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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.