What are the happiness hormones that regulate the human body? In short, they are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.
However, because I’m a Biochemist and Molecular Biologist, I love this topic of conversation. Dorky? YES. Useful. ABSOLUTELY.
After all, what’s better than learning how to assist your body in dosing you with a flood of happiness chemicals that can improve your mood, creativity, and confidence?
To me, not much could beat that knowledge, so let’s dive in!
What is Happiness?
Throughout time, philosophers, religious leaders, therapists, and even common people have tried to define happiness. What do I think is the definition of happiness? Simply put, happiness is state where you feel amazing and you just can’t help but smile.
Biologically speaking, happiness is a state where four specific hormones — dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins — are released in higher than average quantities.
What are the Happiness Hormones?
Hormones are chemical substances produced in the body that control and regulate the activity of certain cells or organs. Hormones facilitate every activity of life, including processes like reproduction, metabolism, digestion, growth, and mood control.
The hormonal system, otherwise known as the endocrine system, uses glands to secrete hormones that get distributed across the body. For example, testosterone and estrogen are produced by the ovaries and adrenal gland, while hormones such as prolactin and luteinizing are produced by the pituitary gland.
Consequently, each hormone can be categorized based on its functions and the gland producing it.
Learning to be Your Own Drug Dealer: D.O.S.E
On the other hand, we also have hormones which can be active in more than one physical process — they are known as neurotransmitters — and are often referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. They are of various classes, with different functions and mechanisms of action.
In this category, we have the four happiness hormones, which conveniently spell out the acronym D.O.S.E.
These four hormones are the primary chemicals in the brain that impact happiness.
If you’ve ever experienced changes in appetite, mood, energy, self-esteem, anger, changes in weight, or gain/loss of sex drive, chances are that you’re being impacted by these hormones.
To better understand their role in human happiness, let’s explore them each one at a time.
Dopamine is an important chemical messenger that it’s involved in memory, motivation, and attention. It also helps regulate movement, learning, and emotional responses. It is perhaps one of the most well-known chemicals in our body. The right balance of this hormone is vital for both physical and mental well-being. A deficiency in this hormone can also result in some critical medical conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and depression.
Additionally, studies have also indicated that dopamine levels may correlate with addiction to cocaine, alcohol, and certain drugs. Unfortunately, regular drug use can also cause the brain to produce, absorb, or transmit less dopamine, which can further exacerbate the addiction cycle.
Symptoms of Dopamine Deficiency
Signs and symptoms of dopamine deficiency include:
- Loss of balance
- Low energy
- Mood swings
- Muscle cramps
- Frequent pneumonia
- Low self-esteem
- Inability to concentrate
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Low sex drive
- Feeling sad
Causes of Doparmine Deficiency
Dopamine deficiency can be influenced by many factors, such as drug abuse, unhealthy diet, existing conditions, and other causes. Unfortunately, low amount of dopamine levels in the body can cause the following conditions:
- Parkinson’s disease
An interesting study conducted by the Brookhaven National Laboratory also explored an connection between obesity and lower levels of receptors for dopamine. Specifically, the study questioned whether obese people may eat more in an attempt to stimulate their “pleasure circuits” regulated by dopamine.
How to Boost your Dopamine Levels
You can increase your body’s dopamine level by trying the following:
- Eating foods that are rich in protein
- Setting goals for yourself, because this will give you clarity and something to strive towards
- Eating foods that can boost levels of magnesium, omega-3, vitamin D, etc.
- Taking drugs such as ropinirole and pramipexole (these drugs are anti-depressants and mood stabilizers)
- Exercise, therapeutic massage, and potentially, meditation
- Keeping a healthy gut biome (or taking probiotics)
- Get enough sleep
Oxytocin (Oxt) is another one of the happiness hormones. It is widely regarded as a “love hormone” because levels of oxytocin tend to increase during orgasm and hugging. It is produced by the hypothalamus secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland (a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain).
It is also the maternal hormone and it is often released during childbirth and breastfeeding. As such, it is a hormone that triggers bond between a mother and a baby.
Oxytocin increases emotional feelings and trust. While individual levels vary, on average, it is more prevelant in women than in men. Also, research has shown that it may be beneficial to people suffering from autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and interestingly, anxiety.
Uses of Oxytocin
What are the uses of oxytocin?
- It helps to increase the release of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) in cells, which helps to encourage the repair of intestinal injury
- It can serve as a therapy for preventing chemo-radiotherapy-induced intestine injury
- It can also be used to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
How to boost your oxytocin levels?
- By showing affection to friends and family (hugging, kissing, or touching)
- Get a massage since it will trigger the release of oxytocin
- Soak in a hot tub
- Share a meal
- Do something nice for another person
Like every other neurotransmitter, serotonin is responsible for transmitting specific signals from one part of the brain to another. It is commonly found in the digestive system, or sometimes, in the blood even though it is secreted in the brain and performs its function in the brain. It is also present in the central nervous system (CNS).
Serotonin is the hormone that is mainly responsible for stabilizing our feelings of well-being, happiness, anger, changes in weight, sleep pattern, changes in appetite, loss of sex-drive, moods, depression, sleeping, and anxiety.
Interestingly, it is often triggered when you feel important.
Functions of Serotonin
Serotonin influences most brain cells both either directly and indirectly. For example:
Mood: In the brain, serotonin has a great influence and impacts levels of anxiety, mood, and happiness. Illicit drugs such as LSD and Ecstasy also cause a significant rise in the hormonal level.
Sexual functions: It appears to inhibit sexual activity
Bone Density: High levels of serotonin in the bone increases osteoporosis level
Also, serotonin influences clotting, nausea, bowel function, etc.
Clearly, you can see why this hormone is so important and why reduced levels of this hormone in the body can lead to anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and generalized anxiety.
How to boost your serotonin levels?
There are many proven ways of increasing serotonin levels in the body. They are:
- By trying to consume foods that are rich in tryptophan (an amino acid that can be converted into several important molecules such as serotonin and melatonin). Examples of those foods include milk, corn, and other forms of carbohydrates
- By performing aerobic exercises such as running, brisk walking, swimming, and cycling.
- By having happy thoughts i.e. thinking about happy memories or things that have put you in a state of euphoria.
Endorphins originate from the two words “endogenous” and “morphine” i.e. “from the body” and “pain relievers” respectively.
They are chemicals produced naturally by the brain to cope with stress and pain. They are your body’s natural painkillers. They help you to keep going even when you are exhausted and are what produces runner’s high (the euphoric feeling of great happiness after exercising).
Apart from being a painkiller, it can also help you to focus and as well as help you to improve your overall mood. Endorphins can be secreted through aromatherapy, laughter, healthy diet, sunshine, and other positive behaviors. Not surprisingly, the levels of endorphins in the body varies from individual to individual.
Benefits of endorphins
What are the benefits of endorphins? They can help to:
- Alleviate depression
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Boost self-esteem
- Reduce weight
- Deal with pain during childbirth
Signs of low endorphin levels
Signs and symptoms of low endorphin levels include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Impulse behavior
- Aches and pains
How to Boost your Endorphin Levels
Tactics for boosting your endorphin levels include:
- Regular exercise: This has been found to trigger more the release of endorphins which always helps to combat depression and anxiety.
- Spicy foods: Since your tongue has receptors that react to spice by sending messages to your brain, the foods will cause your brain to trigger the release of endorphins, the more.
- Have sex: As funny as it might seem, sex is one of those activities that release endorphins and oxytocin (the “love hormone”)
- Get acupuncture: Research has shown that continuous poking of the body with a sharp object, take, for instance, needle will without a doubt boost your endorphin levels
- Music: By creating music or playing the music that you love, your brain spews out more endorphins.
- Chocolate: Chocolate contains mood-boosting compounds such as phenethylamine and theobromine, organic compounds that boost endorphin levels and suppress pain respectively.
- Get a massage
- Drink wine
Limitations of the Happiness Chemicals
As effective as happiness hormones are, it is not surprising that they also have their own limitations. This is no wonder, as every story has got two sides. Most importantly, the effects of endorphins in the body are only temporary and not permanent. Regardless of the number of hours you’ve spent at the gym , if you have a difficult fight with someone, the happiness hormones are likely to be suppressed until you make peace.
Happiness Hormones in Your Brain
How important is happiness to you? Is it a goal that you’re intentionally pursuing? Importantly, can you tell what activities in your life create the release of these happiness hormones? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. Above all else, I value community and connection, so let’s connect Instagram (@CadeHildreth). This will let me share in YOUR world too.