By now we’re all aware that mental health is just as important (and sometimes intrinsically linked to) our physical health. Mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression affect 1 in 6 of the UK population (Mind UK, 2020), but with access to mental health services declining, it’s no wonder more of us are seeking out alternative solutions.
Our mood and mental wellbeing are greatly impacted by our hormones; a group of chemical messengers that control an array of functions within the body. The ones responsible for helping us ‘get happy’ are called ‘serotonin’ and ‘dopamine’. A common treatment method for depression is the prescription of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), a type of anti-depressant that increases the serotonin levels in your brain. While these medications are effective in improving mood and mental wellbeing, they can, unfortunately, come with some less than pleasant side effects including digestive issues, dizziness, irritability, insomnia, and more. Now, this is not to say we recommend stopping the prescribed medication from your doctor – you should always discuss any concerns with them first.
But these hormones occur naturally in our bodies – we should be able to boost them naturally, right? Before we can figure out how to do this, it helps to understand what these ‘happy hormones’ actually do.
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin (also known as 5-Hydroxytryptamine) is a chemical, that much we have established, but why would you want more of it?
Its main job in our bodies is to regulate our mood as well as our sleep, appetite, digestion, learning ability, and memory. Therefore, if your serotonin levels are low you are likely to feel less emotionally stable and may struggle with sleep, focus, and low appetite.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine similarly is a chemical (also known as 3,4-dihydroxyphenethylamine) that affects, again, several functions in the body including locomotion, learning, working memory, cognition, and emotion.
Dopamine is our chemical reward mechanism. When we get a large influx of dopamine we get a feeling of pleasure and reward in the same way you would train a dog with a reward for good behaviour (yes, sometimes we are that simple).
So now we know how important these chemicals are to have, you might suspect that your levels of serotonin or dopamine aren’t as high as they ought to be. So here are some ways you can increase them and give your mood a natural boost.
Now this one may seem obvious and a bit of a cop-out, sort of like being told to drink water, but this truly is one of the best natural ways of increasing both your serotonin and dopamine levels. Exercise also helps with a multitude of other ailments so more exercise will always be a better thing (just don’t overdo it)!
A Protein-Rich Diet (Plant-Based)
Serotonin is involved in your digestive process, so naturally, what you eat is likely to impact your levels. Up to 90% of the serotonin our bodies create comes from our intestines and not our brain, so making sure the food we eat is right for us is paramount! The main ingredient we are looking to include here is the amino acid Tryptophan, which aids in the production of serotonin and melatonin to regulate our mood, appetite, sleep cycles, and more. Tryptophan cannot be produced by the body and so must be obtained through our diets. Some of the best sources of Tryptophan can be found in vegetables, nuts and seeds such as:
- Butternut Squash Seeds
Incorporating these foods into your regular diet can positively boost your serotonin levels and also provide a variety of other health benefits! Another obvious way to get more Tryptophan into your diet is with protein supplements. Bodyhero pea protein contains all the essential amino acids needed to function and fuel your body. Check out their range of supplements here!
Meditation has in recent years become one of the most popular ways to improve mental wellbeing in the UK and if you’ve ever tried it, you’ll know why. Research shows that meditation, accompanied with breathing exercises, can activate the release of dopamine in the brain resulting in reduced anxiety, better sleep, and improved mood! Click here for creative ways to add meditation into your day!
Another great way to instantly lift your mood is through the use of essential oils. These natural, plant-derived oils are known to have medicinal properties with lemon, bergamot and lavender in particular reported to boost serotonin levels. By smelling these oils you can create an instant sense of calm and contentment. Carry that feeling with you wherever you go with ‘Mood Rolls’ from Haoma or instantly uplift your space with our full range of natural, essential oil candles – available in an array of soothing scents.
As we mentioned, these should not replace any prescribed medication without consultation from your doctor. However for anyone considering medication but looking to try some natural alternatives first, we hope you find some of these tips helpful! With a few easy day-to-day activities like this, as part of a healthy lifestyle, you can boost your serotonin and dopamine levels naturally.