Research suggests that the “happiness” hormones serotonin and oxytocin don’t just beat the blues, they cut heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s risk 45 percent! How? By strengthening arteries, so nutrient-rich blood easily reaches your organs.
Send some love.
Taking one minute to let someone know that you’re thinking about him or her — by sending a quick text, e-mail, or Facebook message — can bring about a 37 percent increase in your oxytocin production that lasts for two hours straight, University of Chicago research shows. “The good feeling you get when you do something kind for another person encourages your brain to release this calming, healing hormone,” explains David R. Hamilton, Ph.D.
Take a scented soak.
Relaxing in a warm bath scented with rose, vanilla, jasmine, or lavender can keep your blood levels of serotonin and oxytocin elevated for six hours by soothing your brain’s anxiety center, say Brown University researchers. And when your brain is relaxed, it needs less serotonin and oxytocin to function, so more of those hormones are available to cells in the rest of your body.
In a recent European study, taking 100 mg. of 5-HTP increased serotonin levels within seven days, improving mood, energy, immunity — and even fat-burning — for 72 percent of women studied. Options include: Vitacost 5-HTP ($8 for 60 capsules, Vitacost.com).
Tip: Want to sleep more deeply? Taking 5-HTP 30 minutes before bedtime can help. Cutting calories a priority? Take 5-HTP 30 minutes before your biggest meal each day.
Consume protein at breakfast.
Feel a little blah when you first wake up? After a night of not eating, blood levels of amino acids — the building blocks of serotonin and oxytocin — are low.
The fix: Eat a meal containing two ounces of amino acid-rich protein, such as eggs, meat, or cheese. It’ll rev the enzymes that keep serotonin and oxytocin levels up, cutting your risk of the blues and of blood sugar woes 33 percent.
Eat berries and kale.
Eating two cups each of berries and leafy greens (like kale) weekly could up your serotonin levels 20 percent in three weeks, suggests research in the journal Pharmacological Research. Both foods are rich in anthocyanins, nutrients that encourage your brain to produce and release this “happy” hormone, says study coauthor Andrea Dreiseitel, Ph.D.
Getting caught up in a fun, romantic or emotionally gripping program — enough to make you root for one of the characters — will send your oxytocin levels soaring 47 percent in 30 minutes. Your brain processes movies as if they’re really happening, explains Paul J. Zak, Ph.D., author of The Moral Molecule, “and the empathy you feel for a character stimulates oxytocin release.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Reverse Aging.