Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and is considered as one of the happy hormones. As dopamine deficiency can lead to various health issues and affect our mood, it is important to learn how to increase dopamine levels.
Why Increase Dopamine Levels?
Dopamine (DA) helps in transmitting nerve signals through a synapse and sends messages throughout our body. Hence it plays an essential role in our brain’s capability to deliver nerve signals. It also plays essential neurological & cognitive functions and is associated with pleasure and motivation-reward-reinforcement cycle 1. However, low levels of dopamine is related to a number of serious mental and physical health conditions such as –
- Parkinson’s disease 2
- Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 3
- Obesity 4
- Schizophrenia 5
- Depression 6
- Dementia 7
- Addiction 8
Moreover, dopamine deficiency 9 can also lead to decreased motivation and enthusiasm for activities and things which are generally pleasurable. This is why it is crucial that we learn how to increase dopamine levels naturally through some self-care strategies.
How To Increase Dopamine Naturally?
As low DA levels can significantly affect our mental and physical health, it is important that we take certain steps to actively increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. There are some effective and natural ways to boost DA that can result in better health, improve your mood and help to build good habits. Here are some self-care tips to help you boost your DA levels:
1. Consume probiotics
Probiotics have been found to support the production of various neurotransmitters in the gut including DA, according to a 2016 study 10. Whether you consume probiotic rich foods like fermented foods and yogurt or take probiotic supplements, it can significantly improve your mood. As the gut and brain 11 are linked closely, the gut is considered as our “second brain.” In fact, gut bacteria 12 can also help to produce neurotransmitters that affect our behavior and mood. Although more research is required, probiotics likely play a key role in DA production.
2. Eat more protein
If you are wondering how to increase dopamine, then eating more protein is a good place to start. Proteins 13 are composed of amino acids which are considered as the building blocks. Consuming foods that are packed with the amino acid tyrosine 14 can help to increase DA levels. Protein rich foods like fish, meat, eggs, dairy, cheese, nuts, seeds, beans, soy, legumes and lentils or even supplements can help you maintain balanced DA levels. According to research 15, “Tyrosine has now been shown to enhance the production and release of dopamine or norepinephrine in a variety of circumstances.” Our body consists of enzymes which convert tyrosine into dopamine, hence boosting tyrosine levels is crucial for dopamine production. Studies 16 also show that increasing the level of tyrosine helps to promote deep thinking, memory and even cognitive performance 17 in most younger and older adults.
3. Get good sleep
Researchers 18 have found that sleep deprivation or a lack of sleep can lower dopamine sensitivity in our brain and make us feel sleepy. Studies 19 have revealed that DA-containing neurons are involved in the regulation of sleep and waking. This is why getting good quality and uninterrupted sleep can help to manage our dopamine rhythms and keep it in healthy levels. In fact, a single night of sleep deprivation can significantly affect the availability of dopamine receptors the next morning. Moreover, it can also lead to poor coordination and decreased concentration 20 as well. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night 21 helps to maintain balanced DA levels and makes us feel increasingly alert & high-functioning during daytime.
4. Avoid high fat diets
To understand how to increase dopamine, we need to understand how saturated fat affects us. Eating less saturated fat can help you balance DA levels in the brain. Recent research 22 shows that “consumption of a high-fat diet can alter gene expression within the brain, and the dopamine and opioid neurotransmitter systems appear to be vulnerable to dysregulation.” Another 2015 study 23 found that overconsumption of dietary fat is associated with emotional and motivational impairments. Further studies 24 reveal that consumption of large quantities of saturated fats, available in full-fat dairy, butter, coconut oil, palm oil and animal fat, can cause disruptions in dopamine signaling in our brain.
Researchers from a 2018 study 25 revealed that consumption of saturated fat can cause inflammation in our body which may alter the dopamine system. Moreover, high saturated fat consumption is also associated with poor cognitive functioning and memory. However, as most of these findings are based on animal studies further research is necessary to determine if the same holds true for humans.
5. Exercise regularly
Regular physical activity can not only boost dopamine and endorphin levels, but also help to improve mood. Evidence shows 26 that a “single bout of physical activity” can have a significant, positive impact on our cognitive functions and mood, when done regularly. Researchers 27 have found that exercising for merely 10 minutes to 20 minutes tends to improve mood substantially. Another 2014 study 28 revealed that over a period of three months, practicing an hourly yoga routine for six days per week can boost dopamine levels significantly.
One 2013 study 29 also shows that all three primary monoamine neurotransmitters, namely dopamine (DA), serotonin (5-HT) and noradrenaline (NE) are modulated by physical exercise. A 2003 research 30 explains that based on animal experiments, it was found that “Exercise leads to increased serum calcium levels, and the calcium is transported to the brain. This in turn enhances brain dopamine synthesis through a calmodulin-dependent system, and increased DA levels regulate various brain functions.”
6. Practice meditation
When you are thinking about how to increase dopamine, meditation is one the most helpful solutions. Meditation can significantly help to boost dopamine levels in our brain. Meditation refers to the practice of training your awareness and attention through different techniques like mindfulness to achieve emotional stability and mental clarity without attachment or judgment. Meditating regularly can have significant benefits for our mental 31 and physical health 32. Recent studies 33 have found that meditation can also help to improve DA levels.
Research 34 shows that meditating for an hour can help to increase DA production by about 65% when compared to simply resting. Evidence indicates that practicing meditation can help to improve motivation, positive mood and maintain a meditative state for long stretches of time. However, as the studies primarily focus on experienced meditators, further research is required to determine the effects on beginners.
7. Listen to music
Researchers have found that listening to music 35 promotes dopamine release in the brain. According to a 2004 study 36, music improves dopaminergic neurotransmission. It states “Music might regulate and/or affect various brain functions through dopaminergic neurotransmission, and might therefore be effective for rectification of symptoms in various diseases that involve DA dysfunction.” Brain imaging studies 37 show that listening to music stimulates the area of the brain associated with reward and pleasure and dopamine receptors.
Another 2011 study 38 discovered that music can help to increase about 9% dopamine levels in the brain when someone listens to instrumental music causing goosebumps. In fact, music can also help with improving fine motor control in patients with Parkinson’s disease 39. This is perhaps one of the most soothing answers to how to increase dopamine.
8. Spend some time in the sun
Exposure to sunlight helps the body to produce vitamin D which promotes the production of DA. Studies 40 have revealed that there is an “association between decreased exposure to sunlight and increased probability of cognitive impairment.” Lack of sunlight exposure can cause low mood and reduce neurotransmitter levels. In fact, some people even tend to become depressed or feel sad during winter due to limited or lack of sunlight. This condition is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) 41.
One 2010 study 42 found that adequate sunlight exposure for a period of 30 days results in high density of dopamine receptors in the movement and reward areas of our brain. The researchers state “The central dopaminergic system may play a role in the neurobiological characteristics of sunshine-exposure variation.” However, while trying to learn how to increase dopamine levels, one must be aware of the safety guidelines concerning sunlight exposure as too much time in the sun can result in skin damage and lead to skin cancer.
9. Follow a healthy diet
Apart from eating more proteins and avoiding high fat, it is also important to stick to a balanced, nutritious diet in order to improve DA levels in the brain. Consuming foods that are high in sugar and fat, such as junk food, can release high levels of dopamine that can lead to a desensitizing effect eventually. A 2010 study 43 explains “Imaging studies show that obese subjects might have impairments in dopaminergic pathways that regulate neuronal systems associated with reward sensitivity, conditioning and control.” This is why one should avoid junk food, processed foods, foods high in sugar and even caffeine. Moreover, it is important to consume whole foods to help the dopamine receptors stay balanced.
Eating velvet beans (Mucuna pruriens) 44 can also be an excellent option as these are high in L-dopa, which helps in DA production. Studies 45 have found that velvet beans can not only help to naturally improve dopamine levels, it can also reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, make sure not to consume velvet beans in high amounts as these can be toxic otherwise. Apart from these, taking certain vitamin and mineral supplements can also help in DA production. Supplements such as vitamin D, folate, vitamin B6, magnesium, curcumin and others can help someone trying to figure out how to increase dopamine.
Balance Your Dopamine Levels
When we know how to increase dopamine, we can balance our DA levels, mood, feelings of motivation & reward. Moreover, healthy DA levels also help with proper body movement regulation. Following the above-mentioned tips can help you to naturally boost your DA levels, avoid dopamine deficiency diseases and live a healthier life.
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