How to Increase Dopamine, the Motivation Molecule

How to Increase Dopamine

By  Deane Alban

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter for motivation, focus and productivity. Learn the symptoms of dopamine deficiency and natural ways to increase dopamine levels …

There are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain — about as many stars as  there are in the Milky Way. These cells communicate with each other via brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Dopamine is the  neurotransmitter responsible for  providing motivation, drive, and focus. It  plays a role in many mental disorders including depression, addictions, ADHD, and schizophrenia.

Let’s take a closer look at dopamine — what it does, symptoms of deficiency, and how to increase  it  naturally.

Dopamine: The Motivation Molecule

Dopamine has been called  our  “motivation molecule.” It boosts our  drive, focus, and concentration. It enables us to plan ahead and resist impulses so we can achieve our goals. It gives us that “I did it!” lift  when we accomplish what we set out to do. It makes us competitive and provides the thrill of the chase in all aspects of life — business, sports, and love.

Dopamine is in charge of  our pleasure-reward system. (1) It  allows us to have feelings of enjoyment, bliss, and even euphoria. But too  little dopamine can leave you unfocused,  unmotivated, lethargic, and even depressed.

Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms

People low in dopamine lack a zest for life. They exhibit low energy and motivation, and often rely on caffeine, sugar, or other stimulants to get through the day.

Many common dopamine deficiency symptoms are similar to those of depression:

  • lack of motivation
  • fatigue
  • apathy
  • procrastination
  • inability to feel pleasure
  • low libido
  • sleep problems
  • mood swings
  • hopelessness
  • memory loss
  • inability to concentrate

Dopamine-deficient lab mice become so apathetic and lethargic  they lack motivation to  eat and starve to  death. Conversely, some people who are low in dopamine compensate  with  self-destructive behaviors to get their dopamine boost. This can include use and abuse of  caffeine, alcohol, sugar, drugs, shopping, video games, sex, power, or  gambling.

How to Increase Dopamine Naturally

There are plenty of unhealthy ways to raise dopamine. But you don’t have to resort to “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” to boost your dopamine levels. Here are some healthy, proven ways to increase dopamine levels naturally.

Foods That Increase Dopamine

Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine. Eating a diet high in tyrosine  will ensure you’ve got the  basic building blocks needed for dopamine production.

Here’s a list of tyrosine-rich foods: (3,  4,  5,  6)

  • all animal products
  • almonds
  • apples
  • avocado
  • bananas
  • beets
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • fava beans
  • green leafy vegetables
  • green tea
  • lima beans
  • oatmeal
  • sea vegetables
  • sesame and pumpkin seeds
  • turmeric
  • watermelon
  • wheat germ

Foods high in natural probiotics such as  yogurt, kefir, and raw  sauerkraut can also increase natural dopamine production. Oddly, the health of your intestinal flora  impacts your production of neurotransmitters.

An overabundance of bad bacteria leaves toxic byproducts called lipopolysaccharides which lower  levels of dopamine. (7)

Sugar has been found to boost dopamine but this is a temporary boost, more drug-like  than food-like. (8)

Dopamine Supplements

There are supplements that can raise  dopamine levels naturally.

Curcumin  is  the active ingredient in the spice turmeric. It’s available in an isolated form as a supplement.  It readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and can boost levels of dopamine. (9,  10,  11)

Curcumin has been found to help alleviate obsessive actions and improve associated  memory loss  by increasing dopamine. (12,  13)

Ginkgo biloba  is  traditionally used for a variety of brain-related problems — poor concentration, forgetfulness, headaches, fatigue, mental confusion, depression, and anxiety. (14)

One of the mechanisms by which ginkgo works is by raising dopamine. (15, 16)

L-theanine  is  a component  found in green tea. It increases  levels of dopamine along with other neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA. (17,  18) L-theanine  improves recall, learning, and positive mood. (19,  20) You can get your dopamine boost by  either taking theanine supplements or by drinking 3 cups of green tea per day.  (21)

L-tyrosine  — the precursor to dopamine —  is available as a supplement.

We  recommend taking  acetyl-l-tyrosine —  a more  absorbable form that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. (22)

Phosphatidylserine  acts as your brain’s “gatekeeper,” regulating nutrients and waste in and  out of your brain. It can increase dopamine levels and improve  memory, concentration, learning, and ADHD. (23, 24,  25)

Boost Dopamine  with Exercise

Early Trauma

Physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. It boosts production of new brain cells, slows down brain cell aging, and improves the flow of nutrients to the brain. It can also increase your levels of dopamine and the other “feel good” neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. (26)

Dr. John Ratey, renowned psychiatrist and author of  Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, has extensively studied the effects of physical exercise on the brain. He found that exercise raises baseline levels of dopamine by promoting the growth of new brain cell receptors.

Dopamine is responsible in part for the high serious runners experience. (27) But you don’t need to exercise strenuously to enhance  your brain. Taking walks, or doing gentle, no-impact exercises like yoga, tai chi, or qi gong all provide powerful mind-body benefits.  (28,  29,  30)

Increase Dopamine with Meditation

The benefits of meditation  have been proven in over 1,000 studies.  (31) Regular meditators experience enhanced  ability to learn, increased  creativity, and deep relaxation. It’s been shown that meditation  increases dopamine, improving  focus and concentration. (32)

Crafting hobbies of all kinds — knitting, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography, woodworking, and home repair — focus the brain similarly to meditation. These activities increase dopamine, ward off depression, and  protect against brain aging. (33)

Listening to music  can cause of release of  dopamine. Oddly, you  don’t even have to hear music to get this neurotransmitter flowing  — just the  anticipation of listening can do that. (34)

Using  Your Brain’s Reward System to Balance Dopamine

Dopamine functions as a survival mechanism by  releasing  energy when  a great opportunity is in front of you. Dopamine rewards us when our needs are met. We love dopamine surges  because of the way they make us feel. But according to  Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning, author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Endorphin, Oxytocin, Serotonin, we are not designed to experience a non-stop dopamine buzz. The constant hunt  for dopamine boosts  can turn you into a “Wolf on  Wall Street” — driven by addictions, greed, and lust.

Here are some healthy ways to  balance your dopamine by working with  your brain’s built-in reward system.

Enjoy the Quest

Our ancestors were on a constant quest to survive. They got a dopamine surge every time they spotted a new patch of berries or a better fishing hole  because this meant they’d live to seek another day. While you can still pick berries and fish, there are endless other healthy ways you can enjoy  the quest in modern life.

You can  forage for new music to download, specialty ingredients to cook with, a travel package bargain, a hard-to-find collector’s item, or  that perfect gift for a loved one. You can engage in specifically quest-oriented  hobbies  like geocaching, bird watching, rockhounding, amateur archaeology, and collecting of all kinds.

The act of seeking and finding  activates your reward circuits  — with no  regrets later.

Create Both Long and Short Term Goals

Dopamine is released when we achieve a  goal. Having only long term goals gets frustrating, so set both short term and long term goals. Short term goals  don’t have to be anything major. They can be as simple as trying a new recipe, getting caught up on emails,  cleaning a closet, or finally learning  how to use a new  app for your phone.

Break  up long term goals into  small short term goals to  give yourself dopamine boosts  along the way.

Take on a New Challenge

Getting a promotion is a great dopamine boost,  but this doesn’t  happen very  often! But you can create  your own dopamine rewards by setting a goal, then take small steps toward it every day. This can be starting a new exercise program, learning French, or challenging yourself to drive home from work a different way every day, preferably without the use of your GPS.

According to Dr. Graziano Breuning, working on a goal  without fail for 45 days will train your brain to stimulate dopamine production in a new way.

Dopamine and Mental Conditions

Dopamine plays such an important role in how we live our lives,  it’s no surprise that when the dopamine system is out of balance  it can contribute to many mental conditions. (35)

Here are three of the most common conditions  that have a  dopamine connection.

Dopamine and ADHD

The underlying cause of ADHD is still unknown. Until recently it was widely accepted that the root cause of ADHD was probably  an abnormality in dopamine function. This seems logical since dopamine is critical for maintaining  focus. Most ADHD medications are based on this “dopamine deficiency” theory. Prescription medications  used to treat ADHD are  believed to work  by increasing the release of dopamine and norepinephrine while slowing down their rate of reabsorption. (36)

However,  the latest research suggests that the main cause of ADHD lies in a structural difference in the grey matter in the brain and not dopamine.  (37)

Dopamine and Depression

Serotonin is the brain chemical most associated with depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as  Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro are prescribed for depression and work  by increasing brain levels of serotonin. But this only works in about 40% of  patients who use them. (38)

What about the other 60%?

There’s a growing  body of evidence that shows  low dopamine and not low serotonin is the cause of  depression for many. Bupropion (brand name Wellbutrin) has proven effective for patients who  haven’t been helped by SSRIs by addressing dopamine deficiency. (39)

How to determine if your depression is more likely from serotonin versus dopamine deficiency? Serotonin-based depression is accompanied by  anxiety  and irritability, while dopamine-based depression expresses itself as lethargy and lack of enjoyment of life. (40)

Dopamine and Schizophrenia

The cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but genetics and environmental factors are believed to play a role. (41) One prevailing theory is that it’s caused by an  over-active  dopamine system. (42,  43) Supporting evidence for this theory is that the best drugs to treat schizophrenia symptoms resemble dopamine and block dopamine receptors. (44)

However, these medications can take days to work which is indicative that the  exact mechanism  is not yet understood. (45)

How to Increase Dopamine in a Nutshell

Dopamine is our “motivation molecule.”  It’s also in charge of our pleasure-reward system. There are both healthy ways and unhealthy ways to increase  dopamine. Unhealthy ways to increase dopamine can be  gateways to self-destruction and addictions. Healthy ways include eating the right  foods, taking dopamine boosting supplements, physical exercise, and meditation.

Learn how to harness your reward system for a healthy stream of dopamine. Enjoy the quest, set both long term and short term goals, and take on new challenges. You’ll feel more alive, focused, productive, and  motivated.

Previous articles by Deane:

About the author:deane alban

Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. Her current focus is helping people overcome brain fog, “senior moments”, and other signs of mental decline now, and preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia in the future.

The human brain is designed to last a lifetime, but modern life takes a greater toll on the brain than most people realize.  Deane teaches the best ways to keep your brain healthy and stay mentally sharp for life at her website

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