What is dopamine, its role in your body and how do you identify low dopamine symptoms? Learn how to increase dopamine naturally, and find out if too much of the neurotransmitter lead to addiction.
Ever felt driven and motivated to achieve a certain goal? Maybe tick off your to-do list, sweat out your reps and sets in the gym, or power through your chores? Of course, you have!
And you’ve likely also felt the inverse, which is a lingering feeling of fatigue, inattention, listlessness, and lack of motivation. All these feelings may tie back to one neurotransmitter in your brain: dopamine.
Dopamine is also known as the “motivation molecule,” and it’s responsible for most of your pleasure-seeking incentives. Fluctuations in the levels of this all-important chemical messenger chemical can influence your mood and feeling of well-being on a given day.
Maintaining optimal dopamine levels goes a long way in improving our quality of life. It facilitates a conducive environment for productivity, planning, learning, and a good mood when carrying out day-to-day activities. It may make life appear more enjoyable and fulfilling.
What is Dopamine?
Simply put, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps send signals across different parts of the brain and the rest of the body. It’s typically released when you expect a reward from a pleasurable activity.
Dopamine goes by several names based on its role in our bodies. Some call it the “pleasure-seeking” molecule. Others call it the “motivating hormone.” And you might even come across references to the “happiness hormone” or “the hormone of desire.” All these names are fitting for a hormone with profound effects on the body.
While dopamine is mostly associated with the brain’s pleasure and reward system, there’s more to the chemical messenger than it lets on. So what else does dopamine do? Here are some health effects of the neurotransmitter according to research:
- Providing the motivation drive
- Stimulates pleasure-seeking experiences such as games, food, and sex
- Dopamine increases focus and attention
- May play a significant role in the formation and maintenance of romantic attachments
- Helps with learning and long-term memories
- Dopamine is associated with more extroverted and social behavior
- It may help enhance creative thinking
- Impacts your sleep cycles by increasing wakefulness and alertness
- Influences our internal clock, or the perception of time
- Helps control movement
Low Dopamine Symptoms
Optimal amounts of dopamine are crucial for healthy brain function, which may mean more productive and enjoyable days. But when your levels fall below a certain point, you can experience undesirable low dopamine symptoms.
So, what are the signs of low dopamine levels?
- Low libido (sex drive)
- Insomnia or related sleep problems
- Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
- Fatigue or a persistent feeling of exhaustion
- Reduced alertness
- Difficulty focusing or paying attention
- Feeling moody
- Brain fog or cognitive impairment
- Impaired fine motor skills
- Frequent mood swings
- Poor coordination and movement difficulties
However, it’s essential to understand that these symptoms may signal other underlying health issues besides low dopamine levels. It’s advisable to consult your doctor for a diagnosis of conditions associated with low dopamine.
Cause of Low Dopamine
Several things could be behind your low dopamine symptoms. And although it’s hard to pinpoint causation, the following factors could be responsible:
- Diet: You are what you eat. Persistently eating foods high in saturated fats, such as buttered bread and fried chicken, may disrupt central nervous system functioning. This may eventually lead to a deficiency of dopamine in the body. Additionally, amino acids play a role in dopamine production, and a lack of enough proteins in your diet could lead to low dopamine symptoms.
- Obesity: Obesity or being overweight is linked to several adverse health conditions, including downregulating dopamine levels in the body.
- Sleep Deprivation: Dopamine is one of the reasons you feel energized and alert in the morning. But sleep deprivation can disrupt the production and transmission of dopamine—leading to low dopamine symptoms such as daytime sleepiness.
- Stress: The American Institute of Stress (AIS) reports that more than 7 in 10 Americans experience stress that impacts their mental health. One way in which constant exposure to stressors can negatively affect your mental health is by disrupting dopamine production.
- Drug Abuse: Drugs such as cocaine may initially trigger an increase in dopamine production. But it’s downhill from there. The body may reduce the number of dopamine receptors to respond to the sustained increase in dopamine production from drug use. As such, the body’s ability to produce and transmit dopamine is diminished, and getting the same highs may be challenging.
Research has also linked low dopamine levels to the following health conditions:
- Major Depressive Disorder: Prolonged depressive moods (anhedonia) are linked to dysregulations in processes involved in the brain’s reward system, including dopamine production.
- Parkinson’s Disease: Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by muscle stiffness, tremors, and problems with coordination. Low dopamine production is one of the main factors linked to the condition.
- Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a serious mental health disorder that may impact a person’s ability to express themselves. Some signs and symptoms of schizophrenia are linked to imbalances in dopamine levels.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): People with this neurodevelopmental disorder often have trouble paying attention, focusing, and controlling impulsive behavior. And if you think these signs of ADHD are similar to low dopamine symptoms, that is because they might be linked. Some ADHD drugs actually work by boosting dopamine.
- Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
How to Increase Dopamine Naturally
Struggling with low dopamine symptoms? We understand that it can be debilitating and a significant obstacle to your feeling of well-being. But you don’t have to feel this way. You deserve to be your best self. Now comes the next question: How to increase dopamine?
Here’s the thing: You don’t need a “magic pill” to achieve optimal dopamine levels. Your brain is typically well-tuned to release this vital neurotransmitter. But when your levels are dwindling, and the low dopamine symptoms are getting in the way of your quality of life, it might be worth exploring ways to increase dopamine.
Boosting your dopamine is actually pretty simple. Most pleasurable activities—healthy and unhealthy—may trigger the release of this neurotransmitter. But for now, we’ll focus on how to increase dopamine naturally for healthy highs through diet and lifestyle habits.
- How to Increase Dopamine with Music
Ever listened to your favorite song and just felt rejuvenated? Like you’ve been struck with a jolt of energy? Well, research shows that listening to music is not only enjoyable, but it affects our well-being, feeling of happiness, and cognitive function.
“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”
– Martin Luther
Tuning in to your favorite music is one of the most pleasant ways to increase dopamine naturally. According to studies, the practice stimulates the brain’s reward and pleasure areas—increasing dopamine levels. It arouses a euphoria and evokes strong emotions, similar to what you’d get from tangible rewards. Music therapy is even thought to benefit people with Parkinson’s disease.
- How to Raise Dopamine Levels by Sleeping Better
Sleep is vital to your overall well-being! This is a fact most of us are aware of—but it’s easier said than done with our hectic schedules and Netflix binge sessions. Perhaps learning that some quality Z’s play a role in our feeling of motivation and pleasure might give you more incentive to prioritize a goodnight’s sleep.
Dopamine is one of the chemicals believed to modulate your body’s circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles). According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, lack of sleep may dramatically reduce your dopamine levels the following day.
Wondering how to Increase dopamine naturally with sleep? Get 7-9 hours of shut-eye every night and work on improving your sleep hygiene. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and motivated to take on the day.
- How to Boost Dopamine with Exercise
A good workout is one of the best ways to increase dopamine naturally. If you have any of the low dopamine symptoms discussed earlier, hit the gym, or go out for a run. Regular exercise is not only good for your body but also profoundly impacts your brain.
Research suggests that there are several approaches on how to raise dopamine levels with exercise—ranging from aerobic workouts to yoga. Regardless of how you prefer to stay fit, keep in mind that consistency is key. So exercise regularly to increase dopamine naturally and maintain optimal levels.
- How to Increase Dopamine Naturally by Eating Protein-Rich Foods
A high intake of protein-rich foods is one of the most straightforward ways to increase dopamine. Here’s why: To produce dopamine, your body needs two amino acids—tyrosine and phenylalanine. So it only makes sense to increase your intake of these amino acids.
Now, where do you find tyrosine and phenylalanine? These essential amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods such as legumes, dairy, beef, eggs, and turkey.
Takeaway? Add proteins to your diet to help maintain optimal dopamine levels.
- How to Increase Dopamine by Eating Velvet Beans
As highlighted earlier, adding protein-rich legumes to your diet is a great way to increase dopamine naturally. But if you had to pick just one legume to feature on your dinner plate, you might want to consider velvet beans (Mucuna pruriens).
Studies show that velvet beans may help raise dopamine levels naturally. They contain a molecule known as L-dopa. As the name implies, L-dopa is a precursor to dopamine—and it may help address low dopamine symptoms.
- How to Raise Dopamine Levels by Eating Fruits and Vegetables
Eat your fruits and vegetable! They’re nutritious and might be just what you need to increase dopamine naturally. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients, here are some dietary sources of dopamine that you might want to consider if you have low dopamine symptoms:
- Get Some Sunlight to Increase Dopamine Naturally
Decreased exposure to sunlight has been associated with reduced levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. This may lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by depressive symptoms during winter.
On the flip side, research shows that getting enough sunlight may boost dopamine levels. But there’s also a dark side to sunlight exposure. Excessive exposure to direct sunlight—especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., may increase your risk of sunburn and cancer. Like most things in life, the key is moderation.
- How to Raise Dopamine Levels by Meditating
Meditation is often quoted for its profound impact on physical and mental health. And research suggests that this seemingly simple mindfulness practice may increase dopamine naturally.
One study published in the journal Cognitive Brain Research found that seasoned meditators were able to raise dopamine levels by as much as 65% by meditating for an hour.
- How to Increase Dopamine with Supplementation
In addition to dietary and lifestyle habits, several supplements may increase dopamine naturally. And contrary to some assumptions and claims, these supplements don’t contain actual dopamine. Instead, they’re packed with ingredients that support increased dopamine production in the brain.
Your body needs adequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals to produce dopamine. These include vitamin B6, folate, niacin, magnesium, vitamin D, and iron. If you’re deficient in these nutrients, you may experience low dopamine symptoms.
So taking supplements rich in the ‘building blocks’ of dopamine may increase dopamine in the brain. Some supplements worth considering include probiotics, Mucuna pruriens, Ginkgo biloba, curcumin in turmeric, green tea, ginseng, and fish oil.
High Dopamine Symptoms
The opposite of low dopamine symptoms is also true. Having more of a neurotransmitter that is linked to pleasure-seeking and motivation sounds like a good thing, and it is. But excess dopamine activity—especially from unhealthy habits such as drug use—can be debilitating.
Here are some high dopamine symptoms to keep an eye on:
- High sex drive
- Being more aggressive.
- Hedonism (pleasure-seeking behavior)
- Paranoia (suspicious thinking)
- Digestive tract problems
- Mania, excess energy
- Increased feelings of stress and anxiety
- Poor impulse control
- Sleeping problems
If you notice a couple of these high dopamine symptoms, please talk to a healthcare provider.
Dopamine and Addiction
Addiction is incredibly complex and linked to several environmental and biological risk factors. One such risk factor could be high dopamine levels due to the neurotransmitter’s role in the brain’s reward system and pleasure-seeking behavior.
It’s possible to get too focused or hooked on a specific activity that feels pleasurable—whether that’s drugs, shopping, sex, eating, or gambling. This unhealthy craving for a “fix” can give you the motivation to “chase” the behavior associated with the dopamine release—and may eventually contribute to addiction.
Getting hooked or dependent on the dopamine rush can adversely affect your life or the lives of others. Examples of risky behaviors that may be linked to unhealthy dopamine release include alcohol and substance use disorders, sex addiction, food-related disorders, and gambling.
If you have an overpowering urge to seek these unhealthy but pleasurable activities, help is always available. The first step is reaching out to a healthcare provider.
Addiction treatment usually involves a combination of different therapies depending on your unique circumstances and underlying conditions.
In the right amounts, dopamine can make your days more productive and enjoyable. The neurotransmitter can give you motivation, excitement, and feelings of pleasure when carrying out day-to-day activities. But dopamine imbalances can be debilitating—bringing about undesirable low or high dopamine symptoms.
So always aim to maintain optimal levels of the all-important chemical messenger by learning how to increase dopamine naturally.