The impact of your brain health on love and performance.
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Well, Tina Turner says it well: It’s a second-hand emotion.
Second hand? Or secondary to what?
Love certainly has an effect on our brain and body. When we are in love, we feel energized. Our physical symptoms are minimized. We’re pleasantly distracted (checking our phones more often, for example).
We experience feelings of addiction (that need to be fulfilled). And the sex drive goes up. There can be no better feeling than having someone to occupy our happy thoughts every day.
So, what’s the Brain got to do with Love?
Those wonderful experiences described above are usually peaked at the beginning of a relationship. But maintaining or being able to reignite the spark is partly dependent on your brain function.
This, of course, also applies to general happiness, positivity, love for life and the ability to cope with stress.
Let’s talk “Brain on Love”.
The limbic system in the brain consists of several structures and is also called the emotional brain, (also known as the “pleasure center”). It plays a role in sexual arousal and that sensation of feeling high. Do you wonder why you get butterflies in your stomach when you are around someone you are attracted to? Or when you encounter a nervous situation, like stepping up to the podium? The limbic system activates the vagus nerve which connects the brain to the gut. So, gut health matters..keep reading!
The Love Hormone: Oxytocin
This neurotransmitter, which is also a hormone, has a calming effect and counters the effects of cortisol (the stress hormone). This one is released by the brain during bonding activities such as cuddling, sex, breastfeeding and simply giving a gift or petting a dog. Want to increase this hormone? Keep in contact!
The Happy Neurotransmitter: Dopamine
Dopamine has a direct effect on cognition (learning, perception), motivation and reward, motor coordination (think Parkinson’s Disease), mood and attention. It is associated with pleasure and enjoyment and synthesized in the brain as well as in the adrenal glands and kidneys.
If you want to beef up your dopamine production, well yes, just do that…. eat beef! Boost this pleasure hormone with consuming foods high in protein or foods high in the amino acid precursors such as phenylalanine and tyrosine. These include beef, turkey, fish, eggs and of course, avocados, almonds, bananas and chocolate! Diets low in protein or vegetarians/vegans will have challenges with dopamine production. Supplementation with specific amino acids including glutathione* and its precursors would be ideal. (Always check with your phyisician before taking any supplements or altering medication dosages.)
*Glutathione is the most powerful and most important antioxidant your body needs. A brief summary on the importance of glutathione can be found in this article I wrote here.
So, what if you have a clean, protein rich diet, but you are still NOT feeling the love?
People with low dopamine could be having issues handling stress, feeling isolated, less or no concern towards others, craving the chocolate or beef, or just tired despite sufficient sleep.
Is a lab test in order?
First, it’s a good idea to consult with your physician and ask for a complete lab panel which includes fasting blood sugar, Hemoglobin A1C, homocysteine, a complete iron panel, metabolic panel, liver enzymes, CBC with differential and free testosterone and progesterone. A functional analysis of labs looks beyond the normal ranges you see on your report. It can identify patterns linked to suspected underlying physiological issues; which may explain your symptoms when the lab reports themselves look normal.
How do you know if you are “love challenged” in the brain department?
Here’s a Checklist!
Do you have blood sugar issues? (Insulin surges will throw off dopamine production)
Anemia or insufficient iron?
How is your folate level or methylation status?
Do you have liver inflammation?
Are you not circulating oxygen efficiently to the brain and throughout the body?
Are you taking prescription medications? (Talk to your doctor about side effects and the effects on dopamine)
And….. do you have a leaky gut?
Keep in mind, most of these are silent issues or ones masquerading as some irritating long -term annoyance.
Why is gut health such a big deal?
I wrote an easy explanation of the Brain-Gut relationship and those neurotransmitters in my eBook “Go with your Gut!” You can get a copy from my Shop (look under Self Health books) or on Amazon.com.
Looking for the Simple Steps? Try These:
Put your thinking on pause.
Eat your greens.
Pamper – you deserve it. (A hot tub soak with salts is known to boost dopamine)
The Stress Secrets book contains details on these as well as additional strategies. You can download it here.
Love certainly boosts your health. But your health also impacts your ability to love.
So, it’s a two-way street; not only in relationships. 😉
Please contact me if you have any concerns about your health status or you are feeling frustrated with your current plan. I do offer a complimentary, no obligation phone call. Schedule here.
Valentine’s Date…or Vali-date?