Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and hormone that plays many roles in our brain, and body. It is produced in our brain in the area known as the midbrain, we have five different dopamine receptors that help carry out neurological, and physiological processes (8). Commonly, Dopamine is known as the “happy hormone”, it carries signals to our nerve cells throughout your brain and body that supports the feeling of pleasure and motivation. Dopamine is produced when you are participating in activities that you find enjoyable, that includes eating your favorite foods, exercise, listening to your favorite music, and other activities you find pleasure from(1). In short, it is important to keep this hormone up so our quality of life doesn't suffer. The production of dopamine will help enhance many areas of our daily life, such as:
- Motor functions
- Mood and emotions
- Decision making
- Learning ability
- Memory and focus
- Stress responses
- Amplify weight loss
While it is evident that keeping our dopamine levels high is vital to maintaining our physical and mental health, there are instances where we can have low dopamine levels. Let's dive into what can cause low dopamine levels, and natural ways we can raise them.
What Can Cause Low Dopamine Levels
As previously mentioned, dopamine is produced in the midbrain and excreted when we are experiencing enjoyable, pleasurable activities. Certain diseases and health conditions can cause damage to the midbrain, resulting in low dopamine production and altered mental health status. This includes (3):
- other genetic diseases
If you are suffering from one of these health conditions, you could be experiencing a variety of symptoms that occur with low levels of dopamine such as low moods, low motivation, brain fog, and reduced alertness and coordination. To avoid these symptoms, it is vital to keep dopamine levels up. This can be done naturally through food, and positive lifestyle factors. There are certain amino acids, and other compounds found in food that help naturally raise dopamine levels. We are going to discuss how these compounds work, and the ways food can contribute to boosting dopamine levels.
8 Foods that will Naturally Raise your Dopamine Levels
Eating protein-rich foods is a great way to increase dopamine levels. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are 23 different types of amino acids, and some can be naturally made in our body, while others we need to get from food. There is one amino acid that specifically aids in the production of dopamine, and that is tyrosine. We have specific enzymes in our body that work to turn tyrosine into dopamine, so it is essential to have enough tyrosine to maintain proper amounts of dopamine production. Another important amino acid is phenylalanine. Phenylalanine can be turned into tyrosine, which eventually is turned to dopamine, therefore also increasing dopamine production. Studies show that a diet rich in these amino acids can naturally increase the levels of dopamine and improve memory, motor function, and mood (2). Examples of healthy proteins you can incorporate into your diet include:
- Lean Chicken
- Lean Pork
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega- 3 fatty acids have shown great benefits towards brain health, specifically psychiatric disorders. As mentioned earlier, depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's disease all cause damage to the midbrain and reduce dopamine production. Studies have shown that omega-3s can restore and enhance the release of dopamine in the brain (4). Increasing your intake of omega-3s is needed for normal dopamine transmissions to the brain, they can improve dopamine production especially in the psychiatric disorders mentioned above. Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fish: Fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna are high in omega-3s
- Nuts and seeds: such as flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts
- Plant oils: soybean and canola oil can be high in omega-3s
Green tea is widely known for its high amount of nutrients and antioxidants. Another benefit of green tea is its positive effects on dopamine production. Green tea is full of polyphenols, these are powerful antioxidants that have been related to maintaining a happy mood state, and decreasing your risk of developing Parkinson's disease. (3) Studies have shown that the polyphenols in green tea can also enhance the bioavailability of dopamine in needed areas, this improves the circulation of dopamine in the body which gives it a more active effect. Green tea will improve muscle movement, maintain a positive brain state, and decrease the risk of brain disorders. Furthermore, making green tea a part of your daily routine can serve great benefits to your mood.
Dark Chocolate is not only a delicious treat, but it can also improve our mood in two different ways. According to studies, dark chocolate contains phenylethylamine, this chemical stimulates our brain cells to release dopamine. Along with the increased dopamine release, dark chocolate produces another “happy hormone” serotonin (7). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the brain that helps control mood, attention span, sleep, and pain. In short, consuming dark chocolate can provide great benefits when eaten in moderation.
Oftentimes, people claim they feel better after their cup of coffee in the morning. Well, there is some science as to why that is. Caffeine can increase the amount of dopamine in our brain, by delaying the reabsorption in our bodies. Our brain experiences high levels of dopamine in bursts while consuming caffeine, that's why we tend to have increased alertness, mood, focus, and energy (6). You can get caffeine from coffee, black tea, green tea, and even dark chocolate.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are great sources of the amino acid tyrosine. As mentioned before, tyrosine is an important factor in dopamine production. You'll find this benefit in almonds, walnuts, chia seed, pumpkin seed, and flax seeds (7) You can add nuts and seeds to salads, yogurt, oatmeal, or a small handful as a quick snack.
Consuming dairy products are another way to incorporate tyrosine into your diet and improve dopamine levels. Foods like cottage cheese, eggs, and milk all contain this amino acid (8). Milk also contains phenylalanine, which as mentioned earlier, is an amino acid that is converted to tyrosine. Eating eggs for breakfast with a cup of milk, or a cup of cottage cheese as a snack are ways you can raise your dopamine levels.
Avocados are not only a great source of healthy fat, but they are also beneficial for brain function. The fats in avocado support the production of an important neurotransmitter in our body called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine plays a role in mental processing and helps memory and cognition (9). Avocados also contain that important amino acid tyrosine, both of these neurotransmitters work hand in hand in improving mental health, and dopamine production. Good ways to add avocados to your diet is by using it as a spread, adding to a smoothie, or salad.
Implementing positive lifestyle changes is important to replenish your dopamine levels. Ways you can do this is getting enough sleep, listening to your favorite music, meditation, and taking part in activities you find enjoyable. Paring these factors with dopamine raising foods is a great way to naturally boost dopamine levels. Conclusion
Dopamine plays a major role in mental health and overall quality of life. Keeping your dopamine levels up will improve your mood, motivations, learning ability, memory, and motor functions. Incorporating these foods into your diet, and taking part in enjoyable experiences can do just that.