Expert review by Dr. Suman Khulbe, MD.
Statistics show that by the age of 40, around 50% of the population will have had or have a mental illness. It’s actually such a big problem that it meets the definition of an epidemic. We hope the guide will enlighten and address this challenge.
According to the Neuropsychiatry Journal, any structural changes in various regions in the human brain have been linked to:
- Poor memory
- Brain fog
- Inability to handle stress
- Lack of concentration
- Low energy
These changes are often associated with a neurochemical imbalance that impacts a person’s behaviour. Most neurodegenerative disorders require therapeutic intervention. But how you treat the problem depends on how serious the disease really is. However, most treatment opportunities will focus on increasing the neurotransmitter levels and restoring chemical balance.
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Why Are Neurotransmitters So Important for Mental Health?
Research estimates that mental disorders can occur due to poor neurotransmission. In other words, there is a lack of communication between all the neurons in the human brain. For example, people who struggle with depression have low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which could lead to the development of the disease.
Symptoms of Low Levels
When there is too low dopamine, serotonin, or glutamate levels, in the brain, the system experiences a chemical imbalance. The constant fluctuations are often said to be causing mental health disorders, particularly anxiety and depression.
The possible symptoms of low neurotransmitters include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Insomnia or oversleep
- Drastic appetite changes
- Lack of interest to communicate with other people
- Lack of empathy
- Feeling numb
- Thoughts of self-harm or hurting others
- Unable to stick to a daily routine
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Poor concentration levels
But, there is more to chemical imbalance than it meets the eye. Chemical imbalances are not the only contributor to mental health problems. There are other causes that affect the neurotransmitters and the central nervous system.
Key Neurotransmitters and Role
The moment a nerve impulse reaches the edge of the nerve fibre, the body releases chemical substances known as neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters then make their way across the synapse, which is a gap that leads to a different nerve. Then, they continue sending impulses across the entire human body.
Our system has more than 100 neurotransmitters. However, only a handful do all the work. These include:
- Dopamine – This valuable chemical messenger interferes with the impulses in the brain in the area responsible for controlling movement. This is also the section of the central nervous system that plays a valuable component in thoughts and emotions. Reports show that insufficient dopamine levels could trigger problems with schizophrenia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
- Serotonin – This chemical has a direct impact on the way we sleep, including our mood and appetite. Those who experience depression typically have low serotonin levels. Therefore, they take medications to control serotonin fluctuations.
- Glutamate – This is another key component in the human body. It prepares the neurons to “fire” when necessary. Disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and depression could be caused by issues with glutamate production.
Natural Ways to Increase Your Neurotransmitter Levels
Restoring the psychological and behavioural response should be your top priority. Depending on the type of mental health issue, patients may be taking antidepressants, anti-anxiety, mood-stabilizing, or antipsychotic medication.
However, there are also natural ways to increase neurotransmitter levels. Here is how and why they can help.
1. Eating Healthy and Nutritious Meals
Supplying the body with nutrients can aid the central nervous system. Healthy meals rich in protein are packed with amino acids. The amino acid, known as tyrosine, which is found in protein meals, has a vital role to play in dopamine production, research shows. Since the body has enough enzymes to turn the tyrosine into dopamine, you can replenish your dopamine sources and increase the levels naturally.
When it comes to healthy eating, there is also another tactic that will come in handy. Animal studies show that saturated fats, particularly those obtained from full-fat dairy products, butter, and animal fat, could hinder dopamine production.
A clinical trial found that rats that obtained 50% of their calories directly from saturated fats experienced low dopamine production. But, those who focused on unsaturated fats managed to maintain normal dopamine signalling. The fact is, these statistics were noticed even without the difference in blood sugar levels, hormones, body fat, and weight.
Therefore, to restore a proper chemical balance, it is a good idea to cut back on saturated fats and opt for unsaturated fats instead.
2. Doing Physical Activity
Exercise can benefit chemical imbalance in many ways. The mental benefits of physical activity are astounding, explained the Harvard Medical School.
The more people exercise, the easier it is to decrease the stress hormones in the body, such as cortisol and adrenaline. It will also promote healthy endorphin production, which is a chemical that functions as a natural painkiller and mood boost.
In the long-run, physical activity can renew peoples’ energy and vigour. But, most importantly, it can restore emotional balance. The reason for that is relatively simple. When you lose weight, you regain your stamina and strength.
Because of that, your self-image improves, and you learn to master self-control, self-confidence, and pride. These essential lifestyle strategies will help you both mentally and physically.
Based on three-month research, doing 1 hour of yoga- 6 days a week can drastically boost dopamine production. At the same time, other studies show that intense training, a couple of times a week, can be incredibly beneficial for improving motor control and the dopamine system.
3. Consuming Probiotics
New studies show that the brain and gut are interconnected. It’s no wonder why people call the gut our "second brain." Because the gut is full of nerve cells, it can create countless neurotransmitters – one of which is dopamine.
Scientists estimate some bacteria species that thrive inside the gut can also produce dopamine. When there are too many invading pathogens, people experience a sudden shift in behaviour and mood.
Although more research is necessary, probiotics can promote gut health. When taken in proper amounts, the probiotics can have a direct impact on the bacteria and decrease the symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, researchers need to evaluate the exact role probiotic supplements can have on dopamine production and how impactful their effect can be.
4. Getting Enough Sleep
The moment the body releases dopamine, it makes us feel awake and alert. The dopamine levels naturally decrease at night and increase in the morning. Allowing the body to get ready for the rest of the day.
However, when people force their system to remain awake at night, it takes a massive toll on their dopamine receptors. As a result, dopamine production drastically decreases in the morning. To restore your concentration and balance out the dopamine levels, it’s best to sleep from 7 to 9 hours at night. This sleeping routine can get the body back on track.
Mediation is a practical option for calming the mind. But, there is more to meditation than just sitting and relaxing. Studies indicate that those who practice meditation can boost their dopamine release by 65%. These results were recorded in teachers who taught meditation. The statistics were compared to individuals who rested quietly and those who meditated for 1 hour.
Mediation proved to be a worthwhile strategy. Not only did it increase the dopamine levels, but it also helped people maintain their positive mood. They also experienced a heightened sensory image.
6. Taking Targeted Natural Supplements (Adapotogens and Nootropics)
How do adaptogens work?
To understand how adaptogens go to battle for us against stress, we have to dive into how the body reacts to a pressure-cooker situation. When stress shows up, we have a three-stage reaction to it called General Adaptation Syndrome, or GAS.
Alarm. Basically, your body has an intense WTF moment about whatever is happening. It goes into fight-or-flight mode and gives you a surge of cortisol, which is the stress hormone, and also adrenaline to fight fatigue. Your heart hosts a rave in your chest, your blood pressure rises, you get hot and sweaty, you can’t think clearly, and you might even feel sick to your stomach. Bleh!
Resistance. The body begins to repair itself from those initial stress responses while offering boosts to get you through the stressor or the task at hand—like leading a meeting even though your PowerPoint has #failed.
Exhaustion. Eventually, your body’s resources for coping with whatever S-storm you’ve faced will ghost you. That’s when your body crashes.
Adaptogens lower that fight-or-flight response during the alarm phase, allowing us to stay a bit more focused instead of so spazzed. Next, they bolster us in that resistance phase, like a supportive best friend, and help us stave off and minimize the crash. Essentially, when stress strikes, adaptogens keep us on a more even keel.
According to a study published in the journal Pharmaceuticals, “Adaptogens increase the state of non-specific resistance in stress and decrease sensitivity to stressors, which results in stress protection, and prolong the phase of resistance.”
How do nootropics work?
Nootropics are also often called “smart drugs” for their ability to enhance memory, creativity, drive, and focus. Each of these brain boosters works a bit differently to increase mental function. Nootropics often act as vasodilators, meaning they dilate the vessels and arteries in our noggins, according to an article published in the journal Evidenced-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. That dilation increases blood flow and floods our brains with nutrients and oxygen. This flood of valuable ingredients goes to work on cognitive performance by impacting neurotransmitters. That’s just one of the many mechanisms at play.
Great! Now what?
Adaptogens and nootropics sound good on paper, right? But you don’t have time to sift through a list of herbs, buy them, and then brew a magic potion, click your heels three times, and hope for the best.
No worries. We did the work for you, making it easy-peasy. The body of research surrounding adaptogens and nootropics is ever-growing. Here we cover the nuts and bolts and explain the science behind what we believe to be the five best natural supplements. We believe these five powerhouses from nature have the potential to improve your confidence and help you be the very best version of yourself.
1. American Ginseng
The adaptogen American ginseng is known for its force to fight fatigue. Ginseng has a storied history in herbal healing and is coveted for the root’s anti-inflammatory ginsenosides and gintonin.
A large double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted by the Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that American ginseng is useful for boosting cancer patients’ energy. Another study found evidence that American ginseng improves working memory, choice reaction time accuracy, and mental calmness.
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Ashwagandha is an herb native to India, Africa, and the Mediterranean and lauded for its stress-protective qualities.
Ashwagandha significantly reduced serum cortisol levels in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. (Remember, cortisol is the stress hormone.) In the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, the researchers wrote, “The findings of this study suggest that…Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.”
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Bacopa monnieri, also called water hyssop, is a butterfly-attracting, semi-aquatic herb and a powerful nootropic known for its memory-enhancing qualities.
In a randomized, double-blind study, 60 medical students were either given Bacopa or placebo twice daily for six weeks. Students in the Bacopa group exhibited cognitive enhancement in areas of working and logical memory, comprehension, and even the ability to ward off distractions.
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Rhodiola rosea is an herb native to Europe and Asia and known for promoting sustained focus, busting stress, and staving off burnout.
One study evaluated 101 people facing life and job stressors. Researchers found symptom improvement among participants within as little as three days (and continued improvement over four weeks) of treatment with 200 mg of Rhodiola extract. Plus, a clinical trial looked at stress-related burnout in 118 participants treated with 400 mg of Rhodiola extract daily. Researchers found a clear improvement among participants over the 12-week study. The herb is currently undergoing research as a potential treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults.
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5. Omega 3 Fish Oil
Omega 3 Fish Oil (Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are an essential nutrient, meaning the body must get them through diet. They are also an adaptogen.
Research indicates that a deficiency in omega 3, or low-intake, may predispose certain individuals to depression and anxiety, and supplementation may offer neuroprotection.
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L-Theanine is a well-known nootropic among supplement nerds to help boost mental muscle and provide a sense of calm. L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green and black tea. Research using electroencephalograph (EEG) shows that L-Theanine increases alpha activity, heightening attention and focus while also having a relaxing effect on the mind. Another study indicated L-Theanine’s ability to reduce one’s stress response when faced with a challenging brain task. The following 4 SHINE products from contain the proprietary 98% pure, Alpha Wave activating AlphaWave L-Theanine: SHINE Energy, SHINE Unstress, SHINE Memory, and SHINE Focus.
SHINE’s mission is to make personalized research-backed natural supplements accessible and affordable for all. You take our confidential Health Quiz, then we do the rest.