Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins; how to hack yourself happy with hormones

Nutritionist, TV presenter and author Rick Hay shares the hacks and practices in your life that can give your all-important happy hormones a boost.

It has been a very difficult year for all of us. News of the pandemic, money and job concerns, plus worries about the future kept (and still keep) us in constant fight or flight mode.
Constant stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system can have dangerous effects on the body and mind - risking depression, obesity, heart disease, and a variety of other illnesses.

How can we counter the constant stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system?

Certain hormones and neurotransmitters influence and moderate our feelings of well-being and our mood. Hormones are chemicals produced and released by different glands in the body. They are passed through the bloodstream and play a big part in various bodily functions.
Some of these hormones are known to help elevate our mood and foster positive feelings.

So, what are these “happy hormones” and how can you utilise them?

Endorphins - the pain killer

Endorphins. Image: iStock


Endorphins can help to reduce physical pain and stress due to their chemical properties acting similar to morphine, which is used to relieve pain. Here is how you boost endorphins naturally:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Sex
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Laughter

Everyone knows the physical benefits of exercise, but the mental health benefits are equally as impressive. In large part these are caused by endorphins. Meditation can help us relax and achieve an inner sense of calm, which triggers the release of endorphins, it also increases dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin.

Dopamine - Dr. Feel Good

Dopamine. Image: iStock

This neurotransmitter drives your brain’s reward system and pleasure-seeking behaviour. Every time you are praised or reach a goal you receive a delicious dopamine hit. Boost dopamine by:

  • Writing and ticking off your to-do list
  • Eating a delicious meal
  • Seeking out pleasurable healthy activities
  • Getting a massage

Dopamine creates reward-seeking loops. People will repeat pleasurable behaviour, over and over again. The like button on social media platforms is a modern dopamine trigger and makes us check our accounts constantly - every like gives us a small dopamine hit.

Serotonin - the mood booster

Serotonin. Image: iStock

This hormone is known to regulate your mood as well as your sleep, appetite, and memory. Low serotonin levels are thought to be linked with depression and insomnia. Boost Serotonin by:

  • Eating foods that contain tryptophan
  • Meditation
  • Swimming
  • Walk in nature
  • Exposure to sun

Serotonin impacts our entire body as it enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin is made from tryptophan, an essential amino acid. It must enter the body through food and is commonly found nuts, cheese, bananas and prunes. Tryptophan deficiency can lead to lower serotonin levels, which can result in anxiety or depression.

Oxytocin - the love hormone

Oxytocin. Image: iStock

This hormone is important in child labour and child-parent bonding. It also helps promote trust and bonding in relationships. Oxytocin levels increase with physical affection:

  • Kissing
  • Cuddling
  • Holding hands
  • Sex
  • Playing with pets

Oxytocin is a peptide hormone and produced in the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary. Females usually have higher levels than males. A 2012 study revealed that people in the first stages of romantic relationships had higher levels of oxytocin, compared with singles. These levels persisted for at least 6 months.

Rick Hay has over 25 years’ experience working with nutrition, naturopathy and botanical medicine. Rick is the author of 'The Anti Ageing Food and Fitness Plan - Plant Based Edition. Find him on Facebook and Instagram.

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