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This week, Castlefin-based Nutritionist Sorcha McElchar shares the secrets of happy hormones and how to boost them through our diet.
Sorcha shares food and fitness tips on her Healthy lifestyle and Nutrition blog sorchashealthyliving.com.
Our bodies produce chemicals called hormones, and these hormones have different functions.
There are 4 hormones known as ‘happy hormones’ and they control more than just our mood.
Dopamine is known as the ‘feel good’ hormone and is linked with the brain’s reward system which is released when you’re about to be rewarded. Dopamine associated with feelings of pleasure, learning, memory, motor system function, and more.
- Oxytocin is known as the ‘love hormone’. It gives that feeling of social trust. It’s important for childbirth, breastfeeding and forming a strong parental bond, as well as the ability to show empathy and bond in a relationship.
- Serotonin regulates mood, sleep, digestion, appetite, memory, and the ability to learn. It gives you that calm feeling of confidence in your ability to succeed.
- Endorphins are produced and stored in the pituitary gland; they are the body’s natural pain killer. It’s produced in times of stress or discomfort, but levels of Endorphins also increase when you partake in rewarding activities like eating and exercise.
There are no foods that actually contain these happy hormones, but certain vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin C, Vitamin D, B Vitamins, Zinc, Potassium and iron help boost your brain’s production of these ‘happy hormones’.
You get these vitamins and minerals from foods.
Here is a list of foods that can help boost your ‘happy hormone’ production!
- Dark chocolate increases the production of Dopamine and Serotonin which are natural antidepressants, but the effects only last for 3 minutes so eating small amounts stretched over a longer period of time is more effective that eating a large amount in one go which would also adversely affect blood sugar levels.
- Spicy foods, your body defends itself against the heat of the spicy foods by releasing Endorphins as a natural painkiller. However, if you suffer from IBS or Gut problems I would highly recommend staying away from spicy foods as Endorphins can only help one so much!
- Fruits & vegetables, especially bright colourful ones and dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of Vitamin C and Potassium.
- Nuts & seeds, avocados and oily fish are all great sources of healthy fats which produce Eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are hormones that support the production of Endorphins.
- Red wine can increase Dopamine and Serotonin levels in the brain, but this is because having a wee glass of wine is a pleasurable activity for some, you can get the same effect from any other pleasurable activity, like meeting up with friend, exercising, watching a funny film.
- Eggs and other animal proteins like meat, fish, and dairy are good sources of vitamin D. Research has shown that vitamin D helps regulate the conversion of the amino acid Tryptophan to Serotonin. Be sure to go for lean meat though, and low-fat cheese, yogurts, and butter when possible. Milk, especially whole milk, is the largest food source of Tryptophan followed by canned tuna, turkey & chicken, oats, cheese, nuts & seeds, and bread.
- Whole Grains – brown past, brown rice, wholegrain bread, and cereals are all great sources of B vitamins.
Food isn’t the only way to boost your ‘happy hormones’.
Here are some other simple things that do just that!
- Get some sun. Studies have found a link between vitamin D deficiency and Depression. Your skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight. Be careful not to get too much sun though as this is dangerous and can lead to sunburn which can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Studies have shown that people who wear suncream when out in the sun still maintain good vitamin D levels, so stay safe and wear sun cream!
- Exercise is a great way to release Endorphins. Regular exercise also increases Serotonin and Dopamine levels.
- Laughing can help relieve stress and anxiety and boost low mood by producing Dopamine and Endorphins. Sharing a funny video or a funny story, reading something funny in a book, watching a funny film or tv series. It all helps!
- Cooking something tasty with others boosts Dopamine levels, and releases Endorphins. It can also cause the release of Oxytocin from bonding and sharing a meal with others.
- Listening to music you like can improve your mood by boosting Serotonin levels and increasing Dopamine levels. Musicians or artists experience a rush of Endorphins when they create and/or perform by dancing, singing, or playing and instrument.
- Pet your dog. Petting or cuddling your dog causes the release of Oxytocin for both you and your furry friend. If you’re a dog lover even just seeing a dog causes an increase in Oxytocin!
- Getting enough sleep is so important for all aspects of your help. Not getting enough sleep can adversely affect Dopamine levels.
The bottom line is there are loads of healthy things you can do to keep a positive outlook on life, which is especially difficult at present for many people. As orphan Annie sang “The sun’ll come out, tomorrow”!
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