Excerpt from Think Eat Move Thrive
Our thoughts and how we Think have everything to do with our brains and, more specifically, our brain chemistry. How we Eat and Move directly impacts our brain chemistry as well, which is why eating well and moving daily are essential components for clarity, positivity, calmness, creativity, and happiness. The human brain, a three-pound organ that sits suspended in a fluid cushion inside the skull, accounts for about 2 percent of your total body weight, but it burns 20 percent of your body’s fuel.
The brain is the control center of the body and is made up of more than one hundred billion neurons. Each one of these neurons (nerve cells) can be connected by synapses to ten thousand other neurons. Messages travel from neuron to neuron with the aid of chemical communicators called neurotransmitters. When enough neurotransmitters build up in the synapse, the neuron fires, signaling other brain cells to fire. This communication ripple effect happens when you are trying to figure out a problem, answer a question, or muster up the conviction to push through a challenge; neurotransmitters are the chemicals that make all these things happen. These über-powerful brain chemicals ultimately determine how we perform and how we feel, but our lifestyle choices have a profound and direct relationship to how these chemicals perform on our behalf. Living the TEMT lifestyle will help you make the most of this powerful pharmacy in your head.
Neurotransmitters are capable of producing awesomeness—or they can allow us to feel awful. Pleasure, motivation, passion, calm, balance, and confidence are created here. Neurotransmitters can be built through positive lifestyle habits, including exercise and clean, healthy eating, or they can be compromised by SAD (Standard American Diet). Putting neurotransmitters to work on your behalf—keeping them in balance— will create a positive mindset worthy of inspiring the very best, making you feel great, while imbalances will negatively impact your mental and physical health.
The fuel you feed your body is used as building blocks for how you think; your levels of enthusiasm, confidence, and resilience; and your overall mindfulness and well-being. By engaging neurotransmitters every time you Think, Eat, and Move, you Thrive. We all have the ability to optimize the power and potential of the many dozens of neurotransmitters that support high performance, resilience, optimism, and vitality; but we will only touch on five—the ones we lovingly refer to as the varsity neurotransmitters that, in our opinion, lay the foundation for powerful living. These are dopamine; serotonin; norepinephrine; GABA (gammaaminobutyric acid); and a lesser-known neurotransmitter, anandamide.
Dopamine (or what James likes to call the “morning mystic”) bumps up your brilliance and sets the stage for a great day every day. It is partially responsible for regulating pleasure, mood, learning, and focus; and it supports morning motivation, alertness, confidence, sustained energy, memory, and commitment. Dopamine also regulates motor behavior; it is the pleasure-and-reward chemical. When the big D is happening in your brain, you are sure to rock your world with awesomeness. You can boost the dopamine levels in your brain with things like
- herbs such as ashwagandha, St. John’s wort, American ginseng, Ginkgo biloba, green tea;
- coenzyme Q10; and
- foods like fish, kale, eggs, apples, berries, spirulina, nuts, beets, chicken, and bananas.
Serotonin, what we call the “balance and contentment” chemical, is a major player in the regulation of mood, appetite, sex drive, the sleep-wake cycle, and overall mood balance. Serotonin also has a role in memory, temperature regulation, learning, and cardiovascular system function. An imbalance or deficiency of serotonin is one of the most common contributors to mood disorders. When serotonin levels are down, so is our mood; we are more likely to feel irritable, short tempered, and less then our best self. Serotonin is made and sustained through the conscious choices of foods and movement, and mindfully managing stress by cultivating and demonstrating empowering habits of loving self-care. Hormones and estrogen levels can affect serotonin levels, which may explain why some women have premenstrual and menopausal mood complaints. Some of the best ways to boost serotonin levels in our brain include
- eating healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids from fish, nuts, and seeds;
- combining healthy complex carbohydrates with lean protein;
- exercising every day;
- having protein at each meal;
- eliminating sugary carbs, and eating whole grains and lots of darkgreen leafy veggies;
- getting plenty of sleep (aim for eight hours per night, and try to get to bed before 10:00 pm);
- avoiding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and sugar; and
- surrounding yourself with people who love you, and hugging them often.
Norepinephrine is the learning chemical. Chemically similar to dopamine, norepinephrine has a dual role as a neurotransmitter and a hormone. It helps support concentration, mood, and the formation of new brain cells. This key player is a major influence in decreasing brain inflammation and is the brain chemical most affected in Alzheimer’s disease. Norepinephrine levels tend to be low when people suffer from depression or ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder). To naturally increase norepinephrine in your brain,
- eat protein at each meal;
- get plenty of exercise;
- drink green tea; and
- eat bananas and dark-green leafy veggies.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the neurotransmitter that helps us feel at ease and relaxed; it is the main inhibitory (calming) neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA receptors are stimulated by a glass of wine at the end of a harried day, for example, enabling relaxation and calm. Many sedatives enhance the effects of GABA too, but you can boost your GABA levels naturally by
- eating cherry tomatoes and shrimp;
- drinking oolong tea; and
- drinking kefir (Kefir is sometimes described as drinkable yogurt—it is a fermented product, usually made from cow’s or goat’s milk, but also coconut milk and even water. Kefir contains active live cultures [probiotics], B vitamins, calcium, and protein, and has a tart and sour taste. It has a thinner consistency than yogurt.)
Anandamide is a lesser-known neurotransmitter that offers pain relief and has a similar effect to that of marijuana. The name itself originates from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss.” Thus anandamide has come to be known as the bliss molecule, helping us feel calmer, more centered, and clearer—a peaceful way to set the tone for evening bliss and restful sleep. Anandamide plays a role in the generation of motivation and pleasure, and is important for immune function. Research is still forthcoming in terms of ways to boost anandamide, though the EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)/DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from fish oils seem to be one of the best ways. Anandamide is also induced through exercise, particularly running.