We also have included a mood quiz at the end to figure out if you are low in serotonin, GABA or dopamine.
COMFORT OF SWEET SEROTONIN
Though serotonin is typically recognized as a brain chemical, most of this neurotransmitter is produced in our digestive tract. Serotonin exerts powerful influence over mood, emotions, memory, cravings (especially for carbohydrates), self-esteem, pain tolerance, sleep habits, appetite, digestion and body temperature regulation. Wow! When we’re depressed or down, we naturally crave more sugars and starches to stimulate the production of serotonin. Also, when we’re cold or surrounded by darkness, serotonin levels drop. Hey, maybe there is a reason for that dreaded winter weight gain after all!
Serotonin is often thought of as our “happy hormone,” especially because its production increases when we’re exposed to natural sunlight and when we focus on one thing, rather than multitask. Production of serotonin is also closely linked to availability of vitamin B6 and the amino acid tryptophan. So if our diet lacks sufficient protein or vitamins, we run a greater risk of serotonin deficiency. We may experience a dip in serotonin in relation to physiological causes, dieting, digestive disorders and also stress, since high levels of the stress hormone cortisol rob us of serotonin.
Why the Epidemic of Low Serotonin?
Plenty of sunlight; a healthful diet rich in protein, minerals and vitamins; focusing on one thing; regular exercise and good sleep support serotonin. When we measure our current lifestyle against all the elements necessary for the body’s natural production of serotonin, the wide-ranging epidemic of low serotonin is not surprising. Add in chronic stress and multitasking—two of the main causes of serotonin depletion—and it’s a wonder any one of us has been left unaffected by low serotonin.
When we are depressed, our body naturally craves carbs in an attempt to raise serotonin. Of course, we all understand that excess carb consumption causes weight gain and possibly insulin resistance. Although antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are effective in raising serotonin in the short term, some evidence suggests these medications actually deplete serotonin in the long term. Furthermore, weight gain is one of the most common side effects of antidepressant drugs. A vicious circle indeed.
Serotonin is just one of a host of neurotransmitters secreted by the brain to regulate mood, attention and energy levels. Ongoing stress, just like depression, can deplete our serotonin reserves, leading to intense food cravings, particularly for sugar and refined carbohydrates that tend to mimic the soothing effects of serotonin. Persistently low serotonin leads to sagging energy, bouts of depression, worrying and dwelling, low self-esteem, difficulty making decisions, early morning waking and compulsive eating.
Researchers from Tufts University have provided scientific support for the close link between anxiety disorders, depression and higher risk of obesity. A study published in the March 2006 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine discusses the involvement of serotonin in both mood and appetite regulation. The data show that patients suffering from depression (and, therefore, low serotonin) often turn to food, particularly carbohydrates, to temporarily boost their levels.
Serotonin has also been proven to interact closely with leptin, the hormone responsible for appetite control. A 2007 study conducted by researchers at Cambridge University and published in Expert Reviews of Molecular Medicine showed serotonin to be an important regulator of energy balance. The findings revealed that serotonin acts on specific receptors in the brain, in connection with leptin, to affect how much we eat.
In light of the clear link between obesity and depressed levels of serotonin (and dopamine as you’ll soon see), the likelihood that many overweight and obese patients suffer from an imbalance of these hormones cannot be ignored. To successfully initiate appetite control and weight loss, therefore, brain chemistry must be addressed along with blood sugar and insulin balance. The catch is that insulin resistance, often associated with obesity, also blocks the activity of serotonin in the brain. Successful treatment, then, must be aimed at restoring the body’s response to insulin while also improving serotonin levels and activity within the brain.
In this case an important part of your treatment plan is a supplement which contains the nutrients needed for the production of serotonin including 5-HTP and other co-factors.
GET MELLOW WITH GABA
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a naturally calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter involved in relaxation, healthy sleep, digestion and the easing of muscle tension, pain and anxiety. GABA appears to regulate the activity of our stimulating neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin. It calms us down and indirectly helps with fat loss because of its beneficial effects on sleep, stress and tension reduction and mood. Progesterone supports the activity of GABA, which may explain why many women using natural progesterone creams experience better sleep and less anxiety. And, of course, when your mood is better, you tend to make better food choices and take better care of yourself. The supplement solution is to take a GABA support formula.
DOPAMINE: THE PLEASURE “RUSH”
If you are searching for stimulation or, as the song says, you feel you just “can’t get no satisfaction,” you could probably use a good dose of dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that’s heavily involved in the pleasure centre within the brain. It’s released in high amounts during gratifying activities such as eating, sex and other naturally enjoyable experiences. Being in love, fun social interactions, giving, exercise and dancing are just a few of the activities that give you a pleasurable dopamine boost.
As a brain chemical, dopamine influences pleasure, alertness, learning, creativity, attention and concentration. Dopamine also controls motor functions and muscle tension, which explains why a deficiency of this hormone is linked to Parkinson’s disease and restless leg syndrome (RLS), as well as cognitive changes such as depression, low libido, attention disorders, memory loss and difficulties with problem solving.
While too little dopamine can leave us craving food, sex or stimulation, too much can cause addictive behaviours. For instance, Parkinson’s patients taking medications to support dopamine levels have been shown to become involved in gambling when their medications were increased. Paranoia or a suspicious personality may arise from too much dopamine, although more of this hormone in the frontal area of the brain relieves pain and boosts feelings of pleasure.
Dopamine isn’t released only during pleasurable experiences, but also in the presence of high amounts of stress. So—pleasure and pain are closely related!
Many researchers today agree that dopamine is one of the reasons why foods can be addictive. We also know stress stimulates the production of dopamine, which provides us with more energy, drive and motivation, just as the addictive stimulants chocolate, caffeine (coffee, tea), sugar and cigarettes can. This means we can become as addicted to stress as we can to stimulants simply because we are searching for a dopamine rush to beat fatigue.
Not surprisingly, almost all abusive drugs and addictive substances influence dopamine production. Alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, amphetamines and even sugar can mess with our dopamine balance. According to Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), many smokers eat more when they are trying to quit because both food and nicotine share similar dopamine reward pathways. When less dopamine is stimulated as nicotine is reduced, food and sugar cravings naturally kick in to compensate. Fortunately, the Hormone Diet promotes strategies such as eating smaller amounts more frequently, avoiding skipped meals, increasing exercise and reducing stress, all of which can help provide the body with a natural dose of dopamine.
Besides the many pleasures dopamine brings, this phenomenal substance naturally suppresses appetite and aids weight loss. Antidepressant drugs such buproprion (Wellbutrin or Zyban), which act on dopamine receptors in the brain, have been found to help with weight loss. A study at Duke University Medical Center showed weight loss occurred within just a few weeks and remained after a period of two years with buproprion use. Many of the study participants who took dopamine also reported feeling satisfied with smaller amounts of food.
Unfortunately, the body tends to work against us when it comes to dopamine production. Researchers at Princeton University found dopamine decreased in rats when they lost weight on restricted eating programs. With this drop in weight, the rats’ appetite increased and they began to eat more in an attempt to naturally restore dopamine levels. How does this research translate for us? Supplements such as tyrosine, which increases the production of dopamine, may be beneficial to blunt the dopamine drop that occurs with weight loss and may ultimately allow us to sustain better appetite control. We also recommend dopamine support with a combination of Rhodiola, Tyrosine and Phenylalanine.
Now take the mood quiz below to see how your hormones are behaving. It will only take a few moments and be very telling for you.
Low Dopamine? Shop here
Low GABA? Shop here
Low Serotonin? Shop here