We all know that hormones are chemicals sent from one organ to another with a message what to do. They control almost all our bodily functions, from reproduction, metabolism, sleep and growth to even our moods. Evolutionary biology makes sure that all we need to be healthy, makes us happy too. This is why eating healthy, exercising, sleeping and the all-time favorite; having sex, brings us so much joy.
CC0 licence, Pixabay, author: creades, adapted by me
There is a big difference between neurotransmitters and hormones. Hormones belong to our endocrine system and neurotransmitters to our nervous system. Neurotransmitters are chemicals released from a nerve cell and they transmit an impulse from a nerve cell to other tissues. They carry neurologic information from one cell to another.
The human body makes around 50 different hormones
Hormones, on the other hand, are chemicals secreted to our bloodstream by specialized glands called endocrine glands and they are essential for our every activity and some do have a behaviour similar to that of neurotransmitters. There are 10 major "happy hormones": ACETYLCHOLINE, DOPAMINE, ENDORPHINS, ENKEPHALINS, GABA, MELATONIN, NOREPINEPHRINE, OXYTOCIN, PHENYLETHYLMINE, and SEROTONIN. We will talk about 4 of them here and only briefly mention the others.
Oxytocin is a peptide hormone and neuropeptide that is produced by the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. It is responsible for social bonding and sexual reproduction. People often call it the hug hormone. According to Dr. Paul Zac, we should avoid handshakes and hug instead.
This little thingy is also referred to as ‘love’ or ‘bonding’ hormone and it is stimulated by touch or skin to skin contact. It promotes feelings of emotional attachment and increases trust and loyalty while reducing anxiety and stress. It was discovered by Henry Dale in 1906. and its molecular structure was determined in 1952. The interesting thing is its connection with autism. There is a report suggesting how autism is correlated with genomic deletion of the gene containing the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR). You can read the report here:
"Association of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) in Caucasian children and adolescents with autism" Jacob S, Brune CW, Carter CS, Leventhal BL, Lord C, Cook EH (April 2007)
Dopamine is probably the most famous one from the happy hormone group and it is often falsy referred to as the happy molecule. Recent studies have confirmed that it is in fact related to desire and pleasure. Dopamine motivates us to take actions towards our goals and needs and gives pleasure when we achieve them. When we are procrastinating and having self-doubt, we are running low on it.
Dopamine, Wikimedia Commons, public domain
Dopamine is an organic chemical of the catecholamine and phenethylamine families. In the brain, it functions as a neurotransmitter and comes from the prefrontal cortex. This hormone gives us the courage to be adventurous and is stimulated by risk-taking so we have those people who are always looking for a dopamine high. Having dopamine in just the right amount is crucial. If you have too little of it, you are at risk of Parkinson’s disease and if you have too much there is a danger from hallucinations and schizophrenia. There is a great paper published at Medical University of Vienna that goes to great lengths when it comes to describing all about dopamine that I encourage you to check out:
"Dopamine: Far more than just the 'happy hormone'." Medical University of Vienna.ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 August 2016.
Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter that is found in the enteric nervous system located in the gastrointestinal tract but also produced in the central nervous system. This little fellow is responsible for telling us when we had enough, from food to people and when we are in lack of it, depression sets in easily.
When we feel important, serotonin begins to flow and it is easy to stimulate. Since our brains can not always tell the difference between real and imagined, there is an easy way to produce more serotonin, just think about past event that gave you pleasure or fantasize about future ones. Gratitude feelings have been associated with it too. Serotonin also improves sleep, diminishes craving, and fights depression and be sure to get some Sun exposure since UV rays not only increase vitamin D but the serotonin production too.
To learn more about this lovely happy hormone, check out these papers:
"How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs" by Dr. Simon N. Young from the Department of Psychiatry, McGill University
"Serotonin research: contributions to understanding psychoses" by Mark A.Geyer, Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, USA, and Franz X.Vollenweider, University Hospital of Psychiatry, Neuropharmacology and Brain Imaging, Zurich, Switzerland
Endorphines relieve our pain and can even lead to euphoria. They originate in the pituitary gland, spinal cord and throughout other parts of the brain and nervous system.
Endorphins are related with pleasure and are released during sex and labour. They are considered to be body’s opioids and my personal favorites. The “runners high” I get is caused by them and the happy feeling while I laugh really hard. They can also be released while eating dark chocolate and smelling lavender. These mood elevators are the true happy molecules and to learn everything about them, check out this research:
"Understanding Endorphins and Their Importance in Pain Management" by Adam S Sprouse-Blum, BA, Greg Smith, BS, Daniel Sugai, BA, and F Don Parsa, MD, FACS
I have a plan, not sure if I am going to stick to it but I do have it, to make real long proper posts about each hormone that I have mentioned here. Until then, there are 3 more that I need to say at least something about in this little introduction-like post. Those 3 additional ones in the "and more" category are Anandamide, GABA, and Norepinephrine.
Anandamide is a substance produced in the body that binds to cannabinoid receptors and is called the bliss molecule. It is involved in appetite, pain, and fertility and it has anti-anxiety and anti-depressant properties.
GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid) is the true anti-anxiety molecule. It is a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in our brains that decreases nerve transmission by giving neurons time to recover.
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter and a stress hormone that coordinates the fight or flight response. It is referred to as energy molecule because it arbitrates many of the physical components of emotion.
All this time I was telling you that the meaning of life was to be happy and I have told you many times how happiness is not some far away goal or a destination we have to get to. It is a way of traveling, a way of living. Our bodies are incredible with Mr.Brain being the main boss. Like any other boss, this one, too, can be manipulated.
Use your body
to manipulate your brain
Our brains control our bodies and send impulses all around them but that relationship goes the other way around too. Our body parts send signals to the brain and influence it all the time. You can trick your brain by various physical activity to stimulate different hormone production. Here are some good ways to do that:
Have more sex
Smile and laugh
Have more sex
Eat healthy and reduce artificial sugar
Have more sex
Oh, and... Did I mention that you should probably have more sex?
With taking care of our happy hormones we take control of our lives and influence our state of mind. This modern day and age has us spending more and more time in front of computer screens. This can lead to hormonal imbalance if we are not too careful because we need human touch and we need sunshine, green food and lots of smiles to be healthy. Meditation, exercise and most of all, spending time with our friends is beneficial for our happiness and a healthy living.
For additional read, check out these references and enjoy:
Until next time
KEEP YOUR SMILE ON
LOVE YOUR HAPPY CHEMICALS!
Image sources AND LICENCES in order of appearance:
- all images used in this post are free for commercial use, they are royalty free with the links to original images provided under them
- line divider that I use is from FREE CLIPART LIBRARY, and is here
- titles are made by me using a photo from pixabay that can be found here
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