How To Increase Dopamine: The 'Motivation Molecule'

Health, Trending

Lost your spice for life? No doubt you’re dopamine deficient. The all important ‘D’ in DOSE, dopamine is one of the four happy hormones. Read on to find out the best ways to increase dopamine levels and biohack your body to become a lean, mean, unstoppable dopamine machine.

Dopamine dominant individuals are go getters; curious and creative, they’re always hustling for success. Indeed, dopamine is known as the ‘motivation molecule’. Heavily involved within our reward system, dopamine is the key neurotransmitter connected to our pleasure pathways. While most of the time this can be beneficial, there is always the risk of our reward system becoming a hedonistic hotspot for unhealthy habits to form. Therefore, it is important to remember that while a dose of dopamine can drive us to our desired self, it can also lead to our dreaded downfall. It’s all about finding the balanced behaviours to boost it.

We consulted the experts on the miracle molecule; from what dopamine is, how we can tell if we have enough and how to increase our supply…

What is dopamine responsible for?

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in our brain that’s responsible for motivation and reward. Feelings of pleasure, reinforcement, and even euphoria are generated from dopamine release when we practice actions that promote reproduction and survival, such as eating food, winning competitions and having sex.

Dopamine is responsible for:

  • Motor control and cognitive function
  • Motivation
  • Decision-making
  • Memory and attention
  • Maternal and reproductive behaviours
  • Sleep/wake cycles

Dopamine constantly wants to keep us on the run. It thrives on the thrill of the chase. An upper to your downer, a yang to your yin within the four happy hormones, it is essential that we don’t over stimulate our dopamine receptors and keep them balanced in order to avoid unnecessary burnout.

dopamine and depression

Dopamine deficiency symptoms

Kajsa Ernestaum, in-house dietitian from global health app Lifesum, states that “several studies, including a recent one by Oxford University found that dopamine deficiency can be related to certain medical conditions, including depression and Parkinson’s disease”. Deficiencies are often caused by drug use, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and excess stress.

Symptoms of dopamine deficiency include:

  • Low motivation
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Insomnia
  • Sugar cravings
  • Low sex drive
  • Muscle cramps and spasms
  • Constipation
  • Hallucinations

Too much dopamine?

It’s also possible to have too much dopamine, with poor impulse control leading “to anxiety and stress, as well as medical conditions such as ADHD, or schizophrenia, or a drug addiction”, states Kajsa.

Interestingly, Daniel Z. Lieberman professor at George Washington University, and co author of The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, Creativity’, talks about the dangerous side effects of dopaminergic drugs prescribed to Parkinson’s disease patients to increase their dopamine levels. “There are case reports of people who have been completely absent from sex their entire life. They’re treated with these drugs, and all of a sudden, they become compulsively sexual. There’s also examples, of people developing artistic and poetic talent as a result of taking these dopamine boosting drugs”.

Indeed, he goes on to explain how individuals suffering with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia due to a dopamine excess are usually very creative people. “Musicians, actors, writers have very high levels of dopamine – that’s why we see in this population a somewhat higher vulnerability to mental illness”.

phone detox

Dopamine fasting

Dopamine fasting is the latest trend coming in hot from Silicon Valley. Our attention economy has led to destructive dopamine-centric behaviours. We’re glued to our screens searching for instant gratification, often forgetting about the smaller and simpler things in life that can bring us greater fulfilment and healthier dopamine highs.

Dr. Cameron Sepah, Psychologist & Professor at UCSF Med School, is “popularising dopamine fasting as the antidote to our overstimulated age”. Whether it’s pleasure eating, gaming, gambling, thrill seeking or even shopping, by depriving our bodies of these pleasures in a response to sensory overload, we can reset harmful habits.

Fascinating, huh? Find out more in Dr. Cameron Sepah’s article on what is dopamine fasting and how can it make us happier?

increase dopamine

How to increase dopamine levels naturally?

Pump up the jam

Ever experienced shivers down your spine when hearing your favourite harmony? Or goosebumps when you’re grooving? Whether it’s Beethoven or bass, brain scans show that our pleasure pathways light up when listening to, creating, or playing music. Blast out some beats and give yourself an eargasm.

Invest in rest

Dopamine is responsible for the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and regulating our circadian rhythms. Getting high quality shut eye can help concentration and keep dopamine levels balanced throughout the day. In order to regulate our sleep/wake cycle we must improve our sleep hygiene. Why not explore the secrets of sleep with expert physiologist Stephanie Romiszewski.

Massage therapy

Self care is the new health care

Break up with your stress and say goodbye to those tight knots. The only kind of pressure you should be feeling is on the massage table. Research shows a session of massage therapy can increase dopamine levels by nearly 30%. Don’t worry, your masseuse has got your back!

Don’t hate, meditate

Meditation builds a healthier, more resilient brain through balancing brain chemicals and building stronger neural connections. Providing a high without the crash, regular meditation practice can increase dopamine levels by as much as 65%! Keep calm and zen on. Why not check out these best sound baths in London.

Stop fretting, start sweating

Not only can exercise stimulate the release of dopamine, it can also remodel the reward system over a duration of time, expanding our capacity for happiness. You’re just one workout away from a good mood. Read more about how mood impacts your workout.

Soak up the sunshine

Vitamin D plays an important role in protein synthesis during the production of dopamine. As summer approaches, take advantage of the lighter and sunnier evenings post work. Grab a girlfriend, get outside, gossip and get your heart rates up, while soaking up some much needed vitamin D.

But if you’re unable to venture outdoors due to dreary weather, it may be better to pop a pill. Nutritionist Jenna Hope states that “Supplementation in the UK is recommended during the winter months”.

Foods that increase dopamine

Concentrate on eating foods that are high in the amino acid tyrosine (and its cousin phenylalanine), which are broken down to produce dopamine.

increase dopamine with food
Photo: Natural Fitness Food

Dopamine Cuisine – increase dopamine levels with these nutrition heroes:

Eggs

Packed with choline, tyrosine and phenylalanine, they’re eggs-quisite for your health.

Dairy

Addicted to cheese? Science says it triggers the same receptors in our brains as hard drugs do. One doctor even calls it “dairy crack”. Indeed, cheese is rich in proteins which are able to act as mild opiates. Fragments of this protein, called casomorphins, attach to the same brain receptors as narcotics. Each chunk of cheese therefore produces a dose of dopamine. Un-brie-lievable!

Fish

Oily fish such as trout, sea bass, salmon, tuna and mackerel, are all high in Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D which play an important part in dopamine synthesis. Sushi is the new superfood.

Meat

Chicken and turkey are both lean, mean sources of dopamine boosting protein.

Fruit

Especially apples, berries and bananas, as they contain a flavonoid antioxidant called quercetin, proven to help the brain prevent dopamine loss.

Vegetables

Go green! Specifically dark leafy veg such as spinach, sprouts and kale. The high iron content contained within them helps to increase dopamine.

Walnuts

Nuts

Small but mighty, walnuts, almonds, pecans and seeds are all packed with tyrosine. Go on, have a nibble!

Dark chocolate

Known for it’s mood-boosting, antioxidant-rich qualities and magnesium content, high quality dark chocolate is the perfect way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Green tea

The amino acid L-theanine found within green tea has been shown to increase dopamine levels. Sip your way to success.

Why not explore these expert approved dopamine-rich comfort foods.

Dopamine and the Sugar High

Calling all chocaholics! Ever find yourself scoffing a whole packet of biscuits in one sitting? Or perhaps binging on a box of donuts? Unfortunately, our bodies don’t know the difference between healthy dopamine highs and the ones generated from junk food. We can generate a dopamine buzz from sugars, additives and artificial sweeteners, which can be almost as addictive as cocaine.

sugar high

But don’t panic. No one is compelling you to cut out your cookie cravings completely. Here at DOSE we prefer our grub without the side dish of guilt or shame. As long as 80% of the time we enjoy delicious dopamine enhancing foods that are good for us, the other 20% we can enjoy those mouth wateringly moreish meals.

Set your goals

For a dose of daily dopamine, write a to do list and set goals to go after every day. The secret source of productivity, every time you tick an item off your to do list, you’ll be rewarded with a dopamine buzz as high as the sky. The greater the accomplishment, the greater the surge of dopamine. As Daniel Z. Lieberman comments “dopamine makes it feel really good to pursue things – that’s why we are told the most important thing in life is to find our passion”.

Set your goals

Start by writing what you want to achieve down and breaking it up into smaller and manageable steps. Keeping yourself accountable throughout the process will only make it easier to reach the end destination. The satisfaction you’ll feel after completing your task will leave you wanting more, turning you into a unstoppable dopamine machine. Just remember to press pause every once in a while!

By guest contributor Helena Holdsworth

Liked this article on “How to increase dopamine: the motivation molecule”? Why not explore another happy hormone, like “oxytocin – the ‘love hormone’ what is it and how to boost it”

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