Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in an individual feeling motivated, productive and focussed. It provides a zeal for life. But sadly, there are many a factors that deplete dopamine levels thus reducing the joy in our lives. These factors are lifestyle, diet, stress and illness related. But let’s get to know dopamine in detail before we delve into the details of boosting dopamine levels naturally.
What Is Dopamine?
There are about 90 billion neurons in the human brain. They communicate with each other via brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Among most neurotransmitters, mankind has learnt a great deal about dopamine. Dopamine is linked to human behaviour that drives many decisions. The ability of dopamine to make the individual experience motivation, pleasure seeking, and addictions is indeed unique. It has a very key role to play in attention, memory, mood, learning, movement, sleep and anticipatory pleasure.
Dopamine dysfunction causes loss or partial impairment of fine motor movements resulting in tremors. This can be clearly observed in Parkinson’s disease which is caused by the death of dopamine-producing cells as also in some of the long-standing addictions. Dopamine is also required in the body for smooth functioning of the kidneys, pancreas, and immune cells. For purposes outside of central nervous system, dopamine is locally created as it cannot cross the blood brain barrier that surrounds the central nervous system.
How dopamine impacts your daily life?
Dopamine is the “motivation molecule.” It strengthens your ability to focus and concentrate. Thus, it helps you in achieving your goals and continuously stay motivated. It enables you focus and resist impulses. It makes you competitive and gives you a sense of elation on achieving your goals. Additionally dopamine is in charge of your pleasure-reward system. It allows you to experience of happiness, joy, bliss, and even euphoria. Lowered dopamine levels can leave you unable to focus,not motivated enough, lazy, with altered sleep cycle and even depressed. Scientific studies have shown that mice that have deprived of dopamine feel so depressed that they choose to not eat and even starve to death in spite of having food readily available.
Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms
The first warning signal of a low dopamine level is that you will need a dose caffeine, sugar or even some euphoric chemicals to get you through the day. Few of the most common dopamine deficiency symptoms are:
- low motivation
- Apathy or an indifferent attitude
- inability to feel pleasure
- low libido
- inability to connect with others
- sleep problems
- mood swings
- memory loss
- inability to concentrate on any task for long
- inability to complete tasks
- engaging in self-destructive behaviors, especially addictions
Dopamine deficiency can also manifest as various psychiatric and behavioural disorders like depression, attention deficit hyperkinetic disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and substance abuse disorder.
Causes of Low Dopamine
The most common underlying causes of dopamine deficiency include poor diet, nutritional deficiencies, addictions, obesity, thyroid disorders, and the use of anti-dopamine drugs.
Unhealthy Ways to Increase Dopamine
All activities that ensure our survival like eating, making money, drinking, having sex cause release of dopamine. A boost of dopamine is good and hence there are few people that self-medicate to get a dopamine boost when they engage in potentially addictive and self-destructing behaviours. The excessive use of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, drugs, shopping, sex, video games, internet-based porn, power, and gambling are all effective, but short-lived, dopamine boosters. But these are not the only ways to boost dopamine, there are many natural ways instead.
Potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, broccoli, oranges, spinach, and Brussels sprouts contain some dopamine. Along with these foods, you must consume bananas as they are particularly rich in dietary dopamine. However, the dopamine which is present in your food does not cross the blood brain barrier and has no impact on neuronal activity.
If you want to elevate your dopamine level with food, you’ll need rethink what you consume. Dopamine is made from the amino acid l-tyrosine which is commonly found in protein-rich foods.
Eating a diet which is rich in l-tyrosin will ensure your body has enough building blocks that are needed for dopamine synthesis. Few foods that are known to increase l-tyrosine are:
- animal products like meat and egg
- fava beans are one of the few foods that contain l-dopa, a direct precursor to dopamine that is used to treat Parkinson’s disease
- green leafy vegetables
- green tea
- olive oil
- sesame and pumpkin seeds
- soy products
- wheat germ
- natural probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut can also increase natural dopamine production.
Dopamine-Depleting Foods to Avoid
There are also few foods that you need to avoid as they are notoriously popular for depleting dopamine from the body. Eating a lot of saturated fat decreases dopamine receptor sensitivity. Sugar has been found to boost dopamine, but this is a temporary and an unhealthy boost. It eventually contributes to the depletion and habit forming behaviour to consume sugar regularly. Similar consequences have been recorded for artificial sweeteners.
If you feel that food alone is not raising your dopamine levels enough, some of these natural supplements may come handy.
- L-tyrosine is the first dopamine supplement to consider. It is an amino acid is the precursor to dopamine. If there is not enough l-tyrosine in your diet, or your body doesn’t properly convert it, you won’t be able to synthesize adequate dopamine. Stress, exhaustion, and illness can increase your need for l-tyrosine as well.
- Gingko biloba is traditionally used for a variety of brain-related problems such as poor concentration, memory problems, headaches, fatigue, mental confusion, depression, and anxiety.
- Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume that contains l-dopa and as referred to earlier, l-dopa is a dopamine precursor. Mucuna pruriens supplements are available to enhance mood, memory libido. If combined with the levodopa which is the popular medication for Parkinson’s, the results have been more efficient.
- Curcumin is an active ingredient in the spice turmeric. It readily crosses the blood-brain barrier where it boosts levels of dopamine. Curcumin is found as an important ingredient in the anti-depressant drug called Prozac. Piperine found in the black pepper helps tremendously in the absorption of curcumin.
- L-theanine is popularly found in green, black and white teas. It is known to increase the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the body. It improves recall, learning, and positive mood. Green tea is a good choice if you are concerned about your caffeine intake since it contains a modest 25 mg of caffeine only.
Increase Dopamine with a Healthy Lifestyle
Food and supplements aren’t the only healthy ways to increase dopamine. There are plenty of healthy lifestyle activities that will also do the job. Physical exercise is one important thing you can do for your brain. It boosts production of new brain cells, improves the flow of nutrients to the brain and slows down brain cell aging. Along with dopamine, physical exercise can also boost your serotonin and norepinephrine and these improve your response to stressful situations too. Along with physical exercises, good company and ways to occupy your mind have also proved very useful to improve dopamine levels in the body.
- Exercises which do not cause strain to your brains also raise the baseline dopamine in your body. Taking walks, or doing gentle, no-impact exercises like yoga, tai chi, or qigong all provide powerful mind-body benefits.
- Exercising outside can be very beneficial too as sunlight can increase the number of dopamine receptors and create vitamin D which activates the genes that release dopamine. Also sunlight can make a person feel enthusiastic and it makes you look forward to the day.
- Dopamine can also be substantially increased by meditation. Along with dopamine levels, meditation also helps to improve focus and concentration. Meditation on a regular basis can increase an individual’s ability to think creatively, to be focussed and to relax a great deal. Creative hobbies of all kinds, including knitting, quilting, painting, DIYs, sewing, drawing, photography, woodworking, and home repair, bring the brain into a meditative state. Thus improving dopamine levels along with warding off depression and protecting your body against brain aging.
- Listening to music can cause release of dopamine. Pleasure centres are activated by listening to music similar to making love. It calms your nerves down and transports you into a soothing world.
- All kinds of pleasurable touch increase dopamine. A therapeutic massage increases dopamine and serotonin and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Playfully stroking your pet can give both the individual and the pet a boost of dopamine and multitude other feel-good brain chemicals.
- Role of sex and making love is not yet proven in improving dopamine levels in the body. However, studies have shown rats with an active sex life to have significantly better dopamine levels than the control group.
- Dopamine controls the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and the lack of sleep can decrease the number of dopamine receptors.
- Dopamine dysfunction is also very closely linked to obesity. In fact, their brains behave much like that of a drug addict. Interestingly, people who are obese have fewer dopamine receptors than average. Since dopamine is in charge of the brain’s pleasure center, obese people will receive less and less pleasure from eating and thus making them want to eat more.
- Taking a shower with 14C°/57F° water can increase dopamine substantially sometimes upto 200%! So the next time when you are feeling blue, take a cold shower or at least end your shower with a cold blast.
Harness Your Brain’s Reward System to Increase Dopamine
Dopamine rewards us when our needs are met. We love dopamine surges because of the way they make us feel. The constant hunt for your next dopamine boost can drive you to addictions, greed, and lust. Some healthy ways to ensure a sustained increased dopamine level that work with your brain’s built-in reward system and improve your life.
- Enjoy the quest: Our distant ancestors were on a constant quest to survive and so they would experience a dopamine surge every time they came across a new berry or a new fish. Finding new food for them meant easier survival and that itself made them happy. However the quest of modern life is not quite the same. You can multiple new ways to stay motivated and engaged like picking a new gift for a loved one, painting some canvas, listening to an old music record, travelling and the likes.
- Engage in a hobby: You can indulge in specifically quest-oriented hobbies like geocaching, genealogy, bird watching, and collecting of all kinds. These kinds of hobbies are ideal for keeping up dopamine levels since there is always something new to be discovered. Each new discovery provides a dopamine boost.
- Celebrate everyday: Do the “Victory Dance” Every Day. It would make you feel happy and accomplished in your pursuits of daily life. And this sense of accomplishment will release dopamine
- Set new goals: To feel an improved sense of accomplishment, you can set smaller goals in life and celebrate the achievement of these. Dopamine is released in the brain when you achieve a goal, the scale of the goal in immaterial. If your larger goal is to get organized, break it down into many small goals.
- Become organised: Each goal can be as simple as organizing your emails, cleaning a closet, or emptying your junk drawer. Every time you cross one item off your to-do list, it gives you a nice spurt of dopamine. Get a calendar, virtual or paper, and cross off each day that you’ve actively worked toward your goal.
Dopamine is indeed in charge of your pleasure-reward system but is also the gateway to self-destruction and addictions. So we need to wire our brain carefully and try and not break the chain from positive sentiments.
Acknowledge and savor your victories every day for a daily dopamine boost. And on achievement of your goals, let the dopamine and the party champagne flow! Adequate dopamine assures you’ll feel more alive, focused, productive, and motivated.
There are both healthy and unhealthy ways to increase dopamine. Unhealthy ways to increase dopamine can be gateways to self-destruction and addictions. Healthy ways include eating the right foods in appropriate amounts, taking dopamine-boosting supplements, physical exercise, meditation, and using proper goal-setting techniques.
So let’s begin the journey of healthy boost of our dopamine levels.