Continuing with our theme of happiness, this is what our naturopathic Doctor had to say...
According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, happiness is the ultimate goal of one’s life. As human beings we naturally seek pleasure and try to avoid pain…many philosophers associated happiness with pleasure and considered it to be a response to external events, however recent research shows that happiness, pleasure, lack of pain and general sense of well-being are linked to a so called “chemical lab” of neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain, that our bodies produce on a daily basis.
Among these neurochemicals are serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, GABA, epinephrine and others. Neurotransmitters have different functions and together they are responsible for our mood and behavior. So let’s look into a few of these ‘magic molecules” in more detail.
Serotonin, the ‘molecule of confidence”, is responsible for general sense of well-being. It regulates our mood, anxiety, sleep, appetite and cravings among other functions. Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia and sugar cravings.
Dopamine, “the molecule of happiness” is associated with pleasure seeking behaviour, memory, attention, satisfaction and feeling in control. When we have too little dopamine we tend to feel depressed, unmotivated and bored. Too much dopamine on the other hand is linked to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is the “relaxation molecule”. GABA reduces anxiety and physical tension. Low levels of GABA have been linked to depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.
Endorphins, “the pain-killer molecules” are released during exercise, orgasm, emotional stress and laughter. They bring feelings of euphoria, help control appetite and cravings and optimise immune function.
Oxytocin, “the cuddle molecule” produces the feeling of love, bonding and well-being.
Keeping these neurochemicals in balance is key to feeling good about your life. Neurotransmitter production and concentration is affected by many factors, such as physical activity, nutrition and nutrient absorption, life events, stress, toxicity, medical conditions and infections. However, it is the microbiome, healthy bacteria residing in the digestive tract, that plays a major role in how we feel and behave. With an estimated mass of 1–2 kg, numbering in their trillions and together possessing 100 times the number of genes in the human genome, these microbes can influence virtually all aspects of human physiology and biology, through interactions with the human body. Bacteria have the capacity to generate many neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. Serotonin, for example, which contributes to healthy sleep patterns and helps control anxiety and depression, is largely produced in the digestive tract by the gut bacteria (specifically Streptococcus, Escherichia, and Enterococcus strains). Certain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species produce GABA; Escherichia, Bacillus and Saccharomyces spp. produce norepinephrine; Candida, Streptococcus, Escherichia and Enterococcus spp. Produce 5HT; Bacillus produces dopamine. Microbiome composition shapes our social behaviour, response to stress and even our love life. In a ground breaking functional magnetic resonance study imaging (fMRI) brain scan study showed that ingestion of a probiotic cocktail altered information processing of emotional material.
The digestive system and nervous system are closely connected and interrelated. Their health depends on one another.
Symptoms of microbiome imbalance include: bloating, excessive gas production, constipation and/or diarrhoea, brain fog, anxiety and depression, skin rashes and resistant weight gain.
Many times simple diet and lifestyle changes along with nutrient and vitamin supplementation can profoundly change the way we feel by affecting our microbiome health.
Eating a healthy diet with enough protein, getting outdoors to get the sun exposure, exercising and avoiding excess alcohol and caffeine will increase the diversity and health of gut microbes and therefore will influence how we feel, think and behave. When our microbiome becomes significantly distorted as often happens after continuous rounds of antibiotics, stress, exposure to environmental toxins, poor diet etc. assistance from qualified natural health practitioner can be extremely beneficial in setting you on the path to a happy tummy & therefore to being a happier person.
Yours in health - Dr. Maria