- Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that stimulate feelings of happiness, contentment, and motivation. You may know them by their individual names: dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin (to name a few).
- It’s important to maintain a healthy balance of neurotransmitters in the body. Too many or too few can cause symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood swings, and even mania. Due to poor diet, nutrient deficiencies, chronic stress, and environmental pollutants, it’s more common to have low levels of neurotransmitters.
- There are a number of safe and natural ways to boost neurotransmitters. Lifestyle habits like exercise, giving and receiving affection, and spending time outdoors can all increase serotonin and dopamine. Supplements for neurotransmitters are also helpful, such as phosphatidylcholine (PC) and B vitamins.
Next time you stand in awe of a beautiful sunset or experience the risk and reward payoff of a mountain hike — you can thank your neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that are produced in the brain and the gut (the second brain) and play a significant role in regulating your mood. They influence feelings of happiness, contentment, and excitement — as well as bodily functions like impulse control, nausea, muscle contractions, and even wound healing.
Anytime you feel sad, angry, happy, or peaceful, you can assume that neurotransmitters are working behind the scenes to pass the signals for these emotions from cell to cell.
Just like any other aspect of your health, levels of neurotransmitters can be impacted by disease, lifestyle, and even genetics. From cell membrane instability to poor diet and poor sleep quality — there are so many things that could tank your neurotransmitter levels, leaving you with mood imbalances like depression and anxiety.
In this blog, we examine key neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and more — learning how to encourage balanced levels with neurotransmitter supplements.
Table of Contents:
- Balancing Brain Chemistry — What Are Neurotransmitters?
- Why and How to Balance Neurotransmitters
- Exploring Neurotransmitters in the Brain and Gut
- Lifestyle Habits to Boost Neurotransmitters
- Supplements for Neurotransmitters
- Anxiety, Depression, and Prolonged Nervous System Stress Don’t Have to Be Your Story
Balancing Brain Chemistry — What Are Neurotransmitters?
Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and acetylcholine…
You’re probably familiar with a few of these hormones made in the brain and gut… but did you know they’re also considered neurotransmitters? Dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters work as chemical messengers — traveling across the body to send signals to the muscles, nervous system, brain, and beyond.
Let’s take a quick look at just a few different neurotransmitters and what they accomplish:
Oxytocin — Oxytocin is most well-known as the love hormone. The role of oxytocin is to help reduce blood pressure, regulate emotions, lower stress, improve memory, and initiate bonding between mother and baby after birth (this explains why many women experience a “high” shortly after labor).
Dopamine — Dopamine is considered the “risk and reward” neurotransmitter. It rewards hard work and regulates motivation. It’s connected with feelings of joy, happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction.
Serotonin — About 95% of serotonin is made in the gut, so it makes sense that serotonin has a vital role to play in digestion and mood, and can stimulate feelings of nausea. While we want to make sure we have enough, too much serotonin can be a bad thing, hence why some people experience negative side effects with SSRI medications over time.
Acetylcholine — As the most abundant neurotransmitter in the human body and primary neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system, acetylcholine helps to control muscle contractions, mood, and memory recall. Its role grows even more important as you age and may help fight against neurodegenerative diseases.
Why and How to Balance Neurotransmitters
We love neurotransmitters and their function in our brain, gut, and body. But too much of a good thing still applies here. Balance matters. For example, a spike of too much dopamine can encourage extreme happiness — followed by extreme sadness and exhaustion. Higher than normal levels of dopamine are also associated with poor impulse control, depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
That said, low levels of neurotransmitters can cause the same problems and are perhaps more common. This is often due to a low-quality diet, environmental toxins, and chronic stress. People with low levels of neurotransmitters may struggle with depression, anxiety, disassociation, and lack of motivation.
While antidepressant medications like SSRIs have their time and place, we believe it’s ideal to address neurotransmitter deficiency with natural remedies (like neurotransmitter supplements and lifestyle habits) alongside the supervision of a holistic medical provider.
The goal is to help your body produce neurotransmitters naturally and safely — while increasing your happiness and fulfillment, and leaving depression and mood swings behind.
Exploring Neurotransmitters in the Brain and Gut
When we think of neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, we typically associate them with the brain. While some are created in the brain and play a special role in cognitive function, neurotransmitters are equally present and necessary for gut health. Oxytocin and acetylcholine, for example, help with gut motility and digestion.
Similarly, serotonin is essential for gut health. Around 95% of this neurotransmitter is actually made in the gut and interacts with the microbiome. In one study, lower levels of serotonin were associated with a higher risk of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Lifestyle Habits to Boost Neurotransmitters
Our bodies naturally have ways to boost neurotransmitters — and often, these are the most effective. Scientists believe it stems from the evolutionary process — for example, risk and reward (dopamine) are much needed when hunting or gathering food. We need it for survival.
Spending time outdoors, exercising in a safe and enjoyable way, showing affection to loved ones, and appreciating a delicious meal are all natural (and free) ways to ensure you’re properly balancing your brain chemistry.
Regular exercise comes with a myriad of benefits, including neurotransmitter production. Dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline are all released when we break a sweat. When you first start working out, you might feel low motivation, aches, and fatigue. But over time, you’ll start to notice an exercise “high.” You might feel sore later, but the flood of happiness you experience after your workout are your neurotransmitters at work.
Hot and Cold Exposure
We love to talk about the benefits of heat therapy (sauna use), and cold therapy (cryotherapy, cold plunges, or cold showers). It just so happens that these simple lifestyle habits also boost neurotransmitters. Noradrenaline and dopamine accompany cold therapy — and make it easier to hop back in an ice bucket when your body intuitively knows a reward is coming. Along with the release of toxins via sweat, sauna use can release the same neurotransmitters.
Interaction with Nature
You can welcome endorphins (another type of neurotransmitter) and serotonin just by walking in the park. If you’ve ever noticed that your mood swings and irritability are quickly reversed when you go outside, it’s likely you need more neurotransmitters. Luckily, nature provides! Enjoy a picnic under a shady tree or go kayaking for the added benefits of sun and exercise.
Supplements for Neurotransmitters
Need to balance neurotransmitters? Supplements can provide key neurotransmitter support. In general, supplements are a pretty safe way to ensure you boost dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin levels without going overboard (and without medications). The following supplements, particularly, come with a lot of other added whole-body benefits.
The master neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, can actually be made from breaking down phosphatidylcholine (aka PC, a phospholipid). While PC is mainly used as the building block of your cell membranes, it can also be broken down to provide the choline part of acetylcholine when needed. Acetylcholine is known for its brain-powered benefits, helping with memory, mental clarity, and overall brain function.
Supplementing PC is also critical for cellular health in general — as our bodies create less phosphatidylcholine as we age.
L-theanine and Other Amino Acids
Any supplements that reduce stress and increase neuroplasticity are ultimately going to have a positive impact on neurotransmitter release. L-theanine is an amino acid found naturally in green tea and mushrooms, and has a positive impact on brain health — especially neurotransmitter function. In studies, it’s shown to increase serotonin and dopamine.
Amino acids in general are extremely important for neurotransmitter health. Some amino acids (like glycine and histamine) may act as neurotransmitters themselves — while others are used as building blocks to create more neurotransmitters.
If you believe your brain chemistry is out of balance, supplementing with amino acids can give your body the raw material it needs to create additional neurotransmitters (and support a healthy gut and muscle growth while you’re at it). This is a natural solution that is 100% worth implementing before turning to SSRIs.
Folate, specifically, shows promising effects on neurotransmitters and cognitive health. One study shows that people over the age of 50 who regularly took a folate supplement had a significantly decreased risk of developing dementia later on.
Folate is also associated with mental health, releasing neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine — and decreasing symptoms of depression in one study.
We recommend a B-vitamin complex because the range of B vitamins works so closely together that you can easily throw off the balance by supplementing with just one of them. Look for a high-quality B-complex vitamin to get your folate alongside other key B’s like B6 and B12.
Herb and Mushroom Adaptogens
Adaptogens are natural herb and mushroom supplements that help your body to “adapt” to a stressful environment. They work to naturally increase neuroplasticity and balance neurotransmitters — allowing the body to take on more stress with fewer side effects.
Adaptogens build up the body’s tolerance to stress, releasing less cortisol (our body’s stress hormone) when faced with triggering situations. Over time, adaptogens can also help boost the production of important neurotransmitters, which in turn strengthen and balance brain chemistry.
Anxiety, Depression, and Prolonged Nervous System Stress Don’t Have to Be Your Story
When you’re in the midst of anxiety, depression, or a stress-related illness, it’s easy to feel hopeless. Mood swings and entrenched thought patterns don’t easily dissipate — and finding real treatment can seem impossible.
Take a deep breath. It’s okay to feel this way.
But you should know, this doesn’t have to be your story forever.
Simple lifestyle changes can really make a difference in your mental health — and the science backs it up. Find ways to get outside, even if it means you’re laying on a blanket in the sun for half an hour. Or, enjoy a spa treatment that includes regular sauna time.
Recovery is a continuous journey and it will take time, but it’s possible to rebuild the neurotransmitters in your brain and gut.
One of our favorite remedies for boosting neurotransmitters (alongside PC) is essential fatty acids. A careful balance of omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs has been shown to reduce inflammatory cytokines, which actually help the neurotransmitters you already have to function better. This can give a little extra boost to your body’s hard work (and support your cells along the way).
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