How Brain Chemicals Affect Your Emotions

Our brains are very intricate, splendid organs that have a network of connections and pathways that work harmoniously together so we can think, feel, and react. We’ll look at the impressive machine between your ears and how brain chemicals affect your emotions and overall state of mind.

Our brains are very intricate, splendid organs with a network of connections and pathways that work harmoniously together so we can think, feel, and react. Neurons within the brain control all that goes on in the body, helping us take in our surroundings and process that information effectively. We’ll take a peek at the impressive machine between your ears and how brain chemicals affect emotions and overall state of mind.

A Look Inside the Brain

The inner workings of your brain are remarkably complex and intricate, and at any given minute you have a massive number of brain cells communicating with billions of neurons telling your body what to do. If every neuron within your brain was laid flat, matching each end to the other, they would wrap around our planet two times!

Neurons take in all the information you receive from your senses and then help you decide how to react and what to do next. For example, if you smell cookies baking, your brain may tell your stomach it’s hungry, and before you know it you’re headed in the direction of the oven. All the different parts of your brain are in constant communication, with neurons using neurotransmitters to send messages.

Each side of your brain processes incoming information in a different way but works in tandem to influence how you feel and react. Your right side is the identifier and your left side is the translator. For instance, any negative emotions you feel, like anger or fear, are detected by the right brain, while your left brain decides if it’s a fight-or-flight situation and determines the most appropriate reaction.

Your Emotional Brain

Information enters your brain from two sources: your senses and your emotions. As you stroll about the world, your eyes, ears, nose, and skin are taking in information, while your internal emotions are determining how you feel about these experiences. Norepinephrine, glutamate, serotonin, and dopamine are neurotransmitters in your brain that help the cells in your body communicate and influence how you are feeling mentally and physically.

Our brains are very intricate, splendid organs that have a network of connections and pathways that work harmoniously together so we can think, feel, and react. We’ll look at the impressive machine between your ears and how brain chemicals affect your emotions and overall state of mind.

Serotonin

Serotonin is your happy neurotransmitter and is tied closely to learning and memory. It is linked to your central nervous system (CNS) and your gut and encourages feelings of happiness, contentment, and calm. If your serotonin levels are off kilter, you can experience depression, anxiety, and anger. If you lack proper amounts of this neurotransmitter, you may suffer from insomnia, negative moods, and decreased self-esteem.

Researchers believe serotonin plays a part in the regeneration of brain cells, and in doing so helps reduce the effects of depression. Serotonin also helps normalize your internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, and leads to the production of melatonin, which helps you get to sleep at night. It is also tied to sexual function, digestion, appetite, and how you act socially.

Dopamine

Often connected to the brain’s “pleasure system,” dopamine instills feelings of joy and provides motivation for seeking out activities that elicit positive emotions. Dopamine also plays a large role in controlling how our bodies move. The basal ganglia in the brain is the director of movement, and for it to do its task efficiently, it needs adequate amounts of dopamine.

If your brain does not process dopamine correctly or you are deficient in this neurotransmitter, your emotional health can take a hit. You may feel sad and depleted, even after a pleasurable experience, when your brain does not receive the amount of dopamine it needs. If you suffer from anxiety, a low sex drive, chronic sadness, or a lack of self-confidence, you may be deficient in dopamine.

Glutamate

Glutamate is a nonessential amino acid and a very important neurotransmitter that helps your brain learn new information, store that information, and function properly overall. Glutamate has an excitatory effect on neurons. It gets the party started and encourages neurons to fire.

If you’re low on glutamate, your brain may not work at top performance, leaving you feeling tired and unfocused. On the other end of the spectrum, too much glutamate can overstimulate the neurons, resulting in cell damage or death. A number of mental health disorders, including schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and autism, have been connected to glutamate deficiency or production issues.

Norepinephrine

The mood moderator, norepinephrine helps balance emotions when you are feeling stressed and anxious. In combination with adrenaline, or epinephrine, norepinephrine controls your fight-or-flight response and helps your body react to a situation that may be threatening.

Norepinephrine causes your heart rate to increase, stored fat to turn into fatty acids, blood pressure to rise, blood sugar levels to spike, and airways in your lungs to open up. As it is released, certain areas of your brain are turned on and, with the right amount, your brain reacts appropriately, affecting your emotions. If you do not have enough norepinephrine, you may lack motivation, feel lethargic, and be plain miserable.

Balancing Your Brain

Proteins, specifically amino acids, are the source of neurotransmitters in our brains. If your diet is lacking in amino acids, you may fall short on the fuel needed for neurotransmitter development, which can throw your brain off balance. On top of poor diet, drug use, chronic stress, and genetics can destabilize brain chemicals.

Signs that your neurotransmitters are out of whack include poor problem-solving, sleep issues, mood disorders, and mental health issues. There are several diet and lifestyle changes that allow you to balance your brain naturally and help improve your mood and well-being.

Reduce Stress

We’ve all heard how stress can be dangerous to your health and negatively impact your physical and emotional well-being. Stress, especially for prolonged periods of time, can quickly zap your neurotransmitters, leaving you completely lethargic and distracted. It’s important to reduce stress levels through enjoyable activities and with the support of loved ones. Find what works for you and be sure to incorporate stress reduction techniques into your everyday life to keep your brain happy and healthy.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Your neurotransmitters count on the nutrients provided by the foods you eat, and brain function is directly impacted by dietary choices. For neurotransmitters to communicate and neurons to fire, your brain needs the healthy fats provided by omega-3s. You can naturally balance neurotransmitters and boost levels of serotonin in your brain by eating salmon, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and avocados.

To further support serotonin production, add food rich in minerals, B vitamins, vitamin C, and protein to your plate. Look for sunflower seeds, brown rice, tofu, and green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale, and spinach.

Your dopamine levels can often be depleted by toxins and other free radicals from food and environment. To counteract this effect, reach for oranges, grapefruit, and berries to supply your brain with antioxidants and vitamins. Enhance dopamine levels naturally with leafy vegetables, apples, oatmeal, beets, avocados (yes, we said it twice!), and bananas.

Glutamate sources can be found in soy, eggs, poultry, tomatoes, mushrooms, and cheese, which are all protein-rich foods.

If norepinephrine levels are off, start by eliminating artificial sweeteners from your diet. You can support optimal brain function by eating tyrosine-containing bananas and quercetin-containing apples. Always incorporate healthy sources of protein and omega-3s to balance hormones and feed brain performance. Try chicken, eggs, tuna, and salmon.

Food has a great ability to replenish or deplete your neurotransmitters, so taking steps to incorporate a healthy diet into your life will help you balance your brain and your emotions.

Exercise Regularly

There’s no question exercise does a body good, but it also has a large impact on balancing your brain chemicals. Physical activity releases chemicals that make you feel happy, positive, and energized and kicks your brain out of rest mode. When you exercise regularly, you proactively regulate your emotions and enhance the production and function of your brain’s neurotransmitters. For example, as you jog along, your heart rate rises and serotonin is released. Your mood is instantly boosted, stress melts away, and you gain a more positive outlook. You also sleep better, are more motivated to eat healthier foods, and can deal with stress and negative emotions in a more resilient way.

Add Supplements

To help complement your diet and ensure you are getting the important vitamins and minerals your body and brain need, consider taking a supplement. Amino acid supplementation with the required vitamin and mineral cofactors can be used in some cases to help restore your neurotransmitters’ equilibrium. Adding an amino acid supplement to your routine can promote emotional balance and an overall positive mentality. Supplementing with the right amino acids can boost deficient brain chemicals and make transitioning to a healthy lifestyle more achievable. Amino acids can also be helpful in addressing other issues linked to anxiety, such as sugar cravings and addictions.   

By recognizing the symptoms of abnormal activity of the most influential neurotransmitters, you can take appropriate steps to stabilize your brain chemicals. There are natural, healthy, and safe ways you can make a significant impact on your moods and emotions. When you make an effort to practice good self-care habits and pay attention to your emotional health, you build new neural pathways that trigger these neurotransmitters and help keep your body and brain in healthier balance.

Foods High in Amino Acids

Amino acids make up a central component of nutrition, regardless of our chosen diet. Foods high in amino acids contain all nine essential amino acids, and for this reason, they are called complete protein foods. So, what foods have the amino acids our body needs?

Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. It all comes down to feeding our bodies what they need to survive and thrive—especially as we age. Amino acids are a central component of nutrition, regardless of our chosen diet.

Amino acids are called “the building blocks of life” because they make up proteins, which are needed in most of the biological processes in our bodies. There are different types of amino acids; some can be made by the body, others come through the food we eat—these last ones are called essential amino acids.

To understand why some foods should be part of our diet, we must first understand the relationship between proteins and amino acids. The specific arrangement of aminos determines the type of protein and its function. Every single amino is essential to the process—if one is missing, malfunctioning, or misplaced, the protein cannot be made. Foods high in amino acids contain all nine essential amino acids, and for this reason, they are called complete protein foods.

So, what foods have the amino acids our body needs?

Amino Acids Foods

LEAN MEAT

Grass-fed meat is one of the best proteins. Lean cuts of beef provide about 31 grams in each 3-ounce serving—fattier cuts of meat are lower in protein per gram. The amount of protein relative to the calories in the food source is excellent with meat, but the non-protein component of meat is saturated fat, which in the past has been associated with health risks, including heart disease and obesity. Recent research is shedding new light on this topic, and the most current USDA dietary guidelines are not as restrictive with regard to saturated fat. Still, eating meat in moderation remains advisable.  

POULTRY and SEAFOOD

White meat is a great source of protein and has less cholesterol and saturated fat than red meat does. A 3-ounce serving of chicken or turkey breast has about 28 grams of protein. Fish contains a little less protein but is still an excellent amino acid-rich food. A 3-ounce serving of halibut, tuna, or salmon contains about 22 grams.

EGGS and DAIRY

Just one egg has about 6 grams of protein. One cup of milk delivers 8 grams of protein. A 1-ounce slice of nonfat mozzarella contains 9 grams of protein (1 gram more of the same amount of low-fat Swiss cheese). Parmesan cheese is an excellent choice because each ounce contains 10 grams of protein. A cup of yogurt has 8 to 12 grams of protein. Eggs and dairy are the best vegetarian protein sources.

QUINOA and SOY

Quinoa and soy products provide all the essential amino acids. A cup of cooked quinoa contains about 8 grams of protein, a 3-ounce serving of tofu has 6 grams of protein and a cup of soybeans has 29 grams of protein. Quinoa and soy are the best vegan protein sources.

Among the foods that contain incomplete proteins (missing one or more amino acids) or proteins low in certain key essential amino acids, we find cereals, legumes, grain products, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. People who follow a vegan diet have a harder time meeting their amino acids needs. Many nutrition-focused websites suggest food combinations of two incomplete proteins to form a complementary protein that should contain a sufficient amount of essential amino acids. But it’s important to note that these combinations are not perfect—unfortunately, most vegan amino acids contain a limited amount of lysine.

Luckily, amino acid supplements are available to help us nurture our bodies with the amino acids it needs to thrive. Essential amino acids supplements can provide benefits that even the highest quality dietary proteins cannot. Many protein powders on the market are loaded with carbs and added sugars, so choosing a low-calorie amino acid complex, specifically designed to help us with our amino acid requirements, is crucial.

Clinical trials have shown that essential amino acid supplements can enhance muscle strength and mass, control plasma lipid levels, reduce liver fat, and speed recovery from severe injury or surgery. Before choosing a supplement, you should know that many amino acid supplements on the market don’t take into consideration one crucial aspect: all amino acids need to be present in their optimal amount for supplements to be truly beneficial.

Amino acids make up a central component of nutrition, regardless of our chosen diet. Foods high in amino acids contain all nine essential amino acids, and for this reason, they are called complete protein foods. So, what foods have the amino acids our body needs?