Part of being healthy is having a healthy state of mind. Discover how nootropics can support a positive, even mood, and the neurochemical science behind it.
It’s safe to say that everyone’s wished they were in a better mood at least a few times in life, and it’s more difficult for some of us than others.
And besides feeling crappy, there’s no question a bad mood affects every part of your day, from the inside of your body to everyone you interact with.
Sometimes we reach for medication, other times we reach for a quad-shot latte. But is there a better way to get out of that hamster wheel slump?
Nootropics are a class of plant-derived compounds that benefit your brain health. They’re sometimes referred to as “smart drugs”, and can help your focus, attention, cognition, energy, and mood.
And besides the thousands of years of medicinal use to prove they really do this stuff, there’s medical research behind it, too. So let’s take a look!
How Do Nootropics Help With Mood?
Nootropics are special because they can pass through the blood-brain barrier, where they act as neuromodulators, meaning they regulate your neurotransmitter activity.
There is a delicate balance of neuronal activity and levels of these chemicals that create a good mood (or don’t).
Nootropics affect this balance to hack your brain into feeling better. Specifically, nootropics affect 3 of the main players in the mood: acetylcholine, serotonin, and dopamine.
Acetylcholine is involved in arousal. Low levels have been associated with depression and high levels have been associated with anxiety.
Specifically, the release of acetylcholine increases dopamine and serotonin (feel-good chemicals) while reducing cortisol (the stress hormone), which, at optimal levels works to balance mood.
Serotonin is involved in feelings of contentedness. Low levels have been associated with depression and high levels have been associated with mania.
SSRIs are a common class of medications meant to balance serotonin levels and signaling.
At healthy levels, serotonin increases other mood-regulating neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine while inhibiting the release of cortisol.
Dopamine is involved in motivation and attention. Low levels have been associated with depression while high levels have been associated with mania – much like serotonin.
When at optimal levels, dopamine promotes the release of serotonin and norepinephrine while inhibiting stress hormones like cortisol.
Dopamine also self-perpetuates its production to sustain that balanced mood.
Which Nootropics Are Best For A Better Mood?
So, which nootropics are best for supporting a healthy mood, and where’s the clinical evidence to back it?
Let’s talk about 3 powerhouse nootropics: GABA, saffron, and L-theanine.
1. Gaba (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid)
This is a neurotransmitter, hormone, amino acid, and nootropic all-in-one. GABA supplements or inhibitors are regularly used in modern psychiatry for depressive, anxious, and mood disorders.
Low levels have been linked to mania and insomnia, which are two major factors in mood disorders.
In a collection of studies on the effects of GABA agonists on models for disordered effect, increased GABA activity was associated with:
- Lower levels of anxiety – comparable effects to diazepam;
- Improved response to social and environmental stimuli;
- Fighting learned helplessness;
- Improving sleep/regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
Saffron isn’t just a really expensive and aromatic spice; it offers medicinal benefits as well, and clinical research is there to back it up.
In fact, a 2018 review of the literature stated the recorded effects of saffron supplementation on mood were equivalent to medications like fluoxetine and citalopram. The main compound thought to be responsible for saffron’s positive effects on mood is crocetin.
In a randomized, double-blind, parallel-group clinical study from 2021, researchers explored saffron’s effects on mood, well-being, and stress response. They found:
- Participants reported reduced depression scores.
- Participants reported better social relationships.
- Participants had higher crocetin levels. Crocetin is known to increase serotonin, inhibit stress hormones, and protect neuron health.
- Participants had decreased stressor-induced heart rate variability.
L-theanine is a compound found in tea leaves and some mushrooms and is thought to be the main agent that promotes the calm feeling people get when they drink a cup of tea.
It’s a non-protein amino acid that our body naturally creates, and it offers multiple health benefits, some of which include mood support.
A 2022 review of the literature demonstrated that:
- L-theanine increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the hippocampus.
- It also relieves depressive symptoms under stressful circumstances.
- It fights the overstimulation caused by caffeine consumption.
- L-theanine decreases stress-induced spikes in blood pressure.
- Improves self-reported sleep quality and lowers self-reported insomnia symptoms.
- L-theanine lowers anxiety in self-reported and biological measures.
The combined effects of increasing stress resilience and balancing anxious and depressive states are why L-theanine has such a positive effect on affect.
The Benefits Of A Positive, Mess-Free Mood Boost
What happens when we’re in a better mood? There’s even more science behind that than there is for nootropics!
Your mood is made of signaling, but that signaling doesn’t just stay in the brain. A bad mood affects your immune system, energy, ability to focus, and more.
You’re lethargic, irritable, overeating, and forgoing your evening workout because you’re just so tired.
The health benefits of a well-supported mood are countless when you think about it. A quick search will reveal clinical evidence behind claims that a good mood can:
- Reduce stress;
- Improve sleep;
- Boost your immune system;
- Reduce the risk of heart disease;
- Improve cognitive function;
- Increase longevity.
Nootropics can be so beneficial by hacking your signaling systems back into balance. And when you feel better, you want to (and can) do more.
Stick to that whole-food diet, get back on that treadmill, start that new yoga class, and pick that beloved hobby back up. Because when you feel better, you can be your best self.
And what’s cooler than doing that naturally? It’s literally just some plants. And you can find them conveniently altogether in a greens powder supplement mix like MTE.