Serotonin and Dopamine are both neurotransmitters, they are both released by cells (usually nerve cells) in very small amounts and exist to transfer impulses from the cells to other body tissues like other nerve cells, muscles, and organs. These chemicals play a very crucial part of sensory perceptions and action-reaction mechanisms. Serotonin and dopamine are often called the “happy chemicals” or “feel-good hormones”, to call serotonin and dopamine a hormone is generally a mistake. Hormones are typically referred to as a substance, like testosterone or cortisol, which are substances that are released from one or more body areas. Once released hormones will flow around in the bloodstream, acting in different places in the body. It is a very common misconception that dopamine and serotonin are hormones.
Dopamine is a monoamine neurotransmitter, a term that refers to its chemical structure and the fact that it is derived from amino acids. It is also a catecholamines neurotransmitter, this additionally refers to its chemical structure and the fact that it has a catalytic nucleus. It plays a very important part in controlling motor behavior, emotional reward, and behavior motivation mechanisms. It regulates emotional responses, hormone secretion, and motor actions related to reward sensations. However, dopamine also plays a role in many other functions. Deficiency in dopamine can lead to reduced motor functions, which may lead to Parkinson’s disease and other conditions. Low dopamine levels are also associated with low motivation, vulnerability for addictions, and the addiction chemical itself. Many addictive substances and behaviors will increase dopamine levels in the brain, but only temporarily. It gives your brain a short feeling of satisfaction which is where addiction can stem from. Dopamine pulls you towards rewarding behavior like a magnet. Whenever you reach for your phone to check your social media accounts, whenever you eat fast food, whenever you procrastinate work by watching just “one more episode”, you are under the control of dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t make you feel good, it drives you to do something that might get you a “reward”. In short, if you don’t learn to use dopamine for your ends, it will use you.
Here’s a way you can control your dopamine and get more done when it is released; once you have completed a goal-oriented task (like going to the gym), take a moment to notice any sense of accomplishment you feel. Find and identify the positive emotions that are associated with the fact you just did something productive. Next, take a conscious pause for 20-30 seconds, during this time make a conscious effort to sense and feel the good experience of accomplishment is sinking into you. Some may visualize a warm, white light spreading throughout their body. You can do this however you’d like though, the key is to have the intention of letting the positive feelings you are experiencing get deeply absorbed into the present moment you are in. In essence, you are conditioning your body and mind to anticipate this rewarding feeling you get at the end of an activity. Thus, in the future, your body will release more dopamine to motivate you to engage in the activity again. This is a particularly powerful technique that, when used regularly, can help you create sustainable, long-term motivation for any goal you are pursuing.
Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter, which relates to its chemical structure and the fact it is derived from amino acids. Serotonin neurons can be found in the brain stem, where it is linked to mood and memory. You can find them in clusters of neurons called the raphe nuclei, the serotonin that is in the raphe nuclei is projected throughout the brain stem and brain and provides serotonin to the rest of the nervous system. Serotonin can also be found in your gut, that’s where most of the serotonin in your body is found. The intestines make about 95% of your body’s supply of the neurotransmitter. Not only do the intestines produce almost all of your serotonin supply, but serotonin is required in this area to promote healthy digestion. Serotonin also helps with sleep, sexual function, bone health, and blood clotting. It is a common mistake that depression is caused by a serotonin deficiency when in reality, the part it can play in your mood is rather complex. Having low serotonin levels is not, on its own, enough to cause depression. It is enough to cause other issues with digestion, sleep, mood, and many more bodily functions.
Serotonin plays a big part in antidepressant medication but there are also many ways to increase your serotonin naturally. Eating a high fiber diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables will help keep your gut bacteria healthy, having a good balance of “friendly” bacteria in your intestines has been linked to adequate serotonin levels. To boost serotonin naturally you can also spend 10-15 minutes in the sunlight every day, sunlight will boost your Vitamin D levels, which is critical for serotonin production. Exercise, massage therapy, and supplements can also be used to make extra serotonin.
An imbalance in your levels of dopamine or serotonin can have effects on your sleep cycle, mental and emotional health, and digestion. There is no clear way to measure serotonin and dopamine levels, but educating yourself on the neurotransmitters can lead to a more informed, healthy, and happier lifestyle.
Written by Sunny R