A Personal Pharmacy? 5 Feel Good Chemicals Everyone’s Brain Produces
The human brain doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. It is, in every way, the body’s master. Not only does it control all of our bodily functions, such as breathing, blood pressure and physical movement, it allows for memory, communication with others and the vast array of emotions people experience on a daily basis. The brain also acts as a chemist, producing neurochemicals that improve our mood, ease our physical pains and sweeten our pleasures.
Developing the skill to self-generate these neurochemicals as needed is an excellent way to avoid the culture of over-medicating that so many Americans have fallen prey to.
Pharmaceutical companies reap a global annual profit of $300 billion, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A recent report by WHO claims that there is now “an inherent conflict of interest between the legitimate business goals of [drug] manufacturers and the social, medical and economic needs…” of the general public. In other words, drug manufactures are more interested in medicating people than healing them.
While there’s no denying that pharmaceuticals are often necessary for some physical and mental conditions, they bring their own baggage. For many, the side effects of different medications are actually worse than the issues they’re attempting to treat. Then, of course, there’s the issue of dependency, which a staggering number of Americans are coping with due to prescription painkillers.
Christopher Bergland is a world class endurance athlete, Guinness record holder and author of The Athlete’s Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss. In an article for Psychology Today, Bergland offers up a few techniques for a balanced lifestyle by generating your own neurochemicals.
What Feel Good Neurochemicals Does the Brain Produce Naturally?
1. Dopamine – this chemical neurotransmitter sends signals to neurons in the brain which include reward-motivated behavior. Some pharmaceuticals, such as Adderall, increase levels of dopamine in the brain. However, as Bergland writes, “If you want to get a hit of dopamine, set a goal and achieve it.” This a natural method increasing levels of dopamine on your own.
2. Serotonin – another neurotransmitter, this chemical has a lot of responsibilities. Among them are the regulation of body processes, such as sleep, and contributing to positive feelings of wellbeing and happiness. A lack of serotonin, some researchers believe, leads to depression. This has led to anti-depressant medications that are Serotonin-Specific Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI). These types of anti-depressants allow serotonin to remain in the brain longer, theoretically leaving you happier or less depressed. According to Bergland, you can generate serotonin pursuing “things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning and accomplishment.”
3. Endorphins – this group of neuropeptides bind to opioid receptors in the brain, work wonders for enhancing pleasure and relieving pain. The word is made up of “endo-“ and “–orphin” from the words “endogenous” and “morphine.” Strenuous physical activities, such as fast walking, running, hiking, swimming or sex, are ways to get an endorphin rush. Bergland also notes a study that showed acupuncture triggered the release of endorphins as well. Some have even suggested that laughter might also release endorphins.
4. GABA – this amino acid found in your brain works to slow down the number of neurons firing in the brain, creating a sense of calm. It’s been referred to as “nature’s valium.” Benzodiazepines, drugs like Xanax, increase the production of GABA in order to reduce anxiety. Self-generating GABA is possible, according to Bergland, by meditating or doing yoga, activities centered around calm focus.
5. Adrenaline – secreted by the adrenal glands, this hormone kicks your body into high gear, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and blood circulation during times of physical stress or danger. “Taking risks, and doing scary things that force you out of your comfort zone is a key to maximizing your human potential,” writes Bergland. He then adds, “try to balance potentially harmful novelty-seeking by focusing on behaviors that will make you feel good by releasing other neurochemicals on this list.”
Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid taking medications. There’s no doubt that pharmaceuticals have revolutionized our ability to fight infections, cure or stabilize certain disease and increase our overall lifespan. However, being aware of our body’s ability to fight off pain and improve our mood all on its own is a great step toward maintaining good physical and mental health.
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