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Hormones and chemicals that influence emotions

Emotions share biochemical and hormonal links with nervous, endocrine, immune and digestive systems.

We experience a variety of emotions throughout the day. Mostly, these emotions are transient in nature. But, when these emotions become intensely negative or are unremitting they can dramatically affect our biochemistry and behavior.

Certain brain areas and the presence of levels of different chemicals in your brain controls emotions. For example, if you’re in danger, your brain releases stress hormones that can initiate fight or flight reactions by flooding certain regions with the neurotransmitter epinephrine (adrenaline). When the danger subsides, your brain inhibits the stress response by sending out a calming signal in the form of chemicals.

A few of the Body chemicals and hormones that influence our emotions…

Hormones and Chemicals keep the body working normally. Listed are a few of them and how their balance affect the way our moods, emotions and stresses are triggered.

1/9. Estrogen – Female Reproduction and Positive Mood Hormone
Primarily a female hormone, oestrogen 'estrogen' is a mood hormone and aids development of female secondary sexual characteristics.

Estrogen the primary sex hormone of women is released from Ovaries. Effect of estrogen on emotions is due to its ability to increase serotonin and endorphins; chemicals associated with positive mood states.

Estrogen is also the hormone linked to mood disruptions in women, as seen in premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and postpartum depression.

Low estrogen levels are associated with depression, anxiety and mood swings. However, high estrogen levels can also wreck havoc with your system. So a right biochemical balance is essential for the well functioning steroid hormones system.

Estrogen helps in maintaining levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine by decreasing level of monoamine oxidase- the enzyme responsible for their deactivation.

2/9. Progesterone – Female Ovulation and Calming Hormone
Progesterone helps with menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and embryogenesis. Counterbalances the action of estrogen. While estrogen has an excitatory effect on brain, progesterone has calming effect.

Progesterone is a female sex hormone produced by a temporary gland within the ovaries called corpus luteum and plays a key role in reproduction. Our brain is highly responsive to progesterone concentrations. Insomnia, anxiety and migraine are commonly seen with imbalance of estrogen and progesterone.

Progesterone counterbalances the action of estrogen. While estrogen has an excitatory effect on brain, progesterone has calming effect.

Studies have shown that progesterone shows anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects by activating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that assists in relaxation and sleep.

3/9. Dopamine – Motivation and Reward Chemical
A chemical messenger, dopamine plays a role in how we feel pleasure,  rewards our unique human ability to think and plan.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, released by hypothalamus and is involved in focus, attention, memory, drive, muscle control and ovulation. This hormone is also associated with alertness, memory, cognition, happiness and vigilance.

Low levels of dopamine in the body can result in depression, impulsivity, mood swings, attention deficit, cognitive issues, compulsive behavior, cravings, apathy and loss of satisfaction in life activities. It inhibits rational thinking as seen in schizophrenia.

Dopamine is important in brain’s reward system and elevations in its level can lead to addictive behavior, suspicious personality and possible paranoia.

There are no food sources that can provide dopamine directly, but consider taking foods rich in tyrosine and phenylalanine: the amino acids required to manufacture dopamine. Both of these amino acids are seen in protein rich foods like turkey, chicken, milk, cheese and eggs.

4/9. Serotonin- Happiness Hormone
Serotonin is a key hormone that stabilises our mood, arousal, feelings of well-being and happiness. Helps overcome depressive tendencies.

It regulates wide range of physiological and biological functions including mood, arousal, aggression, thinking abilities and memory.

Excess of serotonin causes sedation, apathy and reduction in sexual drive, whereas deficiency of serotonin is associated with low mood, lack of will, poor appetite control, anxiety disorders, depression, social behavior and sexual problems. For more….

5/9. Acetylcholine – Information Processor Neurotransmitter
Acetylcholine is the chief neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system, helps smoothen muscles, dilates blood vessels and slows heart rate.

Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter released from nerve endings in both central and peripheral nervous system. It is in charge of muscle movement, alertness, concentration and memory and when levels are optimal, mood is elevated, mind is focused and intelligence increased. But with the low levels learning, recall, ability to think clearly can plummet.

It also controls primitive drives and emotions like anger, fear, rage and aggression. With the imbalance in these neurotransmitters these emotions can affect both the individual and people around them.

Note that there is an inverse relationship between acetylcholine and serotonin (if one increases the quantity of other decreases). In lower amounts, Ach act as a stimulant for brain as it stimulates release of dopamine and serotonin. But too much of Ach inhibits brain and causes depression.

Foods rich in proteins like eggs, fish, dairy, soy products, poultry and foods containing lecithin significantly increase Ach.

Supplements that significantly increase Ach concentration are- choline, lecithin, fish oil, flaxseed oil.

Certain medications, chemicals, physical activity also increases Ach concentration.

6/9. Oxytocin – The Bonding Hormone
Oxytocin is also known as the hug drug, it is  a hormone and a neurotransmitter associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity and relationship-building.

Oxytocin is a hormone that is made in hypothalamus and released into the blood by pituitary gland. It plays a role in pro-social behavior, sexual reproduction, and during and after child birth. It evokes feelings of contentment, calmness, security and reductions in anxiety level.

Oxytocin inhibits brain areas associated with behavioral control of fear and anxiety and protect against stress.

Nasally administered oxytocin has been reported to reduce fear, by inhibiting amygdala
(brain area responsible for fear responses). It increases trust, empathy, social interaction and is responsible for romantic attraction and subsequent monogamous pair bonding.

MDMA, an addictive drug increases feeling of love, empathy and connection by stimulating oxytocin activity in the brain.

Deficiency of oxytocin is involved in pathophysiology of depression and is related to poor communication, delayed orgasms, more anxiety and fear, disturbed sleep, sugar cravings and irritability.

7/9. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) – Brain Activity Regulator
GABA helps slow down the activity of limbic system (the emotional alarm bell) reducing fear, anxiety and panic. Also acts as a natural tranquiliser

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is produced from glutamic acid (an amino acid) in the body. It slows down the activity of limbic system (the emotional alarm bell) reducing fear, anxiety and panic.

It acts like a natural tranquilizer and suppresses the hormone prolactin that stimulates night time incontinence.

Glutamic acid and vitamin B6 helps in manufacture of GABA. Zinc also enhances GABA release and inhibits glutamate release- an excitatory neurotransmitter.

Most of the patients with bipolar disorder have lower GABA level and this account for their restlessness and anxiety.

8/9. Testosterone – Primary Male Hormone
Primarily a male hormone, testosterone is a hormone that regulates sexual development, muscle mass, and red blood cell production.

Testosterone, a hormone produced by testes in men and to smaller extent by ovaries in women. It helps in muscle building, increasing libido, bone mass, muscle strength and energy level.

Testosterone also influences the parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. People with high endogenous testosterone levels, have significantly less activity in prefrontal brain regions and less communication between the prefrontal brain and the amygdala (the emotion control regions of the brain), ultimately increasing chances of aggressiveness, depression, impulsivity, anger, mood swings and lowering levels of empathy

Too little testosterone can also have deleterious effect on male emotional vitality, leading to more passivity, depression, anger, irritability, feelings of insecurity, anxiety.

9/9. Norepineprine and epinephrine – The Stress fighter Hormones
Epinephrine is also called adrenaline. The primary function of norepineprine and epinephrine is to prep the sympathetic nervous system for fight or flight situation.

Norepineprine is a catecholamine that acts as a neurotransmitter as well as a hormone. It is involved in arousal system of the brain and the sympathetic nervous system, where it is responsible for increase in blood pressure, breathing and respiratory rate. As a hormone, it is released by adrenal glands and is involved in the fight or flight response of the body to stress.

Epinephrine or adrenalin released by medulla of the adrenal glands, surges at the time of panic and emergency. It provokes stress response and brings out the arousal of extreme emotions like fear, anger or amusement.

Too little norepineprine and epinephrine have been found to be associated with depression, while an excess has been seen in mood disorders like schizophrenia

Maintaining a balance in these brain chemicals is a key for balanced emotions. You can help maintain your emotional health to some extent by altering levels of these key chemicals through a balanced diet, limiting stress, constructive thoughts, yoga, pranayama and meditation.

Also Read

[1] Serotonin – The Happiness Hormone

[2] Ways to increase Serotonin Happiness

[3] Natural remedies to manage Mood Swing

[4] Adrenal ‘The Executive’ Burnout

[5] Depression: A Global physical and mental killer

[6] Mindfulness Meditation can boost Serotonin levels

[7] Yoga impact on Hormonal health and Neurotransmitters

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