Dopamine is the compound that fuels our drive and motivation. It increases attention, improves cognitive function, and stimulates our creativity. It makes us more social and extroverted and helps us form romantic and parental bonds. However, dopamine, when too high, can also have its drawbacks.
A Summary of What Dopamine Does
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells (R).
Many areas of the brain produce dopamine. It is produced in the ventral tegmental area (VTA in the image above) of the midbrain, the substantia nigra pars compacta, and the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (R).
The most important dopamine pathway in the brain controls reward-motivated behavior (R).
Most types of rewards, such as new experiences or accomplishment, can increase dopamine levels in the brain. In addition, most addictive drugs and behavioral addictions can increase dopamine (R).
In addition, dopamine has many other important roles in humans, including movement, memory, attention, learning, sleep, and mood (R).
However, the effects seem to be transient unless meditation is done regularly.
A study shows that long-term meditation practice is needed to induce stable changes in baseline dopamine (striatum) (R).
3 months of practicing yoga increased dopamine levels in men (in blood/circulating levels) (R).
The study revealed that yogic practices might help in the prevention of age-related degeneration….in healthy males.
Pleasurable physical contact can increase dopamine.
In rats, it was shown that stroking increases dopamine release (nucleus accumbens) (R).
Tickling, as a form of play behavior in adolescent rats, also increases dopamine release (nucleus accumbens) (R).
In early life, stimulation from touching improves spatial working memory in rats, possibly by improving dopamine function (R).
6) Massage therapy
Massage therapy increases dopamine, with a 31% increase of urinary dopamine in people (R).
Massage increased dopamine levels in pregnant women with depression (R) and in adolescents with bulimia (R).
Parts of the brain release dopamine when listening to pleasurable music (striatum, nucleus accumbens) (R, R, R, R).
Not just listening, but creating and performing music also produce dopamine (R).
Food to Increase Dopamine
8) Tyrosine- and phenylalanine-rich food
Our bodies produce dopamine from the amino-acid tyrosine. In turn, tyrosine can be produced from phenylalanine (R). Both tyrosine and phenylalanine are found in protein-rich foods (R): chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts, almonds, avocados, bananas, milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and soy.
Bananas especially contain high dopamine and L-dopa levels (R, R).
9) Unsaturated fat
Saturated fats can suppress dopamine. Equivalent intake of monounsaturated fats protects against dopamine decreasing (R).
Supplements That Increase Dopamine
Tyrosine supplementation increases dopamine levels in the brain (R, R, R).
A study shows that tyrosine supplementation effectively enhances cognitive performance, particularly in short-term stressful and/or cognitively demanding situations when dopamine is temporarily depleted (R, R).
11) Green Tea
Green tea increases dopamine in rats (in blood, stress model) (R, R).
Theanine, one of the major amino acid components in green tea, increases dopamine in animals (R, R, R).
Magnesium has antidepressant effects that can partially be tied to increasing dopamine activity in the brain (R).
15) St. John’s wort
A number of studies have shown that St. John’s Wort, an herbal anti-depressant, increases dopamine content in the brain (nucleus accumbens, striatum) (R, R, R, R, R).
Gingko biloba increases dopamine and dopamine neuron activity (PVN, VTA, Nucleus Accumbens) (R, R, R). This increase in dopamine may partially explain the improvement of cognitive function observed with Gingko supplementation.
Curcumin increases dopamine concentration in the brain (R, R, R), by inhibiting MAO-mediated dopamine break down (R).
Butyrate may increase dopamine levels in animals in response to toxic injuries (striatum) (R, R). You can get butyrate in the diet by consuming soluble fibers found in fruits and vegetables or ghee.
Folate is found in leafy greens/vegetables and is needed for the production/synthesis of dopamine (and serotonin). When your body is low in folate, it cannot produce dopamine and other neurotransmitters (monoamines) efficiently, which may result in depression (R, R).
20) Huperzine A
Huperzine A is a substance that is known to increase acetylcholine, but it also increases dopamine levels 129% above baseline in rats (cortex) (R).
This substance may help with treating drug addiction (R).
S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM-e) is an over-the-counter dietary supplement commonly used to treat depression. SAMe helps in the production of dopamine and other monoamines, causing elevations in dopamine levels (R).
Shilajit is a naturally occurring biomass found in Himalayas. In traditional Indian medical practice to be useful in the treatment of nervous disorders, epilepsy and as an antistress agent.
Shilajit increases the levels of neuronal dopamine in the brain, which has an anxiety suppressing action (R).
Uridine-5′-monophosphate increases dopamine levels in rat brain when the neurons are activated (striatum) (R). Uridine is found very concentrated in nutritional and brewer’s yeast, meat and fish.
24) Fish Oil
Seafood/Fish Oil/DHA can increase dopamine levels in the brain in rats (striatum). Dopamine levels were also 40% greater in the frontal cortex of rats fed fish oil. DHA treatment led to a 89% rise in tyrosine-hydroxylase terminals within the striatum in lesioned animals (R, R, R).
Ginseng components can increase levels of dopamine in the brain and have beneficial effects on attention, cognitive processing, sensorimotor function and auditory reaction time in healthy subjects (R).
However, ginseng can also blunt dopamine release in response to other stimulants such as nicotine and cocaine (R, R).
Red sage, also known as danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza), may increase dopamine in cells (striatum) (R).
Resveratrol can increase dopamine levels in the brain in animals (frontal cortex, striatum). Resveratrol treatment in old rats increased dopamine by 53% (striatum) (R, R).
Oregano extract increases dopamine levels by decreasing dopamine break down and reuptake in animals (R).
Carvacrol, present in the essential oil of many plants including oregano and thyme oils, acts as an antidepressant by activating the dopamine system in mice (R).
At low concentrations (what’s in oregano and supplements), carvacrol increases dopamine. However, in high concentrations, it may decrease dopamine levels (R).
30) Clary sage
Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) oil increases dopamine activity in rats, which contribute to its anti-depressant effects (R).
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) extract can increase dopamine in rats (in cortex, hippocampus) and have a nootropic effect (R, R).
32) Mucuna pruriens
Mucuna pruriens has a high concentration of L-Dopa (4–7%), which is a precursor of dopamine (R).
Mucuna pruriens, an ayurvedic plant, was shown to increase dopamine in mice (R, R).
The Brazilian medical plant catuaba (Trichilia catigua), increases dopamine release and may have dopamine-mediated antidepressant effects (R).
The herbal product containing this plant, catuama, has similar effects (R).
Higher doses of kava (Piper methysticum) increase levels of dopamine in rats (nucleus accumbens). Individual compounds isolated from kava can both increase or decrease dopamine concentration (R, R).
However, in a couple of cases, blocked dopamine function has also been observed (R).
36) Lactobacillus plantarum
The probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum can increase dopamine in the brain in mice (striatum), and could potentially improve anxiety-like behaviors and psychiatric disorders (R, R).
35) Fresh Cut Grass/Essential Oils
Hexanal is a “green” odor compound found in plants that may increase dopamine in rats (striatum) (R, R). Increasing dopamine is a potential mechanism in which green odors, such as fresh cut grass and plant essential oils, may improve mood and attention.
Gardenia jasminoides can increase dopamine by inhibiting MAO-A and B (R).
Hormones that Increase Dopamine:
Estrogen may increase dopamine. Women act more impulsively in the early as opposed to the late phase of menstrual cycle (R).
In rats, estrogen-induced improvements in recognition memory were shown to be due, in part, to increased dopamine (R).
However, dopamine’s relationship to cognitive performance is not linear—dopamine function follows an ‘inverted U-shaped’ curve, where optimal dopamine results in maximal function and both insufficient or excessive levels lead to dysfunction (R). That is why too much estrogen is not beneficial.
Sugar acutely increases dopamine, which, over time, leads to a reduced number of dopamine (D2) receptors and possibly a reduction in dopamine itself, leading to desensitization. These effects would not be due to the acute effects of sugar, but rather would occur over weeks to months with chronically elevated and intermittent sugar ingestion (R).
12) Iron Deficiency
Iron is a cofactor for tyrosine hydroxylase, a key enzyme in dopamine production (R). Iron-deficient rats have reduced brain dopamine levels (R).
Low brain iron stores may contribute to ADHD symptoms because low iron levels in the brain can alter the activity of dopamine (R).
Weaning rats fed an iron deficient diet showed decreased physical activity and increased anxiety-like behavior with a reduction of brain dopamine receptors (R).
However, some studies indicate iron deficiency has the exact opposite effect (R).
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