YOUR BRAIN: The Two Chemicals That Lead to Happiness

Written by Anil Bajnath, MD
Posted September 10, 2020

On Tuesday, we unloaded quite a bit on you guys concerning the brain and the chemicals that influence it! So let's go through this with more of a fine-toothed comb in this three-part series. Today, Dr. Anil Bajnath will dive into what many know as the "happy chemicals." Enjoy! - Alex Reid, President, Longevity Insider HQ


Dear Reader,

You are a walking eco-system. Your life is governed by the actions of all the organisms, structures, and mechanisms you’re made of. If your gut bacteria thrive on sugar, you’ll crave sugar. If your genetics determine you have red hair, you’ll go through life with red hair.

One of the most important mechanisms happening in your body is the delicate balance of neurotransmitters coursing through your brain. These are chemical substances that react to impulses from the nerve cells. Electrical signals are not able to jump the gap between neurons, they must be first be turned into chemical signals. Neurotransmitters are these signals, traveling to muscles, tissues, and nerves to make the right things happen at the right time.

There are two types of neurotransmitters: excitatory and inhibitory. Excitatory neurotransmitters excite the neuron. They let it know that it’s time to fire. Inhibitory are the exact opposite, they tell the neuron to relax, nothing is going on.

Understanding these mechanisms can be a powerful tool for hacking your health, especially in regards to your mood, drive, and mental capacities. Each type of neurotransmitter is responsible for a specific function in your body and by learning about them, you set yourself up to better understand your own brain and its cycles.

Today, let's jump into our first two chemicals. We'll save the rest for next week.

Happy Chemical #1: Serotonin

Serotonin is one of the more well-known neurotransmitters. It’s produced in the central nervous system and is responsible for anger regulation, body temperature, mood, sleep, pain modulation, and appetite.

Many people cite low serotonin levels as the main cause of depression, though this has not been clinically proven. The reason this theory for why people suffer from depression has become so popular is because of the benefits many people find from taking SSRIs.

SSRI stands for serotonin repute inhibitor, but we know them by the names pharmacological companies use, Xanax, Lexapro, Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. These drugs work by inhibiting serotonin uptake back into the neuron, increasing serotonin levels, and changing the way you react to emotional-laden information.

“Unlike mood, emotions are relatively short-lived, automatic responses to internal or external stimuli, and in depressed patients, emotional responses are reliably negatively biased (12). Thus, from this viewpoint, increasing serotonin activity in depressed people does not influence subjective mood directly but, rather, as a secondary consequence of positive shifts in automatic emotional responses.”

Cowen, P. J., & Browning, M. (2015). What has serotonin to do with depression?. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)14(2), 158–160. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20229

Serotonin is often called the “feel-good” chemical, but it does a lot more than that. Most of it is produced in your gut, helping with digestion. If you’ve ever eaten something foul, your body produced extra serotonin to speed up the digestive process and get that food through faster than usual.

Serotonin works with another neurotransmitter, dopamine, to balance your sexual urges. Too much serotonin and not enough dopamine can result in hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), meaning extremely low sex drive. This is why the use of SSRIs can cause sexual dysfunction.

You may have low serotonin levels if you experience:

  • Increased anger or aggressiveness
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Tinnitus
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Increased anger or aggressiveness
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Tinnitus
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

Contrarily, you may have high levels of serotonin if you experience:

  • Shyness
  • Inferiority complex
  • Nervousness
  • Vulnerability to criticism
  • Intense fear of being disliked
  • Desire for social contact but fear about it

There are two main reasons why someone might have low serotonin: they may not be making it, or their brain isn’t using it properly. Some studies suggest that increasing vitamin D can boost serotonin levels as well as eating plenty of tryptophan-rich foods. Tryptophan is an amino acid that assists in the creation of serotonin and is found in chicken, eggs, fish, turkey, shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, raw tofu, liver, salmon, beef, lamb, soybeans, scallops and pumpkin seeds.

Seratonin can also be boosted naturally by spending at least 15 minutes in the sunexercising, and treating yourself to a massage now and then.

Happy Chemical #2: Dopamine

Dopamine is serotonin’s buddy and helps regulates your daily mood. It’s also responsible for attention, learning, motivation and reward, cognition, and making sure you’re coordinated enough to get through life.

Dopamine is the “pleasure” chemical, and its main job is to make sure you feel good when you do something good for you to make sure you do it again. Some researchers even think that higher levels of dopamine gave our ancestors a social edge over other apes, propelling us quickly through the evolutionary process to where we are today.

Dopamine would have let our ancestors know they were doing something right. For example, berries contain natural sugars that boost dopamine levels. Finding a berry bush as an early human was quite a stroke of luck as berries are more calorie and nutrient-dense than other wild foods. That dopamine spike kept them coming back for more.

In modern times, dopamine is typically more feast than famine. We have engineered our environments to give us hits of that dopamine “high” as often as possible. Sugar is a major highjacker of dopamine that acts like a drug to the brain, even causing addiction. This is why it’s important to limit sugar intake and nourish good gut bacteria. Even your phone, with all its buttons, lights and sounds, releases dopamine in the brain.

You may have low levels of dopamine if you frequently experience:

  • Depression
  • Anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure
  • Social anxiety
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Heavy menstrual cycles
  • Male secondary hypogonadism
  • Learning disorders
  • ADD
  • Chemical addictions

High levels of dopamine can cause psychosis, schizophrenia, hyper-social activity, and increased libido. Everything in your body depends on homeostasis; system balance. 

If you feel you may have low dopamine, you can try introducing wild game meat, beef, fish, oats, and dark chocolate to your diet. These contain tyrosine, an important amino acid that helps with the production of dopamine in the body.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this three-part series next week!

To your longevity,

Anil Bajnath, MD
CEO/Founder, Institute for Human Optimization
Chief Medical Advisor, Longevity Insider HQ

                                                                                                               *Today's content was provided by the Institute for Human Optimization (www.ifho.org).