Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter which helps to control our brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It also keeps us motivated and focused so we can work toward reaching our goals.
Signs of low dopamine include fatigue, depression, an inability to deal with stress, poor concentration and memory, mood swings, a lack of motivation, and failure to complete tasks or work toward goals.
Those with addiction may also have low levels of dopamine, as fueling addictive behaviors is one of the body’s shortcuts to increase the dopamine available in the brain.
If you think your dopamine levels are low, then check out these 11 ways to boost this important neurotransmitter naturally.
1. Challenge Yourself
When we achieve a long sought-after goal – or even take steps toward reaching that goal – our dopamine levels are stimulated.
Working toward any goal – large or small – with positive expectations helps to release dopamine. According to Dr. Loretta Breuning, setting a new challenge and taking small steps toward it every day for just 45 days will teach our brains to stimulate dopamine in a new way.
Those struggling with low dopamine may have no motivation to complete any task, but even setting a tiny goal – such as going for a 15 minute walk, or cleaning the kitchen – can stimulate the brain to release a little dopamine, which will encourage you to set bigger goals, in anticipation of larger rewards.
Meditation is one of the most important morning habits you can adopt for a variety of reasons. Not only does it reduce stress, ease chronic pain, boost immunity, and improve focus, but it naturally raises dopamine levels.
One study, published in the journal Cognitive Brain Research, found an increase in dopamine during meditation, which helped to improve both the focus and concentration of participants.
Although meditation requires a concerted effort and diligence, the results are well worth it. Whether you choose to focus on your breathing, practice yoga poses, or repeat a mantra, there’s sure to be a type of meditation that suits you.
Why not make regular meditation one of your long-term aims, and double your dopamine-boosting efforts?
Working out doesn’t just benefit the body, it has a hugely positive impact on the mind too.
Consistent exercise over time stimulates dopamine release and uptake in the brain. It also releases other positive neurotransmitters such as serotonin and endorphins, and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Dopamine is also partly responsible for the feeling of a ‘runner’s high’, although less strenuous exercises such as walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, and kettlebells will all stimulate its release too.
Massage and other forms of physical contact are known to increase both happiness levels and immune function, whilst relieving pain and lowering blood pressure.
The skin-to-skin contact of massage has even been shown to raise dopamine levels.
In a study carried out by the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine, researchers found that massage increases dopamine levels by 31%, and serotonin (another important neurotransmitter) by 28%.
Enjoy regular back massages or even a stress-relieving foot rub now and then to boost mood and neurotransmitter levels.
5. Turn Up the Radio
Play your favorite tunes regularly to experience a temporary burst of happiness.
Research shows that listening to music can increase dopamine levels briefly, as can the anticipation of hearing your favorite sounds!
Other studies have shown that listening to upbeat music daily for just two weeks can significantly improve mood and overall happiness levels.
6. Stop Stressing
Prolonged, or chronic, stress can deplete dopamine levels over time, while raising cortisol levels. Chronic stressors such as a high-pressure job, marital breakdown, or financial worries actually limit concentrations of dopamine transporters and impede release of dopamine in the brain.
To balance things out, try to reduce your stress as much as possible, and work to improve your mechanisms for coping with those stressors you just can’t avoid.
These coping mechanisms can include exercise, meditation, quality sleep, and a healthy diet – all the things that help increase dopamine naturally!
7. Take Turmeric
A revered golden-colored spice, turmeric has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.
Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric that is responsible for both its health benefits and its yellow hue, may improve mood by boosting dopamine and other important brain chemicals such as serotonin and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
One small study indicates that curcumin may be as effective as Prozac at lifting mood in depressed patients! And the participants who took both curcumin and prescription medication experienced the greatest improvement.
Be sure to take turmeric with black pepper, which contains piperine – a compound that increases curcumin bioavailability by 2,000%! This highly popular supplement also contains black pepper to dramatically increase the bioavailability of curcumin.
Also, why not try these 16 delicious ways to drink turmeric?
8. Improve Gut Health
Fostering healthy gut bacteria is probably one of the most important things you can do for your health.
Scientists and doctors are continually learning about the complexity of the human gut, and its influence over immunity, cognitive function, weight management, hormonal balance and more.
It turns out that dopamine production is dependent on a healthy gut – not surprising when you discover that the brain and gastrointestinal system share an intimate connection, known as the brain-gut axis.
A healthy balance of bacteria in the gut will also help reduce the number of lipopolysaccharides – a type of endotoxin that inhibits dopamine production.
9. Swap Coffee for Green Tea
Green tea, which has been enjoyed in Asia for centuries, is one of the most healing drinks around. While it contains caffeine – which has been shown to deplete long-term dopamine levels – it has less than coffee making it a better choice for those needing an energy boost.
When it comes to boosting mood, green tea also has another advantage over coffee – it contains an amino acid called l-theanine, which research shows increases bodily levels of dopamine, serotonin and an acid called GABA.
Other studies have shown that green tea has anti-depressant-like effects, which stave off feelings of anxiety and pressure. This delicious brew has also been associated with lower overall levels of psychological distress.
Of all green teas, the Matcha variety comes out on top thanks to its huge antioxidant content.
10. Get Creative
When we work to create something, we enter a highly focused state where nothing else matters, known as flow.
The effects of flow are similar to those of meditation, which is why it can increase dopamine production. It also helps reduce stress and gives us a sense of purpose and goal-fulfillment!
Creativity can take on many forms – such as knitting, sewing, drawing, photography, home- or auto-repairs, cooking, cake decorating and much more. All of these are thought to stimulate dopamine levels – an idea which research backs up.
In a study of more than 3,500 knitters, published in The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 81% of respondents with depression reported feeling happy after knitting, while over 50% described themselves as ‘very happy’.
11. Eat a Dopamine-Boosting Diet
Healthy eating is important for so much more than clear skin and a trim figure, it plays a huge role in mental health too.
To stay happy and healthy, avoid simple carbohydrates – like sugar, breads, pastries, pasta, and white rice – which all cause blood sugar levels to rise, and then drop. Eating these highly processed foods can also lead to cravings, thanks to dopamine’s influence on the pleasure centers of the brain.
While these may seem like good options to raise dopamine levels, they merely provide a temporary fix, and can lead to food addictions and overeating, raising the risk of insulin resistance, hypoglycemia and type 2 diabetes.
Don’t be tempted to replace refined sugar with artificial sweeteners either. These are just as unhealthy and pose some serious concerns. For example, studies in 2007 and 2013 found that a compound in aspartame can cause reduced levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain.
Complex carbohydrates, which release energy slowly and steadily, are a better choice than simple carbs for mental and physical health. These include quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, lentils, and beans. They’re not processed, and so don’t trigger the brain in the same way that simple carbohydrates do.
You should also consider increasing your intake of tyrosine-rich foods. Tyrosine is an amino acid that encourages the brain to release dopamine. It’s found in nuts like almonds, pumpkin and sesame seeds, avocado, banana, lima beans, dairy, and meat.
Folate is also an important nutrient, and is found in raw, leafy green vegetables, and starchy beans like chickpeas, kidney and black beans. This essential B-vitamin is necessary to produce both dopamine and serotonin.
Finally, enjoy a variety of brightly colored vegetables and fruits, which contain many important vitamins and minerals to help the body run smoothly. As dopamine is easy to oxidize, antioxidants in fresh produce may reduce free radical damage to the brain cells that produce neurotransmitters.