The brief answer is that massage can affect the levels of many important chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, oxytocin, and cortisol. Each of these chemicals can have a serious impact on your mood and overall sense of wellbeing. To understand how, let’s take a closer look the main chemicals that are most commonly affected by common massage.
Neurotransmitters: Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin
Easily the most popular, or well known, chemicals on the list are these three. Dopamine is commonly called the feel good chemical that is responsible for many different functions in the brain, aside from pleasure, it is responsible for important things such as motor behavior, motivation, and emotional arousal (excitement). During massage dopamine production can be stimulated, which results in a general increase in feeling well, or happy.
Serotonin is a major regulator that can affect appetite, sleep, learning, mood, temperature, the entire endocrine system and even the cardiovascular system. It is also considered a major player in the role of depression.
Certain styles of massage can help promote the availability of serotonin, which in turn can help to reduce agitation and induce a calming state that is good for relieving stress or help with falling asleep.
Oxytocin is arguably one of the most important neurotransmitters to mankind. It is often nicknamed the love chemical, and for good reason, oxytocin is responsible for feelings of attachment and plays a critical role during birth, lactation and social bonding.
During massage, oxytocin can be released, which contributes to a sense of happiness and can calm anxiety. The cumulative effect of these neurotransmitters that can be affected by massage is that you end up feeling less stressed and have a generally improved sense of wellbeing.
Adrenal Hormones: Cortisol
Cortisol has been somewhat demonized by weight loss professionals. But it’s built a bit of an unfair reputation. Cortisol is a steroid class of hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands and plays an important role in the body’s regulatory system. Cortisol helps with regulating metabolism, blood glucose and saline levels, reducing inflammation, and with forming memories.
In addition, it can also affect blood pressure in both sexes, as well as fetal development in women. Needless to say, it is a crucial hormone to keep in balance. Unfortunately, when there is too much cortisol, such as during times of increased stress, it can contribute to many maladies. Massage can help reduce the levels of cortisol during times of stress, which can contribute to improved blood pressure levels.
Overall Effects of Massage on the Brain
A slow, steady massage can help relieve stress and increase your overall feeling of wellbeing by stimulating the production of helpful neurotransmitters and decreasing the adrenal hormone that can contribute to anxiety when there is an overabundance of it. It is also possible to use massage to encourage energy via epinephrine production, however it all boils down to the type of massage you give or receive.