Using serotonin for relief from allergies

Using serotonin for relief from allergies

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When someone suffers from an allergy, due some allergens they are given drugs like anti-histamine, adrenaline or serotonin. How does serotonin affects the body to give a relieve from the action of allergents? What is the physiology behind this?

Serotonin Deficiency – What Causes it and How To Help

Serotonin is one of the most widely recognized of all neurotransmitters. It is intricately involved in numerous core physical processes such as the regulation of sleep, appetite, and aggression. Serotonin is also a key player in mood, anxiety, fear and a general sense of well-being. Imbalances in serotonin, particularly relative to norepinephrine and dopamine, are common causes of certain types of depression. Antidepressants that block serotonin’s re-uptake back into serotonin neurons are among the most common of all classes of medications prescribed.

Serotonin deficiency is a common contributor to mood problems. Some feel it is an epidemic in the United States. Serotonin is key to our feelings of happiness and very important for our emotions because it helps defend against both anxiety and depression. Many of the current biochemical theories of depression focus on the biogenic amines, which are a group of chemical compounds important in neurotransmission—most importantly norepinephrine, serotonin and, to a lesser extent, dopamine, acetylcholine and epinephrine.


Many life stressors can lead to low serotonin:

  • Prolonged periods of stress can deplete serotonin levels. Our fast-paced, fast food society greatly contributes to these imbalances.
  • Genetic factors, faulty metabolism, and digestive issues can impair the absorption and breakdown of our food which reduces our ability to build serotonin.
  • Poor Diet. Neurotransmitters are made in the body from proteins. Also required are certain vitamins and minerals called “co-factors”. If your nutrition is poor and you do not take in enough protein, vitamins, or minerals to build the neurotransmitters, a neurotransmitter imbalance develops. We really do think and feel what we eat.
  • Toxic substances like heavy metals, pesticides, drug use, and some prescription drugs can cause permanent damage to the nerve cells that make serotonin and other neurotransmitters.
  • Certain drugs and substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, NutraSweet, antidepressants, and some cholesterol-lowering medications deplete serotonin and other neurotransmitter levels.
  • Hormone changes cause low levels of serotonin and neurotransmitter imbalances.
  • Lack of sunlight contributes to low serotonin levels.


You may have a shortage of serotonin if you have a sad depressed mood, low energy, negative thoughts, feel tense and irritable, crave sweets, and have a reduced interest in sex. Other serotonin-related disorders include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Insomnia
  • PMS/ Hormone dysfunction
  • Obesity
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessions and Compulsions
  • Muscle pain
  • Chronic Pain
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Migraine Headaches


Neurotransmitter testing, Questionnaires, and blood testing can help determine if you might have a serotonin deficiency. Certain tests can determine if you have normal levels of the precursors and co-factor vitamins and minerals needed for the brain to produce serotonin. Additionally, hormones such as Adrenal, Thyroid, and Estrogen levels can affect serotonin levels, and may explain why some women have premenstrual and menopausal mood problems.


Prescription drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Lexapro are classified as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or (SSRIs). They help to keep more of the serotonin your brain is making in circulation. They do not, however, increase your brain’s supply of serotonin. Some studies, in fact, indicate that over time they may actually accelerate your turnover of serotonin, thereby making your serotonin deficiency worse. They are used for a wide variety of symptoms such as depression, panic attacks, anxiety, PTSD, obsessions, and compulsions. There are also serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Effexor and Cymbalta that keep more serotonin and norepinephrine in circulation. Again, such agents do not help you build more neurotransmitters.

Nutrient therapies such as Targeted Amino Acid Therapy naturally increase the levels of neurotransmitters that a person has been found to be deficient in. 5-Hydroxytryptophan and Tryptophan are widely known for their ability to help depressive symptoms by raising serotonin levels in the brain. Numerous clinical trials have studied the efficacy of 5-HTP for treating depression. One compared 5-HTP to the antidepressant drug fluvoxamine, and found 5-HTP to be equally effective.

It can be used alone or in combination with medication to keep dosages low and to prevent the “poop out” many people experience with medication.

Herbal remedies, such as St. John’s Wort, are available to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some work in a similar way to the SSRI antidepressants.


  • Exercise at least 30 minutes three times a week
  • Walking, yoga, stretching
  • Get plenty of sunlight
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily
  • Prayer and meditation

Eat at least three meals per day. Skipping meals promotes high stress and low energy. Eat protein with every meal. Eat complex carbohydrates such as brown rice. Avoid sugar, junk food, white pasta, white rice, white bread, cookies and cake. No caffeine, alcohol, or NutraSweet (aspartame). NutraSweet can be toxic to your brain. Alcohol can worsen depression, anxiety and sleep problems.


To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing marijuana to be used for a variety of medical conditions. Fifteen additional states have enacted laws intended to allow access to CBD oil and/or high-CBD strains of marijuana. Interest in the potential therapeutic effects of CBD has been growing rapidly, partially in response to media attention surrounding the use of CBD oil in young children with intractable seizure disorders including Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. While there are promising preliminary data, the scientific literature is currently insufficient to either prove or disprove the efficacy and safety of CBD in patients with epilepsy. i and further clinical evaluation is warranted. In addition to epilepsy, the therapeutic potential of CBD is currently being explored for a number of indications including anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, schizophrenia, cancer, pain, inflammatory diseases and others. My testimony will provide an overview of what the science tells us about the therapeutic potential of CBD and of the ongoing research supported by NIH in this area.

It’s not clear which happens first, the eating disorder or the altered serotonin binding or whether the altered serotonin actually causes the symptoms people with eating disorders experience.

In terms of eating disorders and serotonin, there’s still much more to learn. If altered serotonin binding is responsible for the symptoms of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, medications may play a more important role than psychological counseling, but, in all likelihood, the best approach will still be a combination of medical treatment and talk therapy.

Brain Uses Serotonin To Perpetuate Chronic Pain Signals In Local Nerves

Setting the stage for possible advances in pain treatment, researchers at The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland report they have pinpointed two molecules involved in perpetuating chronic pain in mice. The molecules, they say, also appear to have a role in the phenomenon that causes uninjured areas of the body to be more sensitive to pain when an area nearby has been hurt. A summary of the research will be published on Jan. 23 in the journal Neuron.

"With the identification of these molecules, we have some additional targets that we can try to block to decrease chronic pain," says Xinzhong Dong, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an early career scientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "We found that persistent pain doesn't always originate in the brain, as some had believed, which is important information for designing less addictive drugs to fight it."

Chronic pain that persists for weeks, months or years after an underlying injury or condition is resolved afflicts an estimated 20 to 25 percent of the population worldwide and about 116 million people in the U.S., costing Americans a total of $600 billion in medical interventions and lost productivity. It can be caused by everything from nerve injuries and osteoarthritis to cancer and stress.

In their new research, the scientists focused on a system of pain-sensing nerves within the faces of mice, known collectively as the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is a large bundle of tens of thousands of nerve cells. Each cell is a long “wire” with a hub at its center the hubs are grouped together into a larger hub. On one side of this hub, three smaller bundles of wires — V1, V2 and V3 — branch off. Each bundle contains individual pain-sensing wires that split off to cover a specific territory of the face. Signals are sent through the wires to the hubs of the cells and then travel to the spinal cord through a separate set of bundles. From the spinal cord, the signals are relayed to the brain, which interprets them as pain.

When the researchers pinched the V2 branch of the trigeminal nerve for a prolonged period of time, they found that the V2 and V3 territories were extra sensitive to additional pain. This spreading of pain to uninjured areas is typical of those experiencing chronic pain, but it can also be experienced during acute injuries, as when a thumb is hit with a hammer and the whole hand throbs with pain.

To figure out why, the researchers studied pain-sensing nerves in the skin of mouse ears. The smaller branches of the trigeminal V3 reach up into the skin of the lower ear. But an entirely different set of nerves is responsible for the skin of the upper ear. This distinction allowed the researchers to compare the responses of two unrelated groups of nerves that are in close proximity to each other.

To overcome the difficulty of monitoring nerve responses, Dong’s team inserted a gene into the DNA of mice so that the primary sensory nerve cells would glow green when activated. The pain-sensing nerves of the face are a subset of these.

When skin patches were then bathed in a dose of capsaicin — the active ingredient in hot peppers — the pain-sensing nerves lit up in both regions of the ear. But the V3 nerves in the lower ear were much brighter than those of the upper ear. The researchers concluded that pinching the connected-but-separate V2 branch of the trigeminal nerve had somehow sensitized the V3 nerves to “overreact” to the same amount of stimulus. (Watch nerves light up in this video.)

Applying capsaicin again to different areas, the researchers found that more nerve branches coming from a pinched V2 nerve lit up than those coming from an uninjured one. This suggests that nerves that don’t normally respond to pain can modify themselves during prolonged injury, adding to the pain signals being sent to the brain.

Knowing from previous studies that the protein TRPV1 is needed to activate pain-sensing nerve cells, the researchers next looked at its activity in the trigeminal nerve. They showed it was hyperactive in injured V2 nerve branches and in uninjured V3 branches, as well as in the branches that extended beyond the hub of the trigeminal nerve cell and into the spinal cord.

Next, University of Maryland experts in the neurological signaling molecule serotonin, aware that serotonin is involved in chronic pain, investigated its role in the TRPV1 activation study. The team, led by Feng Wei, M.D., Ph.D., blocked the production of serotonin, which is released from the brain stem into the spinal cord, and found that TRPV1 hyperactivity nearly disappeared.

Says Dong: “Chronic pain seems to cause serotonin to be released by the brain into the spinal cord. There, it acts on the trigeminal nerve at large, making TRPV1 hyperactive throughout its branches, even causing some non-pain-sensing nerve cells to start responding to pain. Hyperactive TRPV1 causes the nerves to fire more frequently, sending additional pain signals to the brain.”

Other authors of the report include Yu Shin Kim, Liang Han, Zhe Li, Pamela LaVinka, Shuohao Sun, Kyoungsook Park and Michael Caterina of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Yuxia Chu, Man Li, Ke Ren and Ronald Dubner of the University of Maryland Dental School and Zongxiang Tang of the Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine.

This work was supported by grants from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (R01DE022750, R01DE018573), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (R01GM087369), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (T32NS070201), the Johns Hopkins University Brain Science Institute and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Caterina is an inventor on a patent on the use of products related to TRPV1, which is licensed through the University of California, San Francisco and through Merck, and may be entitled to royalties related to these products. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Hydra Biosciences, which develops products related to TRP channels. These conflicts are being managed by The Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut

Although serotonin is well known as a brain neurotransmitter, it is estimated that 90 percent of the body's serotonin is made in the digestive tract. In fact, altered levels of this peripheral serotonin have been linked to diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. New research at Caltech, published in the April 9 issue of the journal Cell, shows that certain bacteria in the gut are important for the production of peripheral serotonin.

"More and more studies are showing that mice or other model organisms with changes in their gut microbes exhibit altered behaviors," explains Elaine Hsiao, research assistant professor of biology and biological engineering and senior author of the study. "We are interested in how microbes communicate with the nervous system. To start, we explored the idea that normal gut microbes could influence levels of neurotransmitters in their hosts."

Peripheral serotonin is produced in the digestive tract by enterochromaffin (EC) cells and also by particular types of immune cells and neurons. Hsiao and her colleagues first wanted to know if gut microbes have any effect on serotonin production in the gut and, if so, in which types of cells. They began by measuring peripheral serotonin levels in mice with normal populations of gut bacteria and also in germ-free mice that lack these resident microbes.

The researchers found that the EC cells from germ-free mice produced approximately 60 percent less serotonin than did their peers with conventional bacterial colonies. When these germ-free mice were recolonized with normal gut microbes, the serotonin levels went back up&mdashshowing that the deficit in serotonin can be reversed.

"EC cells are rich sources of serotonin in the gut. What we saw in this experiment is that they appear to depend on microbes to make serotonin&mdashor at least a large portion of it," says Jessica Yano, first author on the paper and a research technician working with Hsiao.

The researchers next wanted to find out whether specific species of bacteria, out of the diverse pool of microbes that inhabit the gut, are interacting with EC cells to make serotonin.

After testing several different single species and groups of known gut microbes, Yano, Hsiao, and colleagues observed that one condition&mdashthe presence of a group of approximately 20 species of spore-forming bacteria&mdashelevated serotonin levels in germ-free mice. The mice treated with this group also showed an increase in gastrointestinal motility compared to their germ-free counterparts, and changes in the activation of blood platelets, which are known to use serotonin to promote clotting.

Wanting to home in on mechanisms that could be involved in this interesting collaboration between microbe and host, the researchers began looking for molecules that might be key. They identified several particular metabolites&mdashproducts of the microbes' metabolism&mdashthat were regulated by spore-forming bacteria and that elevated serotonin from EC cells in culture. Furthermore, increasing these metabolites in germ-free mice increased their serotonin levels.

Previous work in the field indicated that some bacteria can make serotonin all by themselves. However, this new study suggests that much of the body's serotonin relies on particular bacteria that interact with the host to produce serotonin, says Yano. "Our work demonstrates that microbes normally present in the gut stimulate host intestinal cells to produce serotonin," she explains.

"While the connections between the microbiome and the immune and metabolic systems are well appreciated, research into the role gut microbes play in shaping the nervous system is an exciting frontier in the biological sciences," says Sarkis K. Mazmanian, Luis B. and Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology and a coauthor on the study. "This work elegantly extends previous seminal research from Caltech in this emerging field".

Additional coauthor Rustem Ismagilov, the Ethel Wilson Bowles and Robert Bowles Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, adds, "This work illustrates both the richness of chemical interactions between the hosts and their microbial communities, and Dr. Hsiao's scientific breadth and acumen in leading this work."

Serotonin is important for many aspects of human health, but Hsiao cautions that much more research is needed before any of these findings can be translated to the clinic.

"We identified a group of bacteria that, aside from increasing serotonin, likely has other effects yet to be explored," she says. "Also, there are conditions where an excess of peripheral serotonin appears to be detrimental."

Although this study was limited to serotonin in the gut, Hsiao and her team are now investigating how this mechanism might also be important for the developing brain. "Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter and hormone that is involved in a variety of biological processes. The finding that gut microbes modulate serotonin levels raises the interesting prospect of using them to drive changes in biology," says Hsiao.

The work was published in an article titled "Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis." In addition to Hsiao, Yano, Mazmanian, and Ismagilov, other Caltech coauthors include undergraduates Kristie Yu, Gauri Shastri, and Phoebe Ann graduate student Gregory Donaldson postdoctoral scholar Liang Ma. Additional coauthor Cathryn Nagler is from the University of Chicago.

This work was funded by an NIH Director's Early Independence Award and a Caltech Center for Environmental Microbial Interactions Award, both to Hsiao. The study was also supported by NSF, NIDDK, and NIMH grants to Mazmanian, NSF EFRI and NHGRI grants to Ismagilov, and grants from the NIAID and Food Allergy Research and Education and University of Chicago Digestive Diseases Center Core to Nagler.

The Biology of Learning and Behavior

Joseph was an unhappy baby. He didn’t sleep for very long periods and seemed to cry all the time. He did best when he was held and rocked, or walked. He spit up after feeding much more often than the other babies in the family. His parents called him their “high maintenance child.” He developed some ear infections which were treated with antibiotics. With the second antibiotic he received, he developed a rash. His doctor said he was allergic to amoxicillin and placed him on another antibiotic. He got over the ear infection but continued to be whiny and had diarrhea. After another antibiotic he developed a white coating on his tongue, which the doctor called thrush.

As he grew, it became increasingly evident that he was intolerant to some foods. Milk gave him a stomach ache and oranges gave him a rash around his mouth. In his preschool years he was loving and sweet one moment but easily flew off the handle if he didn’t get his own way sometimes his temper tantrums were a sight to behold. He continued to be plagued with difficulty falling asleep, stomach aches, frequent canker sores, and bed wetting as he grew older. He even had more unusual fears than his brothers and sisters.

When he started school his mother noticed that his memory wasn’t as good as his siblings. He would learn something one day and have forgotten it the next. It was hard for him to sit still for a whole lesson, often preferring to stand while learning. Sometimes he looked like a “motion machine.” Many times he appeared “spacey” while a lesson was being presented or when asked a question throughout the day. It was like his mind was always wandering. When a lesson or project became hard for him, he became frustrated very easily and would flare up or even cry. Joseph’s mom was at her wit’s end as to how to help him. She had tried rewarding, cajoling, punishing, and avoiding doing homework altogether. Nothing seemed to change his attitude towards learning or ability to do it easily. He did enjoy the avoidance of school work, however.

Joseph was likely suffering from a lack of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is the brain chemical that keeps us focused, instills a sense of well being, and helps us fall asleep easily. How had he gotten this deficiency in serotonin? That is a very interesting story. Dr. Michael Gershon, a neurobiologist and medical researcher from Columbia University in New York, discovered that 95% of serotonin is produced in our “gut.” Gershon has a book called The Second Brain in which he describes this intricate relationship between gut and brain functioning. How was Joseph’s gut health compromised so that he could no longer make enough serotonin to keep him feeling good?

We have both yeast and healthy bacteria in our intestines. When the mother takes an antibiotic while she is pregnant or the child takes an antibiotic, the yeast in the intestines begins to overgrow because the good bacteria in the gut is eliminated right along with the bad bacteria that was causing the ear or other infection. When a child has too much yeast or mold in his or her body it often will often “come out” of the body in various forms, including: diaper rash, hives, thrush in the mouth, canker sores, or athlete’s foot. When the yeast in the gut overgrows, it causes tiny perforations in the mucosa lining of the gut which damages the lining. It is in this area that the body makes the calming, focusing, feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. This slightly-damaged gut lining, sometimes referred to as the “leaky gut syndrome,” also allows some undigested food to pass through into the blood stream and food allergies are created. The longer this unbalanced environment is allowed to continue, the more allergies that will be created.

With this knowledge, what could this mother do to help her child feel better, act better, and learn better? She knew he was a smart, good-hearted boy who wasn’t happy with the way he was acting and learning. One of the first things that Joseph’s mother did was to begin to replace the good bacteria that had been destroyed by the antibiotics. She got a good acidophilus in capsule form called Primadophilus that was in the refrigerated section of the health food store. Since Joseph didn’t like to swallow pills very much, she opened this capsule and put it into his yogurt three times a day. She didn’t use the chewable or liquid form because she knew they would be too weak to help Joseph. Even though Joseph was allergic to milk he could handle some yogurt without any reactions. Sometimes she even put it into juice: it had no taste so he didn’t mind it. She started noticing some small changes in him, even in the first week: his voice wasn’t as loud and he didn’t need to constantly make those annoying noises with his mouth, he began to fall asleep easier, and he seemed to be much mellower since he was able to handle frustration without getting as upset as before. Even his brothers and sisters noticed that he wasn’t as mad and touchy as he had been before. He began to be able to pay closer attention to the lessons that were presented.

Joseph’s mother was beginning to become encouraged. If yeast overgrowth really was the cause of Joseph’s compromised gut and ability to produce enough serotonin, how else could she help his body overcome this unbalanced gut ecology? She decided to add a natural anti-fungal to his acidophilus regime. She went back to the health food store and picked up some Grapefruit Seed Extract by Nutri-Biotics. She bought this in both the tablet and capsule form since she didn’t know if he would swallow any tablets yet. At first she opened the capsule and put the contents into some peanut butter with honey three times a day. Joseph decided after a while that the tablets were small and easy to swallow which made it easier for his mom. Meanwhile, she looked for ways to reduce sugar and carbohydrates in his diet, knowing that these foods directly feed the yeast in his body. She changed from cereal for breakfast to eggs, peanut butter, protein shakes, even leftover dinner since she knew that protein-containing foods not only starve the yeast but keep the child’s blood sugar level more stable during the day. She stopped serving so much juice and used water or milk (in Joseph’s case, rice or soy milk) to drink. She kept cut-up vegetables and dip around for snacks along with more nuts and sunflower seeds.

Soon she began to see a new Joseph. His disposition became much sunnier. The biggest relief to his mom was that his learning became so much easier because he could attend to the lessons and remember what he had learned from one day to the next. He still liked to fidget but was no longer considered a “motion machine.” As his school day became easier, he began to become more confident in his ability to learn. He began checking books out of the library and read them to himself at night. Joseph’s gut was being healed and could now be the manufacturing place for serotonin that it was meant to be.

The information in this article should not be construed as a diagnosis or medical advice. Please consult your physician for any medical condition and before adding supplements or changing a child’s diet.

Dianne Craft has a Master’s Degree in special education and is a Certified Natural Health Professional. She has a private consultation practice, Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado.

In Conclusion

SSRIs are commonly prescribed to treat depression and anxiety disorders. They generally work well, but they’re not always effective for everyone. For some people, they can cause side effects that make alternative methods of treatment worth considering.

If you have depression and don’t want to use an SSRI, you may benefit from a different type of antidepressant, such as an SNRI, TCA, MAOI or bupropion. For anxiety, you may benefit from an anti-anxiety medication, such as buspirone.

Stopping SSRIs suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms. To keep yourself safe and prevent your symptoms from worsening, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider before you make any changes to the way you use your medication.

For expert help, you can talk to a licensed psychiatrist online to learn more about the treatment options that are available for you.

A selection of quotes and facts from each chapter

Here are a selection of quotes and facts from each chapter of the book:

“There’s a reason why I’m so passionate about working with people with anxiety and why I’m writing this book. I’ve had my own personal journey with anxiety…”

Chapter 1: Figure Out Your Optimum Antianxiety Diet

There are 4 antianxiety diets but “Eating real, whole, good-quality food is the foundation of this book and any program to prevent and alleviate mental health issues such as anxiety….”

Chapter 2: Avoid Sugar and Control Blood Sugar Swings

Sugar and alcohol may contribute to elevated levels of lactate in the blood, which can cause anxiety and panic attacks”

Chapter 3: Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine

In a study, “…those with panic disorders experienced increases in symptoms such as nervousness, fear, nausea, heart palpitations, and tremors after consuming caffeine and said the effects were similar to how they felt during a panic attack…”

Chapter 4: Address Problems with Gluten and Other Foods

“Clinical experience and specific studies support the connection between gluten and anxiety, social phobia, depression, and even schizophrenia”

Chapter 5: Improve Your Digestion

“…people with digestive complaints such IBS, food allergies and sensitivities, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and ulcerative colitis frequently suffer from anxiety and…depression.”

Chapter 6: Balance Brain Chemistry with Amino Acids

GABA plays a major role in anxiety, and serotonin plays a role in at least some types of anxiety…. The great thing about supplementing with amino acids is that you’ll get immediate feedback: positive effects, adverse effects, or no changes at all.”

Chapter 7: Address Pyroluria or Low Levels of Zinc and Vitamin B6

Low levels of zinc and vitamin B6 are frequently associated with a type of anxiety characterized by social anxiety, avoidance of crowds, a feeling of inner tension, and bouts of depression”

Chapter 8: Other Nutrients, Hormone Imbalances, Toxins, Medications, & Lifestyle Changes

Mild to moderate deficiency of vitamin C may be associated with increased nervousness and anxiety… Supplemental magnesium together with vitamin B6 was shown to alleviate anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms, as well as breast tenderness and menstrual weight gain…”

As you can see, there are many factors that can affect how anxious you feel and since we are all biochemically unique it’s important to figure out and address what may be triggering your anxiety, mood issues and associated cravings.

Once you’ve read your copy (or listened to the audio version) I would love to hear back from you on how my book has helped you and/or family members – either here in the comments below or via an Amazon review or a review on another platform.

Feel free to post your questions too.

Additional Anxiety Resources
Click on each image to learn more

About Trudy Scott

Food Mood Expert Trudy Scott is a certified nutritionist on a mission to educate and empower anxious individuals worldwide about natural solutions for anxiety, stress and emotional eating.

Trudy is passionate about sharing the powerful food mood connection because she experienced the results first-hand, finding complete resolution of her anxiety and panic attacks.

What commonly triggers a migraine?

People who get migraines may be able to identify triggers that seem to kick off the symptoms. Some possible triggers include the following:

  • Stress and other emotions
  • Biological and environmental conditions, such as hormonal shifts or exposure to light or smells
  • Fatigue and changes in one's sleep pattern
  • Glaring or flickering lights
  • Weather changes
  • Certain foods and drinks

The American Headache Society suggests documenting triggers in a headache diary. Taking this information with you when you visit your healthcare provider helps him or her to identify headache management strategies.

The Neurochemicals of Happiness

Life in the human body is designed to be a blissful experience. Our evolutionary biology ensures that everything necessary for our survival makes us feel good. All animals seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore, our brain has a wellspring of self-produced neurochemicals that turn the pursuits and struggles of life into pleasure and make us feel happy when we achieve them.

This biological design is generous, but lays dormant in many. In this entry, I will look at seven brain molecules linked to happiness and offer simple ways you can trigger their release in your daily life.

The premise of The Athlete’s Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss is that through daily physicality and other lifestyle choices, we have the power to make ourselves happier. One of the side effects of living in a digital age is that we are increasingly removed from our physicality and each other.

Our biology is short-circuiting. The balance of neurochemicals that evolved for millennia has been disrupted by our modern lives, making us more prone to depression, anxiety and malcontent. Pharmaceutical companies are eager to readjust this imbalance with a pill. My goal is to prescribe simple lifestyle choices and changes in behavior that can improve your brain chemistry, make you feel better, and motivate you to maximize your human potential.

Our body produces hundreds of neurochemicals. Only a small fraction of these have been identified by scientists. We will not know in our lifetime exactly how all of these molecules work.

Albert Einstein believed that, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." Based on this philosophy, I have applied simple tags to seven brain molecules and general descriptions of how each is linked with a feeling of well-being.

The Neurochemicals of Happiness

1. Endocannabinoids: “The Bliss Molecule”

Endocannabinoids are self-produced cannabis that work on the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors of the cannabinoid system. Anandamide (from the Sanskrit “Ananda” meaning Bliss) is the most well known endocannabinoid. Interestingly, at least 85 different cannabinoids have been isolated from the Cannabis plant. The assumption is that each of these acts like a key that slips into a different lock of the cannabinoid system and alters perceptions and states of consciousness in various ways. It is likely that we self-produce just as many variations of endocannabinoids, but it will take neuroscientists decades to isolate them.

A study at the University of Arizona, published in April 2012, argues that endocannabinoids are, most likely, the cause for runner's high. The study shows that both humans and dogs show significantly increased endocannabinoids following sustained running.

The study does not address the potential contribution of endorphins to runner's high. However, in other research that has focused on the blood–brain barrier (BBB), it has been shown that endorphin molecules are too large to pass freely across the BBB, and are probably not responsible for the blissful state associated with the runner’s high.

2. Dopamine: “The Reward Molecule”

Dopamine is responsible for reward-driven behavior and pleasure seeking. Every type of reward seeking behavior that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain. If you want to get a hit of dopamine, set a goal and achieve it.

Many addictive drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, act directly on the dopamine system. Cocaine blocks the reuptake of dopamine, leaving these neurotransmitters in the synaptic gap longer.

There is evidence that people with extraverted, or uninhibited personality types tend to have higher levels of dopamine than people with introverted personalities. To feel more extroverted and uninhibited, try to increase your levels of dopamine naturally by being a go-getter in your daily life and flooding your brain with dopamine regularly by setting goals and achieving them.

3. Oxytocin: “The Bonding Molecule”

Oxytocin is a hormone directly linked to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty. In some studies, high levels of oxytocin have been correlated with romantic attachment. Some studies show if a couple is separated for a long period of time, the lack of physical contact reduces oxytocin and drives the feeling of longing to bond with that person again. But there is some debate as to whether oxytocin has the same effect on men as it does on women. In men, vasopressin (a close cousin to oxytocin) may actually be the “bonding molecule.” But again, the bottom line is that skin-to-skin contact, affection, lovemaking, and intimacy are key to feeling happy.

In a cyber world, where we are often "alone together" on our digital devices, it is more important than ever to maintain face-to-face intimate human bonds and "tribal" connections within your community. Working out at a gym, in a group environment, or having a jogging buddy is a great way to sustain these human bonds and release oxytocin.

In a 2003 study, oxytocin levels rose in both the dog and the owner after time spent "cuddling." The strong emotional bonding between humans and dogs may have a biological basis in oxytocin. If you don’t have another human being to offer you affection and increase oxytocin your favorite pet can also do the trick.

4. Endorphin: “The Pain-Killing Molecule”

The name Endorphin translates into “self-produced morphine." Endorphins resemble opiates in their chemical structure and have analgesic properties. Endorphins are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus during strenuous physical exertion, sexual intercourse, and orgasm. Make these pursuits a part of your regular life to keep the endorphins pumping.

Endorphins are linked less to "runner's high" now than endocannabinoids, but are connected to the "feeling no pain" aspect of aerobic exercise and are produced in larger quantities during high intensity "anaerobic" cardio and strength training.

In 1999, clinical researchers reported that inserting acupuncture needles into specific body points triggers the production of endorphins. In another study, higher levels of endorphins were found in cerebrospinal fluid after patients underwent acupuncture. Acupuncture is a terrific way to stimulate the release of endorphins.

5. GABA: “The Anti-Anxiety Molecule”

GABA is an inhibitory molecule that slows down the firing of neurons and creates a sense of calmness. You can increase GABA naturally by practicing yoga, meditation or “The Relaxation Response.” Benzodiazepines (Such as Valium and Xanax) are sedatives that work as anti-anxiety medication by increasing GABA. These drugs have many side effects and risks of dependency but are still widely prescribed.

A study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found a 27 percent increase in GABA levels among yoga practitioners after a 60-minute yoga session when compared against participants who read a book for 60 minutes. The study suggests yoga might increase GABA levels naturally.

6. Serotonin: “The Confidence Molecule”

Serotonin plays so many different roles in our bodies that it is really tough to tag it. For the sake of practical application I call it “The Confidence Molecule.” Ultimately the link between higher serotonin and a lack of rejection sensitivity allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem, increase feelings of worthiness, and create a sense of belonging.

To increase serotonin, challenge yourself regularly and pursue things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning, and accomplishment. Being able to say "I did it!" will produce a feedback loop that will reinforce behaviors that build self-esteem, make you less insecure, and create an upward spiral of more and more serotonin.

A variety of popular anti-depressants are called Serotonin-Specific Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) — these are well known drugs like Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, Zoloft, etc. The main indication for SSRIs is clinical depression, but SSRIs are frequently prescribed for anxiety, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

SSRIs got their name because it was once thought they worked by keeping serotonin in the synaptic gap for longer and that this would universally make people who took these pills happier. Theoretically, if serotonin were the only neurochemical responsible for depression, these medications would work for everyone. However, some people never respond to SSRIs, but they do respond to medications that act on GABA, dopamine or norepinephrine systems.

Scientists do not fully understand the role of serotonin in mood-disorders which is why it is important that you work closely with a trusted psycho-pharmacologist if you want to find a prescription medication that works best for you. Also, the fact SSRIs take a couple weeks to kick in suggests that their effect may also have to do with neurogenesis, which is the growth of new neurons. These findings illustrate that how anti-depressants work in each person’s brain varies greatly and is not fully understood by scientists or researchers.

7. Adrenaline: “The Energy Molecule”

Adrenaline, technically known as epinephrine, plays a large role in the fight-or-flight mechanism. The release of epinephrine is exhilarating and creates a surge in energy. Adrenaline causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and works by causing less important blood vessels to constrict and increasing blood flow to larger muscles. An “Epi-Pen” is a shot of epinephrine used in the treatment of acute allergic reactions.

An "adrenaline rush" comes in times of distress or facing fearful situations. It can be triggered on demand by doing things that terrify you or being thrust into a situation that feels dangerous. You can also create an adrenaline rush by taking short rapid breathes and contracting muscles. This jolt can be healthy in small doses, especially when you need a pick me up.

A surge of adrenaline makes you feel very alive. It can be an antidote for boredom, malaise, and stagnation. Taking risks, and doing scary things that force you out of your comfort zone is key to maximizing your human potential. However, people often act recklessly to get an adrenaline rush. If you’re an "adrenaline junkie," try to balance potentially harmful novelty-seeking by focusing on behaviors that will make you feel good by releasing other neurochemicals on this list.

There is not a one-size-fits-all prescriptive when it comes to creating a neurochemical balance that correlates to a sense of happiness. Use this list of seven neurochemicals as a rudimentary checklist to take inventory of your daily habits and to keep your life balanced. By focusing on lifestyle choices that secrete each of these neurochemicals, you will increase your odds of happiness across the board.

Brain science is a triad of electrical (brain waves), architectural (brain structures) and chemical (neurochemicals) components working in concert to create a state of mind. This entry focuses only on the chemical elements. I will explore the electrical and architectural components in future blogs.