The Nutrients You Need To Be Happy

There are a handful of key neurotransmitters which our brain produce and use for specific functions that we associate with happiness. We have all heard of them and mostly know what they do:

  • Dopamine is involved in arousal, motivation, positive reinforcement, and reward perception. Low levels result in depression and lack of motivation.
  • Serotonin is involved in sleep, appetite, mood, and feelings of wellbeing. Low levels result in depression.
  • Norepinephrine and Epinephrine are responsible for alertness, arousal, and focus.
  • Acetylcholine is responsible for learning, memory, attention, and alertness upon waking.
  • GABA is responsible for inhibition and calmness. Low levels result in anxiety and ADHD.

All of these key neurotransmitters are biosynthesised by the body. Biosynthesis is the chemical reactions inside of us which convert one chemical into another. Each conversion requires amino acid precursors as well as cofactor nutrients. The precursors are the raw ingredients utilised, and cofactors are chemicals which are used by the enzymes to complete the conversion. Enzymes are proteins which are responsible for the conversion by taking the raw ingredients and cofactor and turning out the output.

There are two methods that we can used to increase our neurotransmitter levels without using drugs. The first is by increasing the precursors and the second is by increasing the cofactors. Here is the list of precursors and cofactors required for the neurotransmitters to be synthesised:

Dopamine

  • The amino acid precursors: The essential amino acid L-phenylalanine is usually present in our diet, it gets converted/synthesised via the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase into the non-essential amino acid L-tyrosine. L-tyrosine then gets converted via the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase into L-DOPA. L-DOPA uses the enzyme aromatic amino acid decarboxylase to be converted into Dopamine.
  • The cofactors used are Pyridoxal phosphate (an active form of b6); methylcobalamin (vitamin b12); and S-Adenosyl methionine (aka SAMe), and vitamin C.
  • Action: If you supplement tyrosine, b6, b12, vitamin C, or SAMe, you can increase your dopamine levels by supplying them with more raw ingredients. I personally find that tyrosine and SAMe have the biggest effect.

Serotonin

  • The amino acid precursors are: The essential amino acid L-tryptophan is usually present in our diet, and it gets converted/synthesised via the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase into 5-HTP. 5-HTP gets converted using the enzyme aromatic acid decarboxylase into Serotonin.
  • The cofactors used are Pyridoxal Phosphate (an active form of b6); and folate (vitamin B9).
  • Action: Take 5-HTP, b6, and b9.

Just as an extra, another 3 ways to increase serotonin without drugs is meditation, blue light exposure, and aerobic exercise (1).


Norepinephrine

  • The amino acid precursor Dopamine gets converted via the enzyme dopamine B-monooxygenase into Norepinephrine.
  • The cofactors used are: Vitamin C; Pyridoxal phosphate (active form of b6);
  • Action: Take Vitamin C; and B6. Make sure you get your dopamine precursors/cofactors.

Epinephrine

  • The amino acid precursor Norephrine gets converted via the enzyme phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase into Epinephrine.
  • The cofactors used are SAMe, and Pyridoxal Phosphate (the active form of B6).
  • Action: Take SAMe and B6. Make sure you get your dopamine precursors/cofactors.

Acetylcholine

  • The amino acid precursors are: The nutrient Choline which we usually get through our diet (though in insufficient amounts). Choline gets converted/synthesised via the enzyme choline acetyltransferase into Acetylcholine.
  • The confactor used is Vitamin B5.
  • Action: Supplement Choline and Vitamin B5. The majority of people are deficient in Choline.

GABA

  • The amino acid precursor is the essential amino acid L-glutamine. It gets converted via the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase into GABA.
  • The cofactor used is Pyridoxal Phosphate.
  • Action: Eat/supplement L-glutamine; take B6.

This is an easy but valuable introduction to modifying your neurotransmitters for fun and profit. Tweak one at a time and feel the subtle shift in your consciousness as you adjust the volume or balance between them.