The Best Ways to Increase Dopamine Naturally

The Best Ways to Increase Dopamine Naturally
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Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that is responsible for transmitting signals in between the nerve cells of the brain (neurons). Dopamine is essential for maintaining proper mood levels, feelings of optimism, being motivated, and even feelings of satisfaction, bliss, and euphoria.

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If you feel like you are lacking in one of any of those emotions, it could be that you suffer from a dopamine deficiency. However, you don’t have to feel trapped in a cycle of negative emotions and feel that there is no way out. In this article I am going to explain to you how to increase dopamine naturally.

I will also look at why we need to maintain proper levels of dopamine in our brain and what natural methods you can use to safely increase dopamine levels in your body.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a chemical which is found in the central nervous system, the digestive system and various organs in the body.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – it helps nerve cells of the brain (neurons) to “communicate” with each other. If there are low levels of dopamine in the brain, then nerve cells have difficulty transmitting the proper message.

You could liken this to paths that criss-cross a forest. Dopamine allows the brain to develop well-worn ‘paths’ between various points and then it doesn’t take much effort to get from one point to another.

However, low dopamine levels in the brain are the same as when the ‘paths’ are constantly overgrown; travel between points becomes difficult and bothersome, and could even make a traveler to ‘give up.’

In a way, that is what happens to a person when they have dopamine deficiency.

What is Dopamine Used for?

Dopamine is needed by the brain to communicate control feelings of reward and pleasure and regulate emotional responses. Dopamine is also a motivator because it helps a person to work towards getting the rewards.

Psychiatrist, Dr. Emily Deans and author of Evolutionary Psychiatry, said that it is dopamine which is the secret to what makes us human. It gives us the ability to be intelligent, make plans for the future, and resist impulses that could harm us.1

When our dopamine levels are in proper balance, we experience strong feelings of satisfaction when we have accomplished something. It makes us chase our dreams and avoid activities that could hinder our progress. We will also cope better with stress

Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms

Symptoms of low dopamine levels manifest themselves as a general lack of interest in what is going on around. This could be

  • A lack of motivation
  • Hopelessness
  • Apathy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Constantly putting things off
  • Mood swings

There can also be physical symptoms like:

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  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Low libido
  • Weight gain

People who show signs of dopamine deficiency are more prone to addictions, because they look for substances that give an instant ‘high’, or in other words, quickly boost levels of dopamine. This can lead to self-destructive behavior and addictions to drugs, alcohol, and sugary foods.

For a detailed list of symptoms – see my article: Dopamine Deficiency: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions.

Let’s look at how to increase dopamine naturally.

How to Increase Dopamine Naturally

Rather than looking for a ‘quick-fix’ to increase dopamine levels, there are many healthy ways that you can get the boost you need to improve dopamine levels.

The natural ways to increase dopamine are to incorporate certain foods into a healthy diet, take supplements which increase dopamine, exercise, and make lifestyle choices that can also boost dopamine levels.

Foods to Increase Dopamine Levels

Dopamine is produced by certain amino acids; therefore, it is important to have enough of these amino acids in your diet to avoid a dopamine deficiency.

Foods that contain L-phenylalanine

One essential amino acid to increase dopamine is l-phenylalanine. Being an essential amino acid means that the body can’t produce it itself and has to be obtained from food. L-phenylalanine converts into tyrosine which then converts into dopamine.

One study published in the journal Brain Research found that when levels of tyrosine were depleted, the body couldn’t produce enough dopamine.2

So, foods like:

All contain l-phenylalanine, in fact, these foods are the only sources of l-phenylalanine.

Let’s have a look at other foods that can boost dopamine levels.

Bananas

Bananas are a rich source of tyrosine and can help boost the levels of dopamine in the body. In fact, it is thought that the riper the banana, the more tyrosine is contained in it. Bananas have many other health benefits as well.

Apples

Apples contain high amounts of quercetin, a flavonoid antioxidant which is also found in onions, grapes, citrus fruits, and berries.

Studies have shown that the antioxidant properties of quercetin help to stop the depletion of dopamine levels.3

Beets

Another food which can have a significant impact on levels of dopamine are beets.

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Beets have high levels of betaine, and this amino acid has many beneficial health properties in the body, and it can also help treat depression and alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (it is the shortage of dopamine which causes movement problems of people with Parkinson’s disease).

One study showed that betaine improved the effectiveness of antidepressants in people with mild-to-moderate depression.4

Another study into beets and Parkinson’s disease showed that an extract of beetroot leaves (Beta vulgaris) significantly reduced the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This was because the beet extract increased levels of dopamine and had an antioxidant effect on the brain’s activities.

Other foods rich in betaine are spinach, quinoa, and wheat bran.

Chocolate

It is dark chocolate with a high amount of cocoa solids and very little added sugar which has all the health benefits. Milk chocolate contains a high amount of sugar, which creates a sharp dopamine spike and can lead to sugar cravings. You can also use raw cocoa powder – find more information in my article about the health benefits of raw cocoa.

Dr. Leslie E. Korn, who has written various books on mental health, wrote that chocolate is an effective mood booster because it stimulates dopamine and serotonin in the brain. The reason for this is that chocolate contains tyrosine.5

Green Tea

Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid which has a positive effect on neurological activities.

There have been various studies into the therapeutic effects of green tea and they show that green tea increased the levels of dopamine and serotonin.6

Another study published in the Nutrition Journal also showed that green tea in humans “increased reward learning and prevented depressive symptoms.”7

Read my related article about the incredible health benefits of green tea.

Blueberry Extract

Blueberries are high in antioxidants and contain compounds in them which can reduce inflammation as well as blood pressure.

Blueberry extract has also been proven to have a positive effect on cognitive function and particularly increasing dopamine levels.  For example, a study published in Nutritional Neuroscience found that blueberry extract had a positive effect on dopamine nerve cells in the brain.

Noni Juice

Noni juice is derived from the fruit of an Indian mulberry plant located in the global subtropics and tropics and I have already mentioned its large number of health benefits.

A study demonstrated that noni had anti-psychotic like activity. The study showed that noni improved dopamine levels in the brain, which stopped uncontrollable urges and behavior.

Research showed that extracts of noni juice were able to bind to GABA receptors and imitate their behavior in the brain, which can improve depression and anxiety.

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Sugar and Alcohol – Warning

While foods such as sugar and alcohol can increase dopamine, they should be avoided because the can cause a dopamine crash, where levels of dopamine are lower than they were before. These types of foods can also cause cravings and addictions, especially if a person relies on them for a dopamine ‘kick.’8,9

Caffeine and Dopamine

There is also evidence that too much caffeine causes and an initial spike in dopamine, but then levels in the body actually decrease. Therefore drink less coffee (coffee in moderation can actually benefit your health – see my article on what 2 cups of coffee per day can do for your liver).

Supplements to Increase Dopamine Levels

There are many supplements which can help to increase dopamine naturally. These can be useful especially where a person requires a large dopamine boost.

Green Tea Supplements

Not everyone likes to drink 3 cups of green tea a day and the caffeine in green tea can have a negative impact on some people. Therefore, decaffeinated green tea supplements, like this one, can give a dopamine boost naturally.

Curcumin

Curcumin is the main component of turmeric which has amazing health benefits. One of the health benefits of curcumin is that it can act as a natural antidepressant because it promotes increased levels of serotonin and dopamine and this is something that I’ve mentioned in a previous article.

The journal Phytotherapy Research showed that curcumin was just as effective as fluoxetine, the main antidepressant component in Prozac.10 When curcumin was combined with piperine (found in black pepper and long pepper) has also shown to also produce potent antidepressant activities.11

Curcumin is also effective in helping treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease because it doesn’t just increase dopamine levels, but also acts as a neuroprotective agent.12

While curcumin is a powerful and effective compound for treating a wide range of diseases, studies have revealed that it has low absorption and rapid metabolism that lead to relatively low bioavailability in the body. “Bioavailability” is the ease in which any nutrient can make its way from the food you eat into your body.

You need to make sure to combine its consumption with other ingredients to increase its bioavailability.

You also need to be aware that some people need to avoid turmeric or reduce its consumption.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a well-known supplement for its positive effect on helping treat memory issues and improving brain function. Ginkgo Biloba has properties in it which increase dopamine levels in the brain.13

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Ginkgo Biloba is also one of the best herbs to improve memory and brain function.

L-tyrosine Supplements

The article has already mentioned how important L-tyrosine is to balance and increase levels of dopamine and it is possible to buy L-tyrosine supplements (like this one).

For other supplements, read my article about the best supplements for boosting dopamine levels.

Other Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine

There are many lifestyle changes and choices that a person can make to increase dopamine naturally.

Boost Dopamine Levels with Physical Exercise

Physical activity doesn’t just exercise your body and its muscles but your mind as well. There’s some truth in the old adage that a “healthy body is a healthy mind.”

The effect of physical exercise on the brain has been well documented and most people who exercise regularly experience a ‘high’ once they have finished. The reason for this is that chemicals are released in the brain when we are physically active, one of them being dopamine.

This was backed up by a study published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease where clinical trials showed that exercise normalizes blood pressure and increases dopamine levels.14

Even small amounts of exercise can have a positive effect on the brain. For example, Dr. John Ratey, a psychiatrist who wrote the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, said that a brisk walk of only 10 minutes can calm the urge to take a cigarette.15

The British Journal of Sports Medicine also confirmed that there is a direct relationship between physical activity and mental health. In fact, just 20 minutes a week can result in mental health benefits.16

Increase Dopamine with Meditation

People who enjoy meditation as a way of relaxing also experience a natural increase in dopamine levels. One study used PET scan to measure dopamine levels after Yoga Nidra meditation. It found an increased level of dopamine in the participants and a reduced readiness for action.17

It is logical then, that any kind of activity which can help relax the mind can increase levels of ‘feeling good’ in ourselves can be beneficial to our well-being.

These can be different kinds of hobbies, taking time out to relax, and even getting enough sleep. If you want to try meditation at home, you can try these 7 simple and effective meditation techniques.

Listening to Music can Increase Dopamine

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin in his book This Is Your Brain on Music said that music has the power to activate the areas of the brain associated with reward, where our dopamine receptors are found.18

How to Increase Dopamine Levels: Take Home Message

Making sure that the body has enough dopamine can help reduce feelings of depression, helplessness and apathy. Increasing dopamine level can help us to cope better with stress, feel good about ourselves, and find joy in our daily activities.

It is important to find safe ways to increase dopamine naturally and stay away from foods and drinks that give an instant high as this can lead to more problems in life.

In the end, you will feel better and have the motivation and energy to take on new challenges and reach new goals.

Reade these related articles:
1. Dopamine Deficiency: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions
2. Dopamine Supplements to Boost Mood (and More) Naturally
3. The Best Serotonin Supplements to Boost your Mood
4. The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood
5. 18 Quick and Natural Ways to Boost Your Mood

Resources:
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4 Responses to The Best Ways to Increase Dopamine Naturally

  1. Carl Wilson says:

    Hi, I do have a lot of the above mentioned symptoms, I was curious because i take effexor XR, Does this decrease dopamine levels at all? Iv’e been trying to get off of this drug, I have gone from 300mg day to 75, cannot seem to get it any lower without another script for tablets.

    • Jenny Hills says:

      From what I’ve read in Wikipedia, the neurotransmitters affected by this drug are serotonin and norepinephrine, although in high doses it also affects dopamine. The best thing to do is to consult with a doctor about the right dosage for you and whether it’s the best option for you.

  2. jay says:

    is there a brain scan that tests dopamine levels or dopamine receptor damage? i have most of the syptoms above except depression. i quit drugs about 6 years ago and most of my withdrawl symptoms did not go away i dont have cravings really, but i feel like an intense edgeiness 24/7. i was using amphetimine derivatives for 2 years to the point where i had drug induced psychosis (symptoms of high dopamine) for a few months. im thinking i damaged something in my dopamine system. sometimes the edgeiness gets so unbearable all i can do is take OTC sleeping pills and sleep so i dont have to feel it. i dont really have bad mental anxiety either. all my doctor does is tell me its anxiety and keeps trying different ssri’s. its so hard to live like this i cant explain my symptoms ive been sober for 6 years its not getting any better for me.

    • Jenny Hills, Medical Writer and Researcher says:

      According to WebMD, a test for catecholamines (hormones made mostly by your adrenal glands as a reaction to stress) measures the amount of the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the blood. Read more about it HERE.

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