avocado (4-5µg/g) has a high content of dopamine.
Leaves and beans of Velvet beans have high levels of dopamine known for its anti-parkinsonian effects.
Low levels of dopamine in citrus fruit (oranges), apple, tomato, spinach, pea, and beans.
Serotonin: Neurotransmitter for ‘Happiness’
Serotonin is responsible for happiness, good mood, well-being, better sleep and regulation of digestion.
Serotonin levels are affected by stress, exercise, and sunlight. A lower level of serotonin leads to anxiety and obsession. Meditation and mindfulness enhance serotonin levels.
A study conducted in 2013 reported a significant reduction in cortisol levels with supplementation of Bacopa monnieri (also known as waterhyssop, brahmi, thyme-leafed gratiola).
Bacopa monnieri’s calming effect has been attributed to reduce depression. It also helps to improve levels of serotonin and dopamine that generally declines with age.
Simple hacks to de-stress:
- Break your relationship with negative emotions: Eliminate negative thinking by restructuring cognition pattern. Spot the negative thoughts around you and notice the negative self-talk. When you manage to do that you can build a better emotion to mental fitness.
- Practice Mindfulness: Every morning try to sit down for 10-15 minutes or any other time in the day if you are under a busy schedule. Being in the present moment try to notice your thoughts, physical sensation, and emotions in awareness. Mindfulness is not about deliberate effort to focus or concentrate rather an observation of the present situations (thoughts, desires, pain) and letting it go without any mental conflict.
Know more: Food and Mood Journal: An easy to use journal to track your food intake and mood type daily
Dietary sources of Serotonin
Foods rich in folates such as broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits, eggs, and beetroot helps to lower depression.
Foods high in fiber such as oats, whole grains, and vegetable, pears enhance serotonin levels hence feel-good factor.
Vitamin D fortified food sources such as milk and milk products, soy milk, egg, and orange juice have been found to reverse seasonally related mood disorders.
Endorphins: Neurotransmitter for ‘Euphoria’
Endorphins are Opiate-like chemical produced internally in response to pleasure and excitement such as while eating chocolate, chili peppers or runners high.
Endorphin release in the brain affects the increase or decrease of serotonin levels.
A feel of physical sensation like an increased heartbeat, twinkling of eyes, clapping of hands, smile or laugh generates a rush of passion is accompanied by chemical changes in the brain leading to a feeling of pleasure.
Endorphins relieve anxiety and pain, reduce stress, improves mood and strengthens the immune system.
Food and Endorphins: During the condition of stress or pain consumption of certain foods trigger the release of endorphins.
For instance, chocolate produces more endorphins.
Chili pepper (contain active chemical ‘capsaicin’) stimulate the release of endorphins as a part of reducing chronic stress. Powdery donuts release endorphins and dopamine that helps feels elated.
Sugar-induced euphoria (calm and happy) comes from eating cakes, fudge, and cookies.
Ways to enhance Endorphin release naturally: Go for activities like meditation or yoga, quality sleep, breathing techniques, and acupuncture treatments.
Glutamate: Neurotransmitter for ‘Memory’
Glutamate the most important neurotransmitter that regulates development and creation of nerve connection also enhances memory and learning.
Learn new skills: Research proves that learning new skills helps you learn and retain better. This enhances white matter in the brain responsible for improving performance.
Dietary sources of Glutamate
Seafood, tomato and products, spinach, mushrooms, seaweed, soy, fermented beans, miso, parmesan cheese, fish sauces.
GABA: Neurotransmitter for ‘Calming effect’
GABA (Gama-Amino butyric Acid) involved in improving focus and vision, and regulates the nervous system. Its low level may cause depression or anxiety.
There is a need for efficient GABA levels to balance the high glutamate levels is an excitement neurotransmitter. Excess of glutamate is involved in seizure and low levels in a coma. Glutamate being a precursor of GABA (that is glutamate is converted into GABA in the body naturally) there is a need of balance in levels of these chemicals for calming effects.
Dietary sources of GABA
Vegetables: Tomato, spinach, mushroom, potato, sweet potato, pea
Whole grains: Oat, wheat, barley, buckwheat, rice
Natural ways to improve GABA levels:
- Be active: Study shows that physical activity lowers depression and mood swings.
- Try yoga and meditation: Daily practice of meditation reduces stress hormone (cortisol) and improves GABA function.
- Take probiotics: Gut health has been associated with GABA function hence include probiotic food in your diet. Such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut for healthy microbiome.
- Have a cup of green tea: Presence of epigallocatechin gallate (a natural anti-oxidant) in green tea stimulates GABA function.
Serotonin in the body can be enhanced by aerobic exercise that helps improve mood and promote relaxation. A good night sleep also enhances serotonin levels.
Endorphin hormones work as an analgesic or a natural pain killer to give a feeling of happiness.
A release of endorphins lowers blood pressure, chronic pain and pathological symptoms.
Holy basil (also known as Tulsi in India) acts as an anti-stress agent due to the presence of three phytochemical compounds. Namely, Ocimumosides A, Ocimumosides and 4-allyl—1-O-beta-D-glucopyronosyl-2-hydroxybenzene. These anti-stress compounds lower stress-producing hormone corticosterone.