If you’re familiar with Tracy and her methodology, then you know her mission of creating balance where there is imbalance in the body. But what happens when cupid comes along, and our emotions start to go haywire? How can we navigate these feelings – or lack thereof – while standing on this balance beam of life without taking the fall? This Valentine’s Day we are taking a deep dive into the biology of love and it’s chemical effects on the body. Because as you’ll discover today, it’s the chemistry that we have within ourselves that lays the groundwork for the chemistry that we have with others.
Whether you’re already committed, or hopeful for love this year, we’re breaking it all down – and exposing the inner workings of your personal, loving biology.
According to the leading expert on the biology of love and attraction, anthropology professor, and human behavior researcher, Helen Fisher, there are three stages of falling in love. In each stage, a different set of brain chemicals run the show. These stages are lust, attraction, and love.
Interested in the more scientific theories on love? Check out:
Love and the Brain // Love, Decoded // Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship
Self-love starts with first taking care of yourself.
Manage these three humanistic necessities – sleep, diet and exercise, and you are on your way to becoming your optimal self, one that you’ll be sure to love.
1. A strong connection: chronic lack of sleep can affect your weight.
A recent study indicates sleep restriction results in “metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin and increased hunger and appetite.” In short, if you sleep little, you’re more susceptible to weight gain.
2. What about sleeping too much?
Interestingly, people who sleep for 9 or more hours also have higher rates of diabetes, so perhaps both insufficient sleep and too much sleep are both unhealthy. Study found the longer you are awake during a biological night, the worse your insulin sensitivity is, which can be a precursor to the development of prediabetes and diabetes.
3. Only need 4 hours?
There are outliers who genetically need much less sleep – but they are very few with this gene mutation – only about 1% of the entire population.
4. Regulating your clock: The ‘happiness hormone’ – serotonin – plays an important role in mood and happiness, but also a major role in regulating your body clock and sleep cycles. High levels of serotonin are associated with wakefulness, and lower levels are shown with sleep.
5. All light, including artificial light, will disturb your sleep. The average American spends as little as 7% of their life outside which affects our natural light rhythm, a big component of sleep regulation. Artificial light, and light from tv, computer and phone screens signal the brain, affecting our natural clock, often long into the night. This forces our natural sleep clock out of whack, also affecting serotonin production.
6. Eat your way to better sleep. Diets high in the amino acid tryptophan can maintain healthy serotonin levels, but lifestyle choices like constant travel and an erratic sleep schedule can disrupt serotonin production. When serotonin levels are not normal, sleep disturbances and other issues can result, including depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.
7. Genetics play a role. Research has also shown that genetic regulation of circadian rhythms is off-kilter in people with major depression.
8. Sleep deprivation as a quick anti-depressant? It has been known for 200 years that sleep deprivation can treat depression rapidly. Although an impractical treatment, scientists were fascinated on why it proved so effective. The results confirm that a buildup of adenosine (a chemical that is present in all human cells) is responsible for the antidepressant effects of a lack of sleep.
9. Beware – it’s all about balance. Interestingly enough. excess serotonin levels are toxic to the brain, and can lead to a condition known as “serotonin syndrome.”
In short: healthy sleep habits can have a profound effect on your current and future well-being. You spend approximately 1/3 of your life sleeping, make it count.
Learn how to sleep better:
Get tips from the National Sleep Foundation.
1. Being overweight increases your risk for every chronic disease, lowering your lifespan 7-14 years.
2. Up to 90% of serotonin – an important neurotransmitter for cognitive function – is produced in your gut.
3. Your brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That “fuel” comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.
4. Diets high in refined sugars, are harmful to the brain. Because sugar is addictive, we’re genetically programmed to want high calorie foods. Almost everything has sugar in it; if you go into a grocery store and pick up a random item, more likely than not there will be sugar in it. Sugar has been shown to increase inflammatory biomarkers and increases the small dense LDL particle number – which is bad.
High sugar diets increase inflammation and lead to the release of endotoxin, which is used in studies to mimic high inflammation. Inflammation symptoms lessened when treated with Omega Fatty Acids/EPA.
5. Power of probiotics: Studies have shown that when people take probiotics (supplements containing the good bacteria), their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improve, compared with people who did not take probiotics.
6. Understanding the epidemic: 40% of Americans are obese, 100 million Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes. By 2040, 100% of the federal budget will go towards health care spending.Wellness centers that focus on functional medicine (treating the source and not the symptom of a disease or disorder) are becoming more popular in the U.S., and often take preventative measures that involve nutrition and exercise in a patients health plan.
7. Chronic issues? 1 in 2 Americans have chronic disease; and bad food, sedentary lifestyles are to blame.
8. Inflammation: the silent killer. CDC estimates that 11% of Americans are on an anti-depressant. Chronic inflammation can be one cause of this, reducing serotonin in the brain and creating neurotoxins that cause depression.
Inflammation triggers your body to divert Tryptophan away from the brain (where it would usually become serotonin) to help create immune cells to “defend the body” and in the process of making these immune cells, quinalidic acid is created, the neurotoxin closely tied to depression.
9. New superfood?
Sulforaphane is a key nutrient from veggies. Highest form is found in broccoli sprouts, specifically. Broccoli sprouts have 100 times more sulforaphane than other cruciferous veggies, including: Kale, Broccoli, Bok Choy, etc. This nutrient has been used in tons of recent studies and has been shown to have anti-aging and anti-neurodegeneration effects, improving autistic scores drastically, anti-cancer effects seen in studies with men with prostate cancer, protecting you from air pollution, reducing swelling in traumatic brain injury up to 50%, and more.
10. Are there benefits of time-restricted eating, a type of intermittent fasting?Like many other body processes, metabolism works best if in rhythm with your internal clock. That clock starts everyday the moment you ingest something other than water. Even that first coffee or tea signals to start metabolism in your body. Studies show that if you eat within a 9 or 10 hour timeframe everyday, there are a host of benefits from naturally eating less reducing the number of calories you eat (up to about 20%), and even lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol — One study found that four weeks of time-restricted eating during an 8-hour window lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol by over 10% in both men and women. The Salk Institute in California has been at the forefront of time restricted eating phenomenon, read more here.
Let’s imagine your body as a luxury car, wouldn’t you fill it with premium gas?
1. Exercise, the most expensive form of medicine. From a recent Time magazine article: “…scientists are learning that exercise is, actually, medicine. “There is no pill that comes close to what exercise can do,” says Claude Bouchard, director of the human genomics laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. “And if there was one, it would be extremely expensive.”
2. Sweat your way to happy. Serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, so any serotonin that is used inside the brain must be produced inside the brain. Several lines of research suggest that exercise increases brain serotonin function in the human brain.
3. Miracle-Gro for your brain? Aerobic exercise specifically can increase serum BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which grows new brain cells and heals others. According to Harvard Neuropsychiatrist, John J. Ratey, MD, author of Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. BDNF is “a crucial biological link between thought, emotions, and movement.” And that “Physical exercise is really for our brains. It turns our brains on.”
4. Exercise is anti-aging? Exercise appears to slow aging at the cellular level. Once you hit 25 years old, your aerobic capacity decreases 10% per decade (or 1% per year). But a study shows you can reserve this natural aging with high intensity interval training regularly. On the opposite end of this, a study showed sugary soda adds years to aging – the “daily consumption of a 20-ounce soda was equivalent to an average of 4.6 years of telomere shortening.” Telomeres are the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells.
5. What do cold showers and high intensity workouts have in common?
Both increase the norepinephrine in your brain, which helps fuel the brains stress buffers, leading to lower rates of anxiety and depression. This strengthens connections between neurons in the brain to help you learn and remember better, which is an effect that happens immediately.
6. Take preventative measures. Studies also suggest that exercise is, as of now, the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, thanks to BDNF, as mentioned above.
7. Mental and physical benefits: Exercise triggers the release of chemicals in the brain—serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, dopamine—that dull pain, lighten mood and relieve stress. “For years we focused almost exclusively on the physical benefits of exercise and really have ignored the psychological and emotional benefits of being regularly active,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.
8. Effective rehabilitation.Can you believe that for decades, people with certain diseases were advised not to exercise? There is a new way of thinking now — it is advisable for those who suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes. And a recent analysis of more than 300 clinical trials discovered that for people recovering from a stroke, exercise was even more effective at helping them rehabilitate.
9. Shrink more than just fat. This seems like common knowledge – but your fat cells shrink and so does inflammation. After consistent aerobic exercise training, the body gets better at burning fat, which requires a lot of oxygen to convert it into energy. “One of the benefits of exercise training is that our cardiovascular system gets stronger and better at delivering oxygen, so we are able to metabolize more fat as an energy source,” says Anthony Hackney, an exercise physiologist at the University of North Carolina. As a result, your fat cells—which produce the substances responsible for chronic low-grade inflammation—shrink, and so does inflammation.
10. Detoxifying? Exercise has been shown to soak up neurotoxins in the brain which can be created by inflammation — all while guiding tryptophan into your brain, which is a precursor to serotonin production.