Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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The Neuroscience of Bad Habits and Why It’s Not About Will Power

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we  decisionswouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.

The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that  the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.

A blue button with the word Change on it

What can we do?

It makes sense why more and more addiction centers are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. Mindfulness practice has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex and cool down the amygdala. This gives us the ability to widen the space between stimulus and response where choice lies and access possibilities and opportunities we didn’t know were there before. This is crucial when it comes to our addictive behaviors to take a step back, “think through the drink” and recognize the various options that lie before us.

We can learn to step into the pause, notice the sensation of the urge that’s there and as the late Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. said, “surf the urge” as it peaks, crests and falls back down like a wave in the ocean.

One place to start is to just get curious about the pull you feel to whatever you think you’re compulsive with. An easy one besides some of the arguably more destructive habits (drugs, alcohol) is our phones.

Today, be on the lookout for what cues you to check your app. Do you see someone else doing it? Are you waiting somewhere and there’s something uncomfortable about waiting? Is it a certain time of day or place?

Training your brain to recognize this cue can help you get some space from it to ask, “What do I really want to pay attention to right now? What matters?” As we get better at recognizing that space between stimulus and response and making the choices that run alongside our values, like riding a bike, it will start to come more naturally.

Just because our brains have been altered by our compulsive behaviors, doesn’t mean we’re destined to fall into the same habits. With the right skills, community and support we can learn how to break out of routine and into a life worth living.

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. 
 
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How Does Diet Affect Mental Health? A New Study Shows The Way Age Factors In

What you eat can have a huge impact on your mental health, which many people who deal with mental health conditions have learned firsthand. I have clinical depression and general anxiety disorder, and I feel much more stable when I’m eating regularly and prioritizing fresh foods. Previous research has shown that diet can affect mental health conditions like depression, ADHD, and anxiety. But according to a new study, the foods that impact your mental health change as you age. Researchers at Binghamton University in New York say our diet affects our mental health in different ways as we get older, so millennials and baby boomers should actually eat different diets to support their mood.

Researchers surveyed people between 18 and 29 years old and people who were 30 years old and older. They asked them to fill out an anonymous questionnaire about their diet and foods that are linked to changes in mood. After analyzing the data, researchers found that young adults reported benefitting benefited from frequent meat consumption, which can improve brain function. But the story was different for older adults, who need food that increases the antioxidants in your system (antioxidants can help avoid cell damage) for optimal mental health. People over 30 also reported feeling better when they avoided coffee and skipping breakfast, according to the research. What you eat can affect mental health, but if you’re looking for resources to help improve mental health issues, it’s always best to talk to a medical professional.

Lead author Lina Begdache, who is an assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, said in a press release that one of the study’s biggest takeaways is that diet choices will affect people differently depending on how old they are.

“One of the major findings of this paper is that diet and dietary practices differentially affect mental health in young adults versus mature adults,” Begdache said. “Young adult mood appears to be sensitive to build-up of brain chemicals. Regular consumption of meat leads to build-up of two brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) known to promote mood.”

The most effective way to handle mental distress is talking to a doctor or therapist who can help you figure out your options. But if you’re looking to adjust your eating habits to support your mood and you’re under 29 years old, exercise and meat consumption may be the way to go.  The researchers found that people who were sedentary and ate meat less than three times a week “showed a significant mental distress.” If you’re not a meat eater, you can try foods like nuts, avocados and dark chocolate to get a dopamine release. For people over 30, antioxidants are a major key. It’s never a bad idea to consume antioxidants, but the effect is more profound as you age. As you get older, your body produces oxidants that can cause disturbances in your brain chemistry, so eating foods with antioxidant qualities can help avoid unnecessary mental distress. The next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up some grapes, blueberries, sweet potatoes, and green vegetables like kale and broccoli, which can all help improve mental health.

The study tells people over 30 to stay away from foods that trigger the sympathetic nervous system, like coffee. It can feel impossible to stay away from the sweet taste of caffeine, but it increases activity in your sympathetic nervous system, which can lead to stress. According to Begdache, “our ability to regulate stress decreases” as we age, so if you’re looking to adjust your diet for mood support, know that carbohydrates can also potentially trigger the sympathetic nervous system.

The study shows that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to diet and mental health. Your brain changes as you get older, so it makes sense that you may need to make adjustments to your diet as you age if you choose to include foods that support your mood. It’s not always realistic to eat healthy foods, especially because eating regular meals and keeping a balanced diet is a hard adjustment to make for people who are mentally healthy, let alone those who already deal with mental illness. Healthy foods can also be inaccessible to people who can’t afford them, or who live in food deserts. But if you are looking for ways to change up your food routine with an eye toward your mental health, this study is something to keep in mind. I have a few years left before I need to avoid coffee, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can.

By AYANA LAGE     December 12, 2018


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Signs of a Food Addiction

A lot of us eat a little more than we should and want to stop eating so much, but it’s not as easy as we’d like. Some of us have a food addiction. Did you know there are foods that make you hungrier, and other foods that can suppress your appetite?

For example, the following foods can make you hungrier:

  • White bread
  • Juice
  • Salty snacks
  • Fast food
  • Alcohol
  • White pasta
  • The flavor enhancer MSG
  • Sushi rolls
  • Artificial sweeteners

White bread and white pasta are considered simple carbs. When we eat these foods, our pancreas goes into overdrive, causing an insulin spike. A short time later, our blood sugar levels drop suddenly and as a result of this “crash,” we’re hungrier than ever.

When we look at fast food, it has a high salt content, and can make a person dehydrated. A person may think they are still hungry and eat more, when they are really just thirsty.

Do You Have A Food Addiction?

When people think of addiction, they may immediately think of drugs like cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or even cigarettes. What many may not realize is food can be addictive as well. In addition to making you hungry, some foods can make us crave them as well. The following foods are considered the most addictive:

  • Pizza
  • Chocolate
  • Potato chips
  • Ice cream
  • French fries
  • Soda
  • Cookies
  • Cake
  • Popcorn
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Cheeseburgers

 

Studies indicate these foods (and many others) release “feel good chemicals” in the brain like dopamine in a similar fashion to the brains of those who use alcohol or cocaine. Studies also indicate refined foods can lower the blood sugar and trigger the release of serotonin. Serotonin is believed to affect our mood, appetite, memory and other functions.

In other words, there could be more to you constantly eating or craving foods than you originally thought. So, instead of eating those foods, try break the cycle and eat foods that can suppress the appetite instead:

  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Apples
  • Spicy foods
  • Mint
  • Avocados
  • Greek yogurt
  • Water

If you notice, the foods that increase our appetites and have addictive qualities are not good for us. They are high in fat, sodium, and believed to cause a variety of health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. On the other hand, the foods that suppress the appetite are considered foods that are good for our overall health.

This is very important information for all of us to know, but it’s especially important for parents. It’s critical we instill good eating habits in our children and avoid feeding them foods that are addictive and could be detrimental to their long-term health.

The foods we eat can either help us or hurt us. Make an effort to avoid minimize foods that taste good but aren’t good for you. Next time you’re hungry, resist the urge to eat the processed foods and junk foods that are high in salt and artificial ingredients and eat something healthy instead. Your body will thank you. Or, just drink water. You may not be hungry after all!

source: holisticlivingtips.com       JULY 21, 2017


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The Most Addicting Foods on the Planet, According to Science

Chips, chocolate, cheese. There are some foods we simply can’t get enough of.
And turns out there’s good reason why we’re hooked.

Why we can’t get enough

What is it about the three Cs: Chocolate, cheese, and chips? For some reason, we can never get enough of them. But wanting to chow on a particular food is one thing, being addicted to it is another. Fact is, you can become addicted to a certain food, and you can blame your brain’s response to it. That’s because certain foods elicit a release of dopamine in the brain, which can lead to more cravings for that particular treat, especially when it comes to foods that are high in sugar, salt, and/or fat. Addictive foods are ones that hit your brain right in its pleasure center, ostensibly telling you that you need more, more, more. “When this pleasure/reward center is stimulated, the brain starts secreting dopamine and other chemicals that make us enjoy the experience even more,” says Ashvini Mashru, a registered dietitian in Malvern, Pennsylvania. “Because your brain loves the sensation caused by that dopamine release, it seeks more of it by creating cravings, that if listened to can cause a vicious cycle of addiction.”

Chocoholics take note

That bowl of M&Ms sitting on your office mate’s desk is a delicious temptation, a crunchy chocolatey treat that’s hard to resist. What we know is that chocolate is one of the most addictive foods around because it binds to the same pleasure centers in the brain as alcohol and certain drugs, according to a 2011 study conducted by Drexel University. It also boasts a nice “mouth feel,” which stimulates oxytocin production, another feel-good hormone, according to Dan DeFigio, author of Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies. “Over time, our brains start looking for that dopamine hit, and every time we eat chocolate, it reinforces that ‘wiring,'” he says. You’ll feel less guilty munching on these next-level chocolates with added superfoods.

More cheese please

If you’ve hovered over a cheese platter and piled up the cubes, you’ll be relieved to know that it’s not just you. Cheese, which is generally high in fat and cholesterol, also contains a substance called casomorphin that binds to the opioid or feel-good receptors in the brain. “Casomorphins attach to neurotransmitters in our brains and release dopamine, feel-good chemicals, that often lead us to wanting more,” says Neal Barnard, MD, author of The Cheese Trap, adding that the average American today consumes 30 pounds more cheese per year than we did 100 years ago. “While cheese does have its health benefits, it also can be seriously addictive.” (If you’re having some wine with your cheese, here are the best pairings to try.)

Carb fix

Reach into that bowl of potato chips, tortilla chips, or pretzels over and over again, and you’ll know something is happening on the addiction front. And, while there’s no particular compound in these foods that bind to specific brain receptors to cause a euphoric, stimulating, or addictive behavior, there’s something else at play. “Simple carbohydrates are seen as ‘addictive’ because they cause a quick glucose release, and this quickly increases a person’s energy, says Celina Jean, a nutritionist in Austin, Texas. “This energy will quickly be used up, and then you’ll be forced to eat more simple carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar raised.” These are the silent signs you’re eating too many carbs.

Oh, sweet sips

Not only do sugary sodas (also lemonade and sweet tea) provide us with very little nutrients, but one 12-ounce can contain a staggering 35 grams of sugar. Like sugary treats, soda can stimulate the release of dopamine too. Add caffeine and you’re getting a double-energy hit. “Once you’re hooked on caffeine, you can suffer symptoms of withdrawal if you try to stop, including sluggishness, headaches, and emotional distress,” says Mashru.

Pass the French fries

French fries are typically crisp, hot, and salty. This is a triple-threat that signals the tongue and the brain to eat more, Mashru says. The fat content in French fries triggers receptors in our mouths that send a signal to our brain and gut reinforcing the desire to eat more. “These little potato sticks are also a comfort food,” Mashru says. “Therefore, every time you go through the line in a restaurant and see them on the menu, you may find the urge to order them as a side to your entrée irresistible.”

Ice cream you scream

Cravings for ice cream can be insatiable—it’s all about the sugar content and creamy texture, and researchers agree that foods like ice cream, which is basically cream and milk, stimulate the brain in the same way drugs do, inducing behaviors that resemble addiction, says Keri Glassman, RD, a dietitian in New York City. “The sugar ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ you experience are consistent with sugar ‘dependency,'” she says. “When your body gets used to sugar, you feel out of sorts when you consume less, which causes you to eat more.” Here’s how to crack your sugar addiction.

That slice of ‘za

Whether it’s the stringy salty mozzarella cheese, the fluffy dough or the sugar in the tomato sauce, pizza ranks first in food addiction, according to a recent University of Michigan study. That’s because when you eat it, your blood sugar zip up quickly and then when it drops, you feel hungry again and want more. These are the healthier pizza crusts that won’t blow your diet.

BY LAMBETH HOCHWALD
 
source: www.rd.com


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10 Ways You Can Increase Dopamine Levels In The Brain Without Medication

January 20, 2016 by Stephan Gardner

“Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional response, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.” – Psychology Today

There are a lot of articles on the internet about dopamine and how it affects your mood, behavior, energy, and focus. What’s not commonly spoken about, however, is how dopamine is affected by your perception. Discussed more rarely still is the reason why your dopamine levels may be low. Below are 10 ways to increase your dopamine levels, courtesy of Power of Positivity, as well as my own observations regarding the underlying issues which may have led to each situation, and how to tackle them.

1. Don’t Get Addicted

“Many people get addicted to something because it gives them some kind of instant gratification – drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, shopping, and other addictive behaviors actually have the opposite effect on dopamine levels in the long-term. In essence, when we get overly addicted to something, the ‘reward circuitry’ of our brain kicks into overdrive and we crave the ‘quick hit.’ This is not a sustainable solution for dopamine production, which can and should be done naturally.”

What’s missing here is the fact that addiction is quite often a result of low dopamine, meaning addiction is more of an attempt to fix an already existing problem. In essence, “the underpinning of your addictive personality is a lack of fulfillment from within, with a resulting urge to achieve fulfillment through substances, objects, or events that relieve the inevitable pain – for a while.” (source)

“When we receive a reward of any kind, dopamine is released in our brains. Over time, this stimulus and release of dopamine can lead to learning. Researchers have recently found that how quickly and permanently we learn things relates directly to how much dopamine we have available in our brains. As we get rewarded over and over again for something, we learn that we should keep doing whatever that is very deeply, and it’s hard to unlearn those kinds of behaviours.” (source)

What this means is that low-dopamine is a response to a lifestyle which doesn’t offer much in terms of reward to the person living it. It may be a response to the environment you’re living in, the clothes you’re wearing, the tight budget you’re working within, the relationship choices you’ve made or have been made for you, or a result of trauma where there was no perceived reward. It’s very easy to understand how dopamine levels may appear low when we consider all the potentials leading to less-rewarding lifestyles and life-experiences.

What’s necessary then is less of a ‘don’t get addicted’ approach and more of an ‘increase the rewards in your life’ style of applied advice. Fact is, you’ll constantly feel less fulfilled through low dopamine when you’re not (or are unable to) fill your day with things that inspire and reward you. Meaning, the most effective protection against addiction and greatest advantage to high-dopamine levels is a defense against low-rewarding activities and an offence working towards rewarding actions, activities, and ultimately, a lifestyle of fulfillment and achievement.

Also, because addiction is most often rooted in past traumatic experiences, where emotions create a fight or flight response that becomes rooted in your core emotions, it’s vitally important to seek proper and effective help in dissolving past trauma. Doing so can only help you perceive more rewarding experiences in your life, rather than filtering experiences through a ‘traumatized’ awareness.

2. Checklist Small Tasks

“Dopamine increases when we are organized and finish tasks – regardless if the task is small or large. So, don’t allow your brain to worry about things that need to be done. Instead, write these tasks down and then check them off one at a time. It’s been shown that it’s more satisfying to the brain’s dopamine levels when we physically check something off of our to-do list. Also, write down and check stuff off regardless if you can mentally remember the tasks.”

In reading the book Principles of Self-Management, I came across a brilliantly well-researched understanding of motivation when it comes to tasks. In short, if a task is greater than 25% of a change in a person’s routine, the person will be overwhelmed with feeling incapable of achieving it. This leads them to self-defeat and self-sabotage to avoid accomplishing the task. On the other side, if a task is less than 10% different than a person’s normal routine, they don’t do it because it won’t have enough meaning for them to do so. As such, it’s wise to make sure you write down goals and tasks that are in between this 10% to 25% range of new behaviors and actions, otherwise, you just won’t do it.

However, this 10-25% range is simply a guide for tasks that are not directly linked to our highest values. In reality, if you can link a task to your highest values and see clearly how it will help you accomplish what’s truly most important to you, you’ll do it. If you can’t see how it will help fulfill your highest values, you’ll procrastinate, hesitate, and get frustrated in the attempt to do it. By linking a task to your highest values, you’ll both increase the chances of you doing it and also increase the reward you will feel when you accomplish it, a result of producing more dopamine in the brain.

3. Create Something

“For us writers, painters, sculptors, poets, singers, dancers, and other artists, we can identify with this. When we’re in creative mode, we can become hyper-focused. As a result, we can enter a state called flow. Dopamine is the brain chemical that allows us to achieve this state. The lesson is this: take up a hobby or activity in which you actually create something tangible. Try something like arts, crafts, auto repair, drawing, photography, or something else that sounds interesting.”

Sparking your creative drive is an effective way to increase your potential for feeling great, achieving goals and inspiring yourself through your accomplishments. However, it can also be a distraction from a feel-bad lifestyle, if it’s not maintained with a purpose in mind. Whenever you’re working on a project, creative or not, that truly inspires you, you’ll activate your ‘flow state,’ where time and space seem to stand still. So how to you determine what it is that truly inspires you?

The most important goal in revealing your most authentic creative energy is to remove the creative energies of other people from your life. So many of us look up to the creations of others, whether works of art or music, and their works or talents take up time and space in our own minds. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it can influence your own beliefs about what you can create. If you compare yourself to others and minimize yourself, you’ll repress your own creative ability. This can affect your dopamine levels, because if you can’t see your own creations as rewarding to you, as much as someone else’s, you’ll feel inferior and incapable.

One very effective way of neutralizing the influence other people have on your mind is to literally look at the negatives or downsides of their accomplishment. This isn’t to practice being a critic, but it can enable you to de-infatuate with their creative powers, helping you to stop minimizing your own. Once you recognize that your creative endeavors can exist on the level of those you admire, through practice (just like they did), you’ll increase your ability to see your own creations as meaningful and rewarding.

happy-chemicals-dopamine-serotonin-endorphin-oxytocin

 4. Exercise

“Same ‘ole, same ‘ole, we know. We’ve discussed repeatedly the importance and benefits of physical exercise, and we’re just going to add to this list again. So, not only does exercise help us relieve stress, achieve better physical health and make us more productive; it boosts our dopamine levels. More specifically, exercise increases multiple neurotransmitters – serotonin and endorphins, besides dopamine, receive a boost. Here’s something else cool: the exercise needn’t not be arduous. Simply taking a stroll or climbing some stairs will achieve a good dopamine jolt.”

Exercise is important, but it can also become a crutch or an addiction if it’s not something being integrated into your daily life. Many people go to the gym to work out, yet don’t live a life that requires the body they’re building. Another thing is actually placing a value on exercise itself. Many people buy the gym memberships, yet never use them. So what’s the easiest way to make exercise a part of your life?

There’s a branch of exercise called ‘functional training’ in which exercises are tailored to help you with your daily tasks. This is much more helpful than just ‘workouts,’ because if you can train your body into a state where your daily tasks are not taxing on your energy, you’ll breeze through the day and have more energy at the end of it. Staying in a high energy state instead of being brought down by your daily tasks will help you be more inspired during your day and innately feel more inspired to exercise.

5. Get a Streak Going

“As with creating a checklist, getting a streak going is a great way to increase dopamine levels. For the purpose of this article, a streak is a visual reminder of how many days in a row you’ve achieved something.

Get a calendar specifically for this purpose: write down whatever goal you have and the days of the week or month when they are scheduled. For example, if you work out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, mark these days on the calendar for the month. As you finish a workout, mark it off on the calendar. Keep a streak going, and you’ll keep the dopamine coming.”

While the ‘streak’ is a useful tool for celebrating accomplishments, it unfortunately has a downside—routine. Doing something enough times becomes a routine, especially if the action isn’t continuously fulfilling to your highest values. To counter this, try adapting the ‘goal’ or ‘action’ in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. By continuously finding ways to improve the performance of the behavior, over time, you can look back at how many times you’ve done it, but also how much better you’ve become at it. This way, your performance becomes a competition with yourself, which increases your potential for feeling rewarded as you master a skill.

6. Increase Tyrosine

“Of the chemicals that make up dopamine, none are more important than tyrosine. In fact, tyrosine is considered the building block of dopamine. Therefore, it is important that you get enough of this protein. There’s a large list of foods that increase Tyrosine, including: Almonds, Avocados, Bananas, Beef, Chicken, Chocolate, Coffee, Eggs, Green Tea, Watermelon, Yogurt.”

Food is a reward, not a chore. This is the difference between living to eat and eating to live. While it’s important to utilize foods to your advantage, it’s just as important to recognize that the brain is its own best pharmacy. Few foods actually make it past the blood-brain barrier and this actually includes Tyrosine.

“Tyrosine is one of the 22 key amino acids that are used for building proteins around the body. In addition to this, however, it also raises the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, namely dopamine and norepinephrine. These are famous for being ‘feel good’ chemicals that can help boost mood and elevate concentration, making tyrosine a popular nootropic. However, tyrosine is completely incapable of passing the BBB. This way, no matter how much of it you were to take, you’d feel almost no effects.” (source)

The truth is, tyrosine must be bonded with another molecule to make it past the blood-brain barrier, so tyrosine in itself isn’t capable of making significant impacts on the brain. However, through natural digestion and regulating healthy bodily function, it can assist the brain in having to work less on fixing an unhealthy system, which in turn can help increase the potential for dopamine and dopamine related good feelings.

7. Listen to Music

“Do you ever wonder why music makes you happy? I mean, we can be in the dumps one moment but once we put on our favorite jam, we’re swaying and shaking away…feeling pretty good about ourselves too! The reason for this is that listening to music increases dopamine levels. In fact, scientists say that listening to music has the same effect as eating our favorite foods or watching our favorite T.V. show. So, when you’re feeling down, throw on some of your favorite tunes and jam out!”

Listening to music can increase dopamine levels temporarily, but what we’re really looking for is a lasting fulfillment feeling so you can make your daily life enjoyable and productive for your goals. Also, popular music these days is often manufactured in such a way as to prey on your brain’s chemical dependency, making much of music a form of substance addiction.

However, music has been a part of human history since as far as we can see, so its influence on our brain is greatly appreciated. In fact, one of the greatest cultural appreciations throughout history has been music. So, listen to music, but just make sure it’s not the only source of dopamine in your life.

 8. Meditate

“As with exercise, we are discovering more and more benefits to meditation. We are again adding to the list. As we discussed, the human brain is susceptible to a variety of addictions. One other addictive habit that we have is overthinking. In fact, some Buddhists have a phrase for this addiction: ‘monkey mind.’

Overthinking is not merely a distracting habit, it’s also a genuine compulsion that leaves us in a perplexing state, while also having a negative effect on our spiritual development. However, scientists are finally catching up to what Buddhists have known for thousands of years: meditation and mindfulness are essential to a healthy mind.”

Meditation can be a highly effective form of dopamine increase if done properly, as it can weed out the mental influences which may be causing your chemistry to be less than desired. With the intent of reaching a state of self-fulfillment, meditation clears out the mental clutter and replaces it with presence and fulfillment for just being alive. This is a state available to every human and can help assist our daily lives by increasing our awareness of what feels good for us and what we don’t resonate with.

9. Take Supplements

“While there are some great ways to increase dopamine levels, sometimes we’re facing a time crunch. Fortunately, there are natural supplements on the market that have been shown to increase dopamine levels. Here are a few:

  • Acetyl-l-tyrosine: Another building block of dopamine. A healthy dose of this makes it easier for the brain to produce dopamine.
  • Curcumin: An active ingredient that’s also common in curry spices and turmeric.
  • Ginkgo Biloba: A tremendously popular wonder supplement that’s also believed to boost dopamine levels and keep it circulating in the brain longer.
  • L-theanine: Increases multiple neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine. Green tea is a terrific source for this.” (source)

While supplements can impact our dopamine response, they should by no means replace your own inner potential for fulfillment. That responsibility lies with you and you alone. However, with respect to inner wisdom, without knowing what feeling amazing actually feels like, it’s difficult to strive for it as a goal. Supplements can help us get there so we can have a reference point for what our potential can be. The trick is to facilitate change in our lives, enough so that the need for supplementation to feel good is lower than the feel goods we actually experience in our life.

10. Toxic Cleansing

“As miraculous as our bodies are, we do accumulate toxins and bacteria that is bad for us. Endotoxins are the kind that can cause our immune systems to get out of whack, and it also constrains the production of dopamine. Here are a couple tips for helping cleanse the gut of endotoxins: eat fermented food, get enough sleep, and resist the urge to indulge in fatty or sugary foods.”

Whenever you’re not fulfilled in your life, you run the risk of over-indulging in sugary and sweet foods in an attempt to temporarily fulfill yourself. However, if you find fulfillment through the challenge and support of your day, you’re more likely to eat for the tasks you’re doing instead of eating just to feel good.

How you eat and how fulfilled you are, are directly correlated. If you’re actively enjoying the challenges of your life, you’re more likely to consume foods that serve your highest interests and health, because you see a reason to eat well. Controlling how you eat is less important than finding fulfillment in what you do.

So the next time you find yourself craving that candy bar, ask yourself if there isn’t something else you could eat that could help you find fulfillment. Also, notice what you are doing at the time you’re craving sugar and ask yourself if it’s really something you need to do, or can you delegate it to someone else so you can get back to things that inspire you. By focusing on what inspires and fulfills you, you’ll find yourself actively seeking to better your health without having to really focus on it.


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The Brain Chemicals That Make You Happy (And How To Trigger Them)

by Kaia Roman     February 27, 2016  

When we ask ourselves what makes us happy, we often think of the circumstances, possessions, or people in our lives. In reality, happiness is largely a chemical experience. Four main neurochemicals, hormones, and neurotransmitters generated in the brain are fundamentally responsible for creating the sensations and emotions we’ve come to associate with happiness.

This is actually great news. It means even when circumstances, possessions, or people in our lives aren’t exactly as we’d like them to be, there are simple ways we can increase our happy brain chemicals and alter our moods.

I talk about this with my mindfulness students in elementary school, and they really understand the concept. I’ll often have a kid tell me about the rush of dopamine she just got from getting an A+ on her spelling test, or the hit of oxytocin a boy felt from giving his mom a hug.

Here’s how you can do the same.

1. Endorphins

Endorphins are opioid neuropeptides, which means they are produced by the central nervous system to help us deal with physical pain. They also make us feel lightheaded, and even giddy at times. One non-painful (well, not too painful) way to induce endorphins is exercise.

Endorphins are released after both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. In one study, as little as 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill for 10 days in a row was sufficient to produce a significant reduction in depression among clinically depressed subjects.

happy-chemicals-dopamine-serotonin-endorphin-oxytocin

2. Serotonin

Serotonin may be the best-known happiness chemical because it’s the one that antidepressant medication primarily addresses. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is naturally triggered by several things we can do each day.

Exposure to bright light, especially sunshine, is one way to increase serotonin. Exercise and happy thoughts also stimulate production of this chemical. Some research has found that a higher intake of tryptophan-heavy foods, relative to other foods in the diet, may do the trick as well.

3. Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter often referred to as the “chemical of reward.” When you score a goal, hit a target, or accomplish a task, you receive a pleasurable hit of dopamine in your brain that tells you you’ve done a good job. But you can also get a natural dose of dopamine when you perform acts of kindness toward others.

Volunteering has been shown to increase dopamine as well as have other long-term health benefits. And some research has even found that it only takes thoughts of loving kindness to bring on the dopamine high.

4. Oxytocin

Mothers may be familiar with oxytocin, the hormone produced in abundance during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s also the high behind MDMA, a popular party drug, which releases oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is primarily associated with loving touch and close relationships.

This hormone provides a multiple whammy of warm fuzzies, by stimulating dopamine and serotonin, while reducing anxiety. To get your hit of oxytocin without popping ecstasy, give someone you love a cuddle. Even a pet will do.

If you’re like me, happiness may at times feel like the unachievable holy grail of emotion. But luckily, our brains and bodies are constantly undergoing complex chemical processes that we can affect with our daily actions. Once we understand how our feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters work, we may be able to trigger them more easily than we realized.


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Poor REM Sleep, Higher Risk for Depression?

Preliminary study suggests that emotional stress builds when this phase is disturbed,
creating a ‘vicious cycle’

By Alan Mozes   HealthDay Reporter     WebMD News from HealthDay

MONDAY, Feb. 8, 2016 (HealthDay News) – REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the phase when dreams are made, and a lack of good REM sleep has long been associated with chronic insomnia.

But new research is building on that association, suggesting that the bad and “restless” REM sleep experienced by insomnia patients may, in turn, undermine their ability to overcome emotional distress, raising their risk for chronic depression or anxiety.

“Previous studies have pointed to REM sleep as the most likely candidate involved in the regulation of emotions,” said study lead author Rick Wassing. He is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sleep and Cognition at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam.

Wassing noted, for example, that while REM is underway, key arousal hormones such as serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine are inactive. This, he added, may indicate that it is during good REM sleep when the emotional impact of memories is properly processed and resolved.

But when REM sleep is disturbed, emotional distress may accumulate. And Wassing said current findings indicate that over time this accumulation eventually leads to a “vicious cycle” of overarousal, during which insomnia promotes distress, which promotes arousal, which promotes ongoing insomnia.

Wassing and his colleagues discuss their findings in the early issue of PNAS, published Feb. 8.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sleep involves five distinct phases, which broadly track from light sleep to deep sleep to REM sleep. This cycle then repeats itself several times throughout the night.

The last phase, REM, is characterized by rapid and shallow breathing, rapid eye movement, and a rise in heart rate and blood pressure. It also gives rise to dreams. Experts believe that REM sleep triggers brain centers that are critical to learning, and may be vital to healthy brain development in children.

To explore the importance of good REM sleep to emotional regulation, the Dutch investigators conducted a two-part study.

sleepless

The first involved completion of a questionnaire by nearly 1,200 respondents (average age of 52) who were enrolled in the Netherlands Sleep Registry. All were asked to self-report the severity of their insomnia, as well as their emotional distress, arousal and/or troubling nighttime thoughts.

The second part enlisted 19 women and 13 men (at an average age of nearly 36). Half had no prior sleep problems; the others suffered from insomnia.

They participated in two nights of lab-monitored sleep, during which electrical brain wave activity was recorded — via electroencephalography — to identify sleep phases. All then completed a questionnaire about their own experiences with troubling nighttime thoughts.

The result: After comparing brain activity records to both groups’ nighttime distress reports, the researchers concluded that the more REM sleep was disturbed, the more trouble participants had in putting aside emotional distress.

In turn, as distress built up, so did feelings of arousal, making it more and more difficult to get a restful night of sleep.

“The possible solution would be to stabilize REM sleep,” Wassing said. But, he added, whether this is true and whether cognitive behavioral therapy might help “is for subsequent research to find out.”

Janis Anderson is an associate psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She suggested that the jury is still out on both counts.

“Complex interrelationships between sleep and mood, including clinical mood problems such as major depression and bipolar disorder, are well-known,” she said. “This continues to be an important area for research, but also one in which speculative suggestions to patients can easily outpace the evidence.”

And, Anderson cautioned that “there is nothing directly measured in actual clinical patients here [in the new study] that would warrant any kind of advice at all related to mood or other disorders.” She said the findings might best be used as a theoretical road map for future investigations into how sleep affects emotional regulation.

Article Sources : Rick Wassing, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Sleep and Cognition, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Amsterdam; Janis L. Anderson, Ph.D., associate psychologist, Department of Psychiatry, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and assistant professor of psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Feb. 8, 2016, PNAS

source: www.webmd.com   HealthDay