This week’s Tuesday Ten features simple tips to make your brain hum. You’ll feel so great, you’ll be looking down on Cloud 9.
Before we get to it, a word to the wise about serotonin:
There is quite the plethora of mood-elevating, serotonin-enhancing products and drugs available. If you don’t want to go the Prozac route, there are many excellent natural methods for boosting your mood. Indeed, many studies have shown that natural methods like exercise may be just as effective as traditional drug therapies. (However, in some cases, depression can become so severe, there’s simply no food or supplement that is going to “cure” you. I like to remind my readers that it’s always important to consult an expert before embarking on your own curative adventure.)
But for light cases of the blues, or stressful days, there are plenty of things you can do to elevate that feel-good hormone, serotonin:
10. Avoid the fast track to happiness.
Carbohydrates give you an instant lift because they trigger the release of serotonin. Indeed, I’ve seen several articles lately actually recommend eating a sugary treat to boost your mood and sleep better. Bad advice (see Dr. Weil’s take). Carbs are a quick fix, but they do nothing to stimulate ongoing production of serotonin, which is what you want.
9. Don’t avoid carbs entirely.
Proteins contain tryptophan, a large amino that converts to serotonin in the brain. (I’ll be discussing tryptophan supplements in the future.) Yet relying solely on protein can hamper serotonin production. Though scientists aren’t sure why this is, it makes sense that subsisting entirely on one macro-nutrient might cause problems for brain chemistry.
Tryptophan works best when consumed in conjunction with a small bit of carbohydrate, such as a scoop of brown rice, a handful of nuts, or a few tablespoons of legumes. These complex carbohydrates are essential to helping your brain properly process the tryptophan in protein. Vegetables are also great – and my preference.
8. Eat protein.
Turkey, fish, chicken, cottage cheese, nuts, cheese, eggs, and beans all contain generous levels of tryptophan.
7. Eat fat.
Hormonal processes require essential fatty acids, so don’t shirk your “good fats”. Get plenty of DHA-enhanced eggs and dairy in your diet, and eat fish a few times a week. Good sources are wild salmon, mackerel, and tuna. You vegheads can also nosh on avocados, nuts, flaxseed, vegetable oils (walnut, avocado, almond, flax, olive) and seeds.
6. Take a fish oil supplement!
Though fish oil won’t produce serotonin, essential fatty acids play a vital role in brain health and mood regulation. I recommend Vital Omegas, of course, but there are plenty of good ones on the market. As with most things, you do get what you pay for, so buy the best you can afford.
5. Exercise to feel good.
Exercise is a natural stimulator of many important “mood” hormones, including serotonin and dopamine. Don’t think of exercise as a chore to lose weight or prevent heart disease “someday”. Realize that 15 or 20 minutes of exercise every day will naturally release these feel-good hormones that are so vital to feeling happy and calm. As junior apple Mike A. says, exercise is about feeling good, not just looking good.
4. Avoid the stimulant cycle.
Caffeine, sugar, alcohol. Caffeine, sugar, alcohol. Many of us get trapped in the stimulant cycle. These substances temporarily give you a lift, but actually deplete and blunt valuable hormones in the long run. If you like caffeine, try to limit your java intake to one or two cups a day at the most. The same for alcohol. I recommend avoiding sugar completely.
3. Sleep right.
When we’re feeling down, it’s tempting to sleep, sleep and sleep some more. But quality sleep is far more important than quantity. Force yourself to get up early, but allow for a rejuvenating nap midday if you need it (just don’t exceed one hour). The same goes for stressed-out workaholics getting by on 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night. Find a way to get an extra hour (hey, that sounds like another Tuesday 10 to me!).
2. Investigate supplements wisely.
HTP is a popular supplement, but I personally prefer rhodiola, which actually slows the process of serotonin breakdown (it also has better scientific backing).
1. Boost other hormones!
Oxytocin is another feel good hormone often called the “cuddle hormone”. Oxytocin is released when we feel love, trust and comfort. It can be even more powerful than serotonin. If you need a lift, remember the power of simply spending time with your significant other or family members and friends.
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