In this article you’ll learn how to balance your dopamine levels healthily and naturally so that you can regain your zest for life, increase your motivation and improve your mood and overall cognitive functioning. The 86 billion neurons in our brain communicate with each other via a set of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is a key driver of focus, motivation and productivity. Low dopamine levels can lead to lack of motivation, fatigue, addictive behaviour, mood swings and memory loss.
WHAT DOES DOPAMINE DO?
Dopamine has been called our ‘motivation molecule’. It has a strong influence on our drive, focus, and concentration. This neurotransmitter is crucial in helping us to plan ahead and resist impulses so we can achieve our goals. Interestingly, dopamine gives us that ‘I did it!’ feeling when we accomplish what we set out to do. It also makes us more competitive and engenders ‘the thrill of the chase’ in all areas of our lives including business, sports, love, and sex.
Dopamine is intrinsically linked to our pleasure/reward system, allowing us to experience feelings of enjoyment, bliss, and even euphoria. However, a lack of this chemical can leave you unmotivated, lethargic, unfocused and even depressed.
The symptoms of depression are very similar to those produced by low dopamine levels and they include: fatigue, apathy, procrastination, lack of motivation, anhedonia/inability to feel pleasure, low libido, sleep problems, emotional lability/mood swings, feelings of hopelessness, compromised cognitive function, memory loss and poor concentration.
In fact, dopamine-deficient mice in laboratory settings become so apathetic and lethargic, they lack motivation to eat and starve to death. Conversely, some people who are low in dopamine compensate with excessive and often self-destructive behaviours to get their dopamine boost. The following behaviours are known to boost dopamine levels – in the short term – but carry a heavy penalty in the long term: use and abuse of addictive substances including alcohol, caffeine, sugar and drugs, and participation in destructive behaviours including excessive shopping, sex addiction, overuse of video games, pornography, misuse of power, gambling, or uncontrolled internet overuse.
Thankfully, we don’t have to resort to ‘sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll’ to boost our dopamine levels. Here are some healthy, proven ways to increase it naturally.
Foods: Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine. So, eating a diet high in tyrosine will ensure you’ve got the basic building blocks needed for dopamine production. All animal products contain this amino acid – although these are extremely acid-forming and thus unhealthy in my opinion. Furthermore, animal-derived foods are linked to animal suffering and thus are not compatible with a compassionate lifestyle – which as we shall see is intrinsically linked to maintaining healthy dopamine levels. Other foods high in tyrosine include almonds, apples, avocado, bananas, beets, chocolate, green tea and coffee (although these contain caffeine and are very acid-forming due to their alkaloid content), green leafy vegetables, oatmeal and porridge oats, sea vegetables, sesame and pumpkin seeds, turmeric, watermelon and wheat germ. Pre and probiotics – foods high in natural probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut – can also increase natural dopamine production. Crucially, the health of your intestinal flora impacts your production of neurotransmitters. An excess of bad bacteria leaves toxic byproducts called lipopolysaccharides which reduce your levels of dopamine.
Supplements that can raise dopamine healthily, naturally and safely include curcumin, the main active ingredient in the spice turmeric. Curcumin readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and can effectively enhance dopamine levels. It has been found to be as effective as Prozac for treating even major depression without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders. Look for a curcumin supplement that contains piperine — a compound found in black pepper that increases curcumin absorption by at least 2,000 percent.
Ginkgo biloba is traditionally used for a variety of brainrelated problems — poor cognitive function including lack of concentration, poor memory, headaches, mental confusion, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Ginkgo works by raising dopamine along with acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter associated with memory and learning.
L-theanine is a component found in green tea. It increases levels of dopamine along with two other feel-good neurotransmitters, serotonin and GABA. L-theanine improves learning, mood and the ability to recall information. Get a dopamine boost by taking l-theanine supplements to avoid the caffeine and acidity associated with the tea in its original form.
L-tyrosine, a precursor to dopamine, is available as a supplement, however a better option is acetyl-l-tyrosine, a more bioavailable form that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier.
Phosphatidylserine acts as your brain’s ‘gatekeeper,’ in that it regulates the flow of nutrients and waste in and out of your brain. It can increase dopamine levels and improve concentration, memory, learning, and improve the symptoms of ADHD.
Exercise: Physical exercise boosts production of new brain cells. It slows down brain cell aging, and improves the flow of nutrients to the brain. It can also increase your levels of dopamine along with both serotonin and norepinephrine. But you don’t need to exercise strenuously to improve your brain health. Taking walks, or doing gentle, no-impact exercises like yoga, tai chi, or qi gong all provide potent mind-body benefits.
Meditation: It’s been shown that meditation increases dopamine, and its benefits have been proven in over 1,000 studies. Regular meditators experience an enhanced ability to learn, increased creativity, and deep relaxation. In addition, creative hobbies including knitting, quilting, sewing, drawing, colouring, and DIY can create a meditative state. Loving kindness or metta meditation particularly boosts dopamine – as does cultivating a compassionate attitude towards others.
Acts of kindness: Simply being kind to others, receiving kindness and even witnessing kindness and compassion balances out and improves dopamine levels. Listening to music can cause release of dopamine. Interestingly, you don’t even have to hear music to get this neurotransmitter flowing. Just the anticipation of listening can do that.
Kindness and compassion improves dopamine levels.
Balancing act: You can balance dopamine levels by using your brain’s reward system. Dopamine acts as a survival mechanism by releasing energy. It rewards us when our needs are met. We love dopamine surges because of the way they make us feel. Our ancestors were on a constant mission to survive. They received a dopamine surge every time they spotted a new patch of berries or a better hunting ground because it meant they’d live another day. Our ancestry aside, there are countless other healthy ways you can enjoy the hunt in modern life. You can forage for new music to download, you can hunt Pokemon, search for specialty ingredients to cook with, or scour the web for the perfect pair of shoes to go with that dress. The act of both seeking and finding activates your reward circuits.
The research shows that it takes only 45 days to balance your dopamine levels for optimal functioning – so implement the suggestions above and within only a month and a half you’ll feel happier, healthier, have a brighter outlook, be more goal orientated and have far better cognitive function.