March 06, 2024

Dopamine: What It Is & How to Increase It

Diagram of brain chemistry

Dopamine: What It Is & How to Increase It

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter — a chemical that transmits messages — produced in the brain and other parts of the body. Sometimes referred to as the “feel-good neurotransmitter,” it plays an important role in the pleasure/reward system that motivates people to repeat certain behaviors. It’s also involved in memory, attention, and controlling physical movement.

Consequently, dopamine is essential for overall mental and physical well-being. Typically, the body does a good job of regulating its dopamine level. However, there are actions you can take to boost your dopamine levels.

Causes and Symptoms of Low Dopamine

What blocks dopamine or causes low dopamine levels? Various conditions and some medications can cause low dopamine levels (also called dopamine deficiency). For example, an injury to the part of the brain that makes dopamine can cause a deficiency.

You may also experience the symptoms of low dopamine if your body doesn’t respond appropriately to it, such as when there are specific problems with nerve cells. Low dopamine is also associated with conditions like Parkinson’s disease and cocaine addiction, as well as some antipsychotic drugs.

What are the symptoms of low dopamine levels? There are several, including these:

  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Low sex drive
  • Moodiness, anger, and low self-esteem
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Problems with short-term memory
  • Loss of interest in or pleasure from activities
  • Tremors in the hands or elsewhere
  • Muscle stiffness or cramping
  • Digestive issues, including constipation 

The good news is that there are steps you can take to increase your dopamine levels.

How Can I Increase My Dopamine Levels Quickly?

If you experience the symptoms above, you may wonder about what stimulates dopamine levels or ways to increase dopamine. These nine tips can help you produce more dopamine naturally:

  1. Exercise regularly. Physical activity is known to improve mood. While that improvement isn’t entirely due to dopamine, animal studies suggest that exercise can increase dopamine levels in the brain, and some human studies have found similar results. Plus, as everyone knows, regular exercise provides many other benefits.
  2. Eat dopamine-boosting foods. What foods increase dopamine? One of the most important is protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, one of which is called tyrosine. It’s vital in the production of dopamine. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein from foods like turkey, eggs, beef, legumes, soy, and low-fat dairy helps ensure your body has what it needs to maintain the proper dopamine levels.
  3. Reduce saturated fat consumption. It’s believed that high levels of saturated fat in the body from foods like full-fat dairy, butter, animal fat, palm oil, and coconut oil can disrupt dopamine signaling.
  4. Pay attention to “gut health.” Researchers continue to learn more about the digestive system and its role in producing neurotransmitters, including dopamine. Some studies suggest that consuming probiotics helps improve or restore gut health.
  5. Get enough sleep. Studies have found that lack of sleep can disrupt the normal cycle of higher dopamine release in the morning and tapering dopamine release in the evening, which supports normal wakefulness and sleepiness.
  6. Meditate. Meditation is associated with better mental and physical health, possibly due to increased dopamine production. You can meditate while sitting, standing, or even walking.
  7. Get an appropriate amount of sunlight. Evidence suggests that sun exposure can increase the density of dopamine receptors in certain areas of the brain. However, following safety guidelines about sun exposure is essential since it’s associated with an increased risk of conditions like skin cancer.
  8. Listen to music you enjoy. Certain experiences cause the release of neurotransmitters. An emotional reaction to music is among the leaders. It has been found to increase activity in brain areas associated with the reward and pleasure systems. In particular, if a piece of music creates a response like giving you chills, it may increase your dopamine levels. Other activities like sex, smelling freshly baked cookies, and shopping—all of which should be enjoyed in moderation, of course—can cause what’s commonly called a “dopamine rush.”
  9. Talk with your doctor about supplements. Your body needs adequate amounts of several vitamins to create dopamine — iron, vitamin B6, niacin, and others. If blood work shows that you’re deficient in necessary vitamins, your doctor may advise you to take supplements to elevate your levels.

Knowing what triggers dopamine release and stimulates dopamine production empowers you to raise your dopamine levels and feel more energized and engaged.

Maintain Proper Dopamine Levels for Motivation, Memory, and More

Dopamine plays a critical role in mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Follow the tips above to help maintain proper dopamine levels.

If you have questions or concerns about any aspect of your health, your Baptist Health physician is here to help. Use our online directory to find a provider if you don’t have one.

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