Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain that’s responsible for motivation, mood, sleep and behavioural regulation. It’s also the centre of your brain’s reward system. Every time you do something enjoyable, like go to a concert, spend time with friends or exercise, dopamine is released in your brain. On the flip side, low dopamine levels can make you feel unmotivated, depressed, apathetic and distracted. If you’re looking to boost your mood, take a look at 8 ways to boost dopamine naturally to start feeling better.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that influences your mood and feelings of reward and motivation. When dopamine is high, it creates feelings of pleasure and motivation, whereas low levels of dopamine are linked to reduced motivation and decreased enthusiasm for things that would typically excite people. Dopamine plays a role in a number of functions, including productivity, learning, attention, mood, sleep and movement. It makes us feel more engaged and capable, and like the best versions of ourselves.
13 Signs of Low Dopamine
1. Low moods and mood swings
3. Fatigue and low energy
4. Feelings of hopelessness and low self esteem
5. Reduced sex drive
6. Attention difficulties
7. Sleep disorders
8. Inability to feel pleasure from previously enjoyed activities
9. Muscle cramps or spasms
10. Difficulty eating and swallowing
11. Chronic back pain
12. Persistent constipation
13. Weight fluctuations
5 Causes of Low Dopamine
1. Sleep Deprivation
Feeling refreshed and alert in the mornings is in part due to dopamine receptors, in particular the D2 receptor. These receptors help mediate the functions of dopamine in the body. Sleep deprivation can reduce the number of D2 receptors in important parts of the brain where dopamine is impacted.
Obesity can also reduce the amount of dopamine in the brain. Just like sleep deprivation, it can lead to a reduction in D2 receptors in the brain.
3. Substance Abuse
Long term abuse of alcohol and recreational drugs can cause your body to reduce its natural production of dopamine. In turn, this causes you to rely even more on the substance you’re abusing and the cycle continues.
4. Poor Diet (Especially one high in saturated fat)
It’s important to eat a diet that contains nutrients for optimal brain health. Without these nutrients, it could lead to dopamine deficiency. Pay special attention to eating foods high in saturated fats such as fried chicken, buttered bread and milk chocolate. Your brain gets a boost of dopamine at the pleasure you get from these foods, but these foods only produce short-term enjoyment. A consistently high fat diet disrupts central nervous system functioning, which can lead to a dopamine deficit.
Reducing stress is important for maintaining optimal dopamine levels. If you’re constantly stressed out by work, finances, relationships and other things, it can affect your body’s production of dopamine. Over time, this can lead to a deficiency of the neurotransmitter in the body.
5 Risks of Low Dopamine
Along with making you less motivated and excited about things, there are numerous mental disorders that have been linked to dopamine deficiency. However, although it has been linked to these disorders, low dopamine does not directly cause these conditions. The disorders include:
3. Psychosis, including hallucinations or illusions
5. Parkinson’s disease
8 Ways to Boost Dopamine Naturally
Probiotics are made up of good bacteria that keep your gut healthy. Recently it’s been discovered that your gut and brain are closely linked. Certain bacteria that live in your gut are capable of producing dopamine, which can positively impact mood and behaviour, so get your probiotics in on a daily basis. Probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh and kimchi.
Exercising and working up a sweat can help boost dopamine levels. Whether you run, swim, dance, do bootcamp or cycle, exercise increases your endorphins and enhances your mood. Regular exercise can reduce the amount of stress on the body, improve your mental health and even enhance cognition.
3. Proper Sleep
Sleep is so important for optimal health, and this includes its effect on dopamine levels. Dopamine is released in large amounts in the morning when it’s time to wake up and naturally falls at night when it’s time to go to sleep. A lack of sleep can disrupt these natural rhythms. When you barely sleep through the night, the availability of dopamine receptors in the brain is dramatically reduced the next morning. Less dopamine can also lead to reduced concentration and poor coordination.
Meditation can help you feel less stressed and improve your mental health overall. It builds a healthier, more resilient brain through various processes including balancing brain chemicals like dopamine and increasing blood flow to the brain. Regular meditation can increase your dopamine levels, helping you feel better.
5. Listen to Music
Listening to music can stimulate dopamine release in the brain. It increases activity in the reward and pleasure areas of the brain, which are full of dopamine receptors. When you’re feeling down and unmotivated, put on a playlist with your favourite tunes.
6. Get More Sunlight
There’s a reason for the winter blues or seasonal depression and it’s in part due to a lack of sun exposure, which is associated with a drop in your serotonin levels. When your skin absorbs sunlight and produces vitamin D, that cycle triggers the production of dopamine as well as serotonin, boosting your dopamine levels. Get a good dose of natural sunlight each day and consider a light therapy box for the winter months.
7. Eat Lots of Protein
Protein contains an amino acid called tyrosine, which is excellent for boosting dopamine levels. Enzymes in your body are capable of turning tyrosine into dopamine, so having adequate tyrosine levels is key. High protein foods like almonds, eggs, fish and chicken are particularly good for boosting dopamine levels.
8. Cut Down on Processed Sugar
Processed sugars like candy, sweets and soda will increase your dopamine for a short time period, but the boost is temporary and artificial. When you consume a large amount of sugar in a short time, you get a sugar high, but it affects your body’s natural production of dopamine production, so it’s followed by a crash that leaves you feeling down.
Having the proper amount of dopamine ensures you feel happy, motivated and at your best. Use these tips to improve your mood and feel better everyday.