Have you been feeling depressed lately but aren’t sure why? Do you have less energy to get through the day than usual? Is it hard to finish something once you’ve started it? Are you easily distracted or having trouble concentrating?
Have you lost your passion for life in general?
If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, you may be experiencing a dopamine deficiency. This is fairly common and happens naturally, but you should probably start looking for ways to increase or boost your dopamine levels.
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is defined as being a neurotransmitter, a chemical created in the brain that allows for the communication between neurons, and is the main chemical messenger responsible for motivation. This is because dopamine activates the “reward center” of the brain and delivers a sense of satisfaction after accomplishing a goal. Whether by playing sports, learning something new, finishing a project, or getting a promotion, this process will motivate a person and inspire them to return time and again to the specific activity that created this rewarding experience.
Dopamine levels have a direct impact on mood, attention, emotional responses, and motivation. Its effects can also impact a person physically as well by altering their heart rate, kidney function, and blood vessel activity. Otherwise known as the “motivation molecule”, dopamine provides the drive and focus required in order to be productive.
In the event that someone is deficient in their dopamine levels, they can end up having a substantial imbalance in their life and experience:
- A lack of focus
- Difficulty concreting
- Craving sugar
- Low motivation
Due to the intense sensation motivation that is provided, people that are dopamine dominant are heavily associated with being “go-getters.” However, many things that people may do in order to boost their focus and energy may end up backfiring.
There are a lot of unhealthy ways that you may obtain a dopamine “fix.” Substances like nicotine, caffeine, and sugar, and fat-filled treats are all very effective in increasing dopamine levels. While these items may provide a quick boost of dopamine, they often end up disrupting the natural dopamine production process which can result in severely decreased dopamine production in the long run.
How Does Dopamine Affect Us?
Dopamine levels will have a direct influence on how a person feels on any given day. When their dopamine levels are optimal, they will be feeling pretty good overall. For the most part, elevated dopamine levels will result in a feeling of euphoria and is, therefore, a major driver behind human behavior and brain functions. While these feelings can be helpful in promoting positive habits such as exercising, eating healthy, or accomplishing tasks it can also lead to addictive behaviors.
Large amounts of released dopamine have been known to be associated with drug and alcohol abuse as well as gambling addictions. At a biological level, addictions happen in part as a result of how good dopamine releases make a person feel. People are much more likely to engage in behaviors, whether healthy or unhealthy if the reward is a nice and big dopamine release.
Part of the reason people seek out dopamine so much is that having a constant supply of it can result in benefits such as:
- Helping to lose weight
- Making you feel more alive
- Improving your memory
- Counteracting depression
- Helping to resist impulsive behavior
- Helping to avoid developing Parkinson’s disease
How To Increase Dopamine Levels
If you are struggling with some of the symptoms of a dopamine deficiency, don’t be worried because there are lots and lots of ways that you can increase your dopamine.
Some of the best ways to increase dopamine are:
Eat More Protein
Protein is made up of smaller building blocks that are called amino acids. There are 23 different types of amino acids, some of which your body can create and some of which must be ingested. The amino acid called tyrosine is a very critical component in the production of dopamine.
Enzymes within your body essentially turn tyrosine into dopamine, so having enough tyrosine is critical to having enough dopamine. Another amino acid that it’s important to the process is phenylalanine. Studies show that increasing tyrosine and phenylalanine in your diet can increase dopamine levels in your brain and may promote deeper thinking and improve memory. When these amino acids are eliminated however, dopamine levels can become depleted.
The best food to find tyrosine and phenylalanine include:
- Green Tea
Eat Less Saturated Fat and More Monounsaturated Fat
Animal research has shown that saturated fats, found primarily in animal fat, butter, full-fat dairy, palm oil and coconut oil may disrupt dopamine signals in the brain when consumed in large quantities. While the studies have only been conducted in rats, the results are quite interesting.
One study showed that when a rat consumed 50% of their calories from saturated fat, they had reduced dopamine signaling when compared to rats that received the same amount of calories from unsaturated fat. These changes occurred without any differences in weight, body fat, hormones, or blood sugar levels.
In addition, monounsaturated fats are the fatty acids that are generally considered heart-healthy as they protect against cardiovascular disease. One study showed these fats will help to improve mood and lead to less anger and irritability as well.
Monounsaturated fats are most commonly found in:
- Canola oil
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
Scientists have discovered that there exists a very important link between the stomach and the brain. In fact, the stomach is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” because it contains a large number of nerve cells that produce lots of neurotransmitter signaling molecules, including dopamine. Certain species of bacteria that live in your stomach are also capable of producing dopamine.
While research is still ongoing, several studies have found that when consumed in large enough quantities, there are certain strains of bacteria that can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in both animals and humans. There is a clear link between mood, probiotics and gut health, even if it’s not completely understood as of yet.
There are plenty of supplements for probiotics, but the best food to find them in are fermented foods like:
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is a great way to boost endorphin levels and improve mood naturally. These improvements can be seen after as little as 10 minutes of aerobic activity but peak after 20 minutes. Studies performed on rats have shown that treadmill running will increase the release of dopamine levels but the results in humans have been inconsistent. While one study resulted in a 30-minute session of moderately intense treadmill running yielding no increased dopamine production, another study showed that performing one hour of yoga six days per significantly increased dopamine levels. What has been proven and replicated is that exercise will help a person to de-stress and make them more productive.
Your brain will release chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, along with dopamine, in order to help you maintain the activity. In addition, losing weight from exercise will lead to increased dopamine levels as well. Being overweight will reduce the number of dopamine receptors that you have, and losing weight will cause these receptors to return.
Get Enough Sleep
When dopamine is released in your brain, it will create a feeling of being alert and wakeful. Dopamine is typically released in large amounts in the morning when it’s time to wake up, and the levels will fall naturally in the evening when it’s time to sleep.
However, a lack of sleep will severely disrupt these natural rhythms and when a person is forced to stay awake during the night, the availability of dopamine receptors in the brain is dramatically reduced by the next morning. It’s recommended that you get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night, along with sleeping and waking at the same time each day, reducing noise in the bedroom, avoiding caffeine in the evening and only using your bed for sleeping.
Not having enough dopamine can lead to all kinds of issues with motivation and mood. There is a long list of ways to increase your dopamine levels naturally and help you to enjoy all the rewards that come with dopamine.
While having a dopamine deficiency can result in feelings like insomnia, fatigue, apathy, and a lack of focus, these could be symptoms of an underlying mental illness.
Depression and dopamine deficiency have a lot of similar symptoms so if you have tried some of the ways to increase your dopamine level listed above but still experience these feelings, you should consider seeing a mental health professional and talking with them.