We have all heard about the “feel good” effects of hormones such as serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine: a sense of well-being, even feelings of love and nurturing towards yourself and others. But did you know that these “feel good” hormones are also designed by your body to boost your immune system, fight against pathogens and heal your body? Here’s how they work and, most importantly, how you can get more of them working for you naturally.
The A-B-C’s of Hormones
Serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin are all neurotransmitters. Their job it is to carry signals between nerves. The three mentioned above are probably the most well-known of the “feel good” hormones, but there are many differences between them:
- Serotonin: Serotonin, or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), is primarily found in the bowels, blood platelets and, of course, the brain. Adequate serotonin levels contribute to a sense of wellbeing and happiness but also help to regulate the constricting action of smooth muscles as well as regulate cyclic processes such as the biological circadian cycles of cells. Many researchers feel that it is a lack of serotonin that is the primary cause of depression.
- Dopamine: Dopamine is a precursor to other vital substances, including epinephrine (i.e. adrenaline). Dopamine helps in the regulation of central nervous system function, including cognition, emotion, memory, motor control and the regulation of the endocrine system. Many people connect dopamine to addictive behaviors or “pleasure responses” but it is much more than that. Dopamine imbalance and ineffectiveness has also been connected to Parkinson’s Disease.
- Oxytocin: Oxytocin is secreted through the pituitary through activity in the hypothalamus. It is often called the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone” because it is produced during social interaction. It is also produced as a result of acts of bonding such as sex, hugging, falling in love, being generous and having empathy as well as during mother-infant bonding. Psychologists connect the release of oxytocin to feelings of trust and claim that it is an antidote to depression. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that oxytocin helped heterosexual men stay monogamous to romantic partners. According to the study, high levels of oxytocin helped their partners appear more attractive to them than other women who were objectively “just as attractive.”
How Stress Causes Hormonal Imbalance and What You Can Do About It
There are many reasons why healing hormone levels may be off balance. Toxic overload caused by bad eating habits or environmental exposure are two reasons. Many women also experience hormone imbalance and its effects during perimenopause and menopause.
The main way these and other healing hormones become depleted, however, is from chronic stress. Being in a state of continual “fight or flight” means cortisol levels will be elevated. High cortisol levels equate to low or nonexistent levels of healing hormones, since the stress response causes the production of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin to shut down. If you have suffered from chronic stress for years, your body may have produced more cellular receptors for cortisol, making it hard for you to shut the stress response off long enough for healing to occur.
Five Ways to Help Your Body Product More “Healing Hormones” Naturally
The good news is that there are many ways you can lower the production of cortisol and kick in healing hormones that do not include pharmaceutical drugs. It may take a while, but eventually your hormones will come back into balance, which means higher immune system function and dis-ease prevention as well.
When the body switches out of “fight or flight” mode and you are feeling calm, relaxed and at peace, your body is acting within what is called the “relaxation response.” This is where true healing can occur.
Here are four simple ways to calm down stress and kick in healing hormones like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin:
- Meditation and visualization. A 2015 study conducted by Harvard University found that meditation practices which elicited the relaxation response could reduce the need for health care services by 43 percent.
- Regular light to moderate exercise, both aerobic and non-aerobic, has been shown to improve brain health, mood and lift depression as well as lessen chronic pain and the chance for major disease. Moving the body does this by lowering cortisol levels and helping to release healing hormones.
- Being in Nature. Walking, strolling or just sitting in nature, especially in a forest or park with lots of vegetation, has proven in studies to be so effective for lowering cortisol levels that it even has a name in Japan: Shinrin-yoku or Forest Bathing. A comprehensive review conducted by Japanese researchers found that forest bathing helped to stimulate parasympathetic nervous system activity, lower cortisol levels and lower blood pressure.
- Tapping/EFT. This stress-reduction modality uses kinesthetic movement in the form of “tapping” various power points along Chinese meridians as well as verbal phrases that can help to calm the body. EFT has proven to be especially effective for individuals with PTSD.
- Although I don’t recommend using cannabis to the point of psychological dependency, marijuana in small amounts has been proven to calm stress responses, mostly by helping balance the endocannabinoid system. For some conditions, small amounts of THC can be effective for this aim, but CBD alone has also been shown to lower inflammatory responses that can calm nerves and aid in healing a variety of physical conditions.
Hormones like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin not only help to produce states in the body that are pleasant, they also help the body to heal. Although it is easy to shut them down through chronic stress, the very good news is that with practice and self-nurturing along your Healthy Breast path, you have the power to turn them on as well. This capacity truly is one of the miracles of the human body!