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54 Factors that May Increase Dopamine

Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:

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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 detrimental effects.

What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells [1].

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 [2].

Functions

The most important dopamine pathway in the brain controls reward-motivated behavior [1].

Most types of rewards, such as new experiences or accomplishments can increase dopamine levels in the brain, according to some scientists. In addition, most addictive drugs and behavioral addictions increase dopamine in certain parts of the brain [3].

Dopamine has many other important roles in humans, including movement, memory, attention, learning, sleep, and mood [2].

Scientists believe that dysfunctions of the dopamine system contribute to Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, restless legs syndrome, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) [1].

Read more about the benefits and drawbacks of dopamine here.

Ways to Increase Dopamine

If you think you have “low dopamine,” speak with your doctor. He or she should treat any underlying conditions causing your dopamine imbalance. You may try the additional strategies listed below if you and your doctor determine that they could be appropriate for supporting a healthy mood, motivation, and sleep.

Importantly, don’t make any changes to your lifestyle, diet, or supplement regime before consulting a doctor.

None of these strategies should ever be done in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

The Dopamine Friendly Diet

People have suggested the following foods for increasing dopamine:

Clinical trials are lacking to back up these dietary approaches, which remain anecdotal.

Limited animal studies hint at the potential of some of the compounds listed above to support healthy dopamine signaling in the brain.

Our bodies produce dopamine from the amino acid tyrosine. In turn, tyrosine can be produced from phenylalanine [4].

Bananas especially contain high dopamine and L-dopa levels [5, 6].

Saturated fats can suppress dopamine. An equivalent intake of monounsaturated fats (from olive oil) protects against dopamine decreasing. However, you still want to consume cholesterol-rich foods in moderation (unless directed otherwise by a doctor) because cholesterol is a precursor to pregnenolone, which increases dopamine in animals [7, 8, 9].

Green tea increases dopamine in rats [10, 11], including its constituents Theanine and Caffeine.

Caffeine’s performance-enhancing effects are accomplished via dopamine. Caffeine maintains a higher dopamine concentration especially in those brain areas linked with attention [12].

Magnesium is thought to have antidepressant effects that can partially be tied to increasing dopamine activity in the brain [13].

Curcumin, found in the spice turmeric, increases dopamine concentration in the brain [14, 15, 16], by inhibiting MAO-mediated dopamine break down [17].

Resistant starch is a type of soluble fiber that increases butyrate. Butyrate may increase dopamine levels [18, 19].

Folate is needed for the production of dopamine (and serotonin). When your body is low in folate, it cannot produce dopamine and other monoamines efficiently, which may result in depression [20, 21].

Nutritional or brewer’s yeast is rich in uridine. Uridine-5′-monophosphate increases dopamine levels in the rat brain [22].

Seafood, which contains DHA, can increase dopamine levels in the brain [23, 24, 25].

Oregano increases dopamine levels by decreasing dopamine break down and reuptake [26].

Both tyrosine and phenylalanine are found in protein-rich foods [27]:

  • Chicken and Turkey
  • Fish
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Pumpkin and Sesame seeds
  • Dairy: Milk, Cheese, Yogurt, Cottage cheese
  • Legumes: Soy, Lima beans, Peanuts

Lifestyle

1) Sun/Being Outside/Bright Light increases dopamine

Bright light can improve our mood. Scientists hypothesize that this may partially be due to dopamine. A study shows that light may increase dopamine, and thereby improve mood in women with mild seasonal mood disorder [28].

Light also stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this is beneficial for maintaining good vision [29].

2) Exercise

Exercise increases dopamine [30, 31].

A study in women showed that exercise decreases COMT activity, thereby increasing dopamine in women (in the prefrontal cortex) [32]. COMT is the enzyme that breaks down dopamine.

3) Meditation

Meditation increases dopamine release [33, 34].

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) [35].

4) Yoga

3 months of practicing yoga increased dopamine levels in men (in blood/circulating levels). The study revealed that yogic practices might help in the prevention of age-related degeneration in healthy males. [36].

5) Touch

Pleasurable physical contact can increase dopamine. In rats, it was shown that stroking increases dopamine release (nucleus accumbens) [37].

Tickling, as a form of play behavior in adolescent rats, also increases dopamine release (nucleus accumbens) [38].

In early life, stimulation from touching improves spatial working memory in rats, possibly by improving dopamine function [39].

6) Massage Therapy Increases Dopamine

Massage therapy increases dopamine, with a 31% increase in urinary dopamine in people [40].

Massage increased dopamine levels in pregnant women with depression [41] and in adolescents with bulimia [42].

7) Music

Parts of the brain release dopamine when listening to pleasurable music (striatum, nucleus accumbens) [43, 44, 45, 46].

Not just listening, but creating and performing music also produce dopamine [47].

Foods

8) Tyrosine- and Phenylalanine-rich Food

Our bodies produce dopamine from the amino acid tyrosine. In turn, tyrosine can be produced from phenylalanine [4].

Both tyrosine and phenylalanine are found in protein-rich foods: chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts, almonds, avocados, bananas, milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and soy [27].

Bananas especially contain high dopamine and L-dopa levels [5, 6].

9) Unsaturated fat

Saturated fats can suppress dopamine. An equivalent intake of monounsaturated fats protects against dopamine decreasing in animal studies [9].

Supplements

Supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. In general, dietary supplements lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

10) Tyrosine

dopamine_production increase dopamine
http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v7/n4/fig_tab/nrn1883_F1.html

Tyrosine supplementation increases dopamine levels in animals [48, 49, 50].

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 [51, 48].

11) Green Tea

Green tea increases dopamine in rats (in blood, stress model) [10, 11].

Theanine, one of the major amino acid components in green tea, increases dopamine in animals [52, 53, 54].

12) Caffeine

Caffeine increases dopamine release (striatum, nucleus accumbens) [55, 56].

Caffeine’s performance-enhancing effects are accomplished via dopamine. Caffeine maintains a higher dopamine concentration especially in those brain areas linked with attention [12].

13) Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone sulfate increases dopamine in animals (striatum, nucleus accumbens) [7, 8].

14) Magnesium

Scientists are exploring whether magnesium has antidepressant effects that can partially be tied to increasing dopamine activity in the brain [13].

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) [57, 58, 59, 60, 61].

16) Gingko

Gingko biloba increases dopamine and dopamine neuron activity (PVN, VTA, Nucleus Accumbens). The authors speculate that this increase in dopamine may partially explain the improvement of cognitive function observed with Gingko supplementation. [62, 63, 64].

17) Curcumin

Curcumin increases dopamine concentration in the brain [14, 15, 16], by inhibiting MAO-mediated dopamine breakdown [17].

18) Butyrate

Butyrate may increase dopamine levels in animals in response to toxic injuries (striatum) [18, 19]. You can get butyrate in the diet by consuming soluble fibers found in fruits and vegetables or ghee.

19) Folate

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 [20, 21].

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) [65].

This substance is being researched for its effects on drug addiction [66].

21) SAM-e

S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM-e) is an over-the-counter dietary supplement commonly used to balance mood. SAMe helps in the production of dopamine and other monoamines, potentially causing elevations in dopamine levels [67].

22) Shilajit

Shilajit is a naturally occurring biomass found in the Himalayas. Traditional Indian medical practice considers it useful for nervous problems and problems from stress.

Scientists are investigating whether Shilajit increases the levels of neuronal dopamine in the brain, which would theoretically have anxiety-suppressing action [68].

23) Uridine

Uridine-5′-monophosphate increases dopamine levels in the rat brain when the neurons are activated (striatum) [22]. Uridine is found 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 an 89% rise in tyrosine-hydroxylase terminals within the striatum in lesioned animals [23, 24, 25].

25) Ginseng

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 [69].

However, studies suggest that ginseng can also blunt dopamine release in response to other stimulants such as nicotine and cocaine [70, 71].

26) Danshen

Red sage, also known as danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza), may increase dopamine in cells (striatum) [72].

27) Resveratrol

Resveratrol can increase dopamine levels in the brain in animals (frontal cortex, striatum). Resveratrol treatment in old rats increased dopamine by 53% (striatum) [73, 74].

28) Oregano

Oregano extract increases dopamine levels by decreasing dopamine breakdown and reuptake in animals [26].

29) Carvacrol

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 [75].

At low concentrations (what’s in oregano and supplements), carvacrol increases dopamine. However, in high concentrations, it may decrease dopamine levels. Much more research is needed [76].

30) Clary sage

Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) oil increases dopamine activity in rats, which contribute to its anti-depressant effects [77].

31) Bacopa

Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) extract increased dopamine in rats (in the cortex and hippocampus) and have a nootropic effect [78, 79].

32) Mucuna pruriens

Mucuna pruriens has a high concentration of L-Dopa (4 – 7%), which is a precursor of dopamine [80].

Mucuna pruriens, an ayurvedic plant, was shown to increase dopamine in mice [81, 82].

33) Catuaba

The Brazilian medical plant catuaba (Trichilia catigua), increases dopamine release and may have dopamine-mediated antidepressant effects [83].

The herbal product containing this plant, catuama, has similar effects [84].

34) Rosemary

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) increases brain dopamine levels [85].

35) Kava

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 [86, 87].

However, in a couple of cases, blocked dopamine function has also been observed [88].

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 [89, 90].

35) Fresh Cut Grass/Essential Oils

Hexanal is a “green” odor compound found in plants that may increase dopamine in rats (striatum) [91, 92]. Increasing dopamine is a potential mechanism in which green odors, such as fresh cut grass and plant essential oils, may improve mood and attention.

36-41) Flowering Quince, Psoralea corylifolia, Mycoleptodonoides aitchisonii, Blue trumpet vine, Prickly nightshade, Gardenia jasminoides

Flowering quince, the fruit of Chaenomeles speciosa used in Chinese traditional medicine, increases dopamine levels by inhibiting the dopamine transporter (DAT) [93].

Psoralea corylifolia fruit/seed extract and its components increase dopamine [94, 95]. This plant is used both in Ayurveda and Chinese traditional medicine.

The edible mushroom Mycoleptodonoides aitchisonii increases dopamine [96].

Blue trumpet vine (Thunbergia laurifolia) is a Thai herbal medicine used to treat drug addiction. It works by increasing dopamine [97, 98].

Prickly nightshade (Solanum torvum) increases dopamine and shows antidepressant activity [99].

Gardenia jasminoides can increase dopamine by inhibiting MAO-A and B [100].

Other Factors that Increase Dopamine

This section summarizes the research behind hormonal and drug-related factors that may increase dopamine levels.

Do not take any of the below-mentioned substances without talking to your doctor.

Some of the substances listed here can have detrimental health effects by acting on dopamine pathways, potentially increasing the risk of addiction or dependence.

Many addictive substances increase dopamine and should be strictly avoided. Others have addictive potential and should only be used with a doctor’s prescription for approved indications. Be sure to discuss your medications and lab results with your doctor.

Hormones

42) Estrogen

Estrogen may increase dopamine. Women act more impulsively in the early as opposed to the late phase of the menstrual cycle [101].

In rats, estrogen-induced improvements in recognition memory were shown to be due, in part, to increased dopamine [102].

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 [103]. That is why too much estrogen is not beneficial.

43) Ghrelin

Ghrelin stimulates dopamine release in rats (amygdala, nucleus accumbens, VTA, prefrontal cortex) [104, 105].

Dopamine Drugs/Agonists

44) Nicotine

Nicotine “hi-jacks” the reward circuitry in the brain by increasing dopamine release (striatum, VTA, amygdala, nucleus accumbens, prefrontal cortex). We highly advise against taking nicotine in any form, as it is an addictive substance. In fact, nicotine [106, 107, 104].

45) L-dopa

dopamine_production2 increase dopamine
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2967375/

L-dopa is made from tyrosine and then converted into dopamine. Basically, it is the precursor of dopamine [108].

46) Bromantane

Bromantane increases the amount of dopamine in the brain by increasing its synthesis from tyrosine (increases Tyrosine Hydroxylase, AAAD) [109, 110].

Enhancement of dopamine is observed in the hypothalamus, striatum, ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, and other regions [111, 112, 113].

By increasing dopamine, Bromantane increases alertness and wakefulness [114] and improves short-term memory, motivation, planning abilities, and attention [110].

47) Tianeptine

Tianeptine increases the release of dopamine in rats (nucleus accumbens > striatum) [115].

48) Phenibut

Phenibut is a nootropic drug that stimulates dopamine receptors [116].

49) Alcohol

Dopamine release may contribute to the rewarding effects of alcohol and may thereby play a role in promoting alcohol addiction (nucleus accumbens) [117].

50) Methylphenidate/Amphetamines

Amphetamine exerts rewarding and reinforcing effects by elevating dopamine and prolonging dopamine receptor signaling [118].

Methylphenidate works in the treatment of ADHD by increasing levels of dopamine in children’s brains.

Previous research has shown that some people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have too many dopamine transporters, which results in low levels of dopamine in the brain.

The drug seems to raise levels of dopamine by blocking the activity of dopamine transporters, which remove dopamine once it has been released [119].

51) Modafinil

Modafinil seems to inhibit the reuptake of dopamine by dopamine transporter, thereby increasing the concentration in humans [120, 121].

52) Deprenyl

Deprenyl (Selegiline) increases dopamine by blocking MAO-B, an enzyme that breaks down dopamine [122].

53) MDMA

MDMA/Ecstasy increases dopamine [123].

54) Cocaine

Cocaine inhibits the dopamine transporter responsible for dopamine recycling, thereby increasing the levels [124].

Factors that Decrease Dopamine

If you think you have a “dopamine imbalance,” speak with your doctor. He or she should treat any underlying conditions causing your symptoms. You may try the additional strategies listed below if you and your doctor determine that they could be appropriate for supporting your mental health.

Importantly, don’t make any changes to your lifestyle, diet, or supplement regime before consulting a doctor.

None of these strategies should ever be done in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

Drugs

1) Anti-psychotics

In cases of schizophrenia, you can use anti-psychotic drugs to lower dopamine signaling by blocking the receptors [125].

Supplements

Supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. In general, dietary supplements lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

2) Melatonin

Melatonin suppresses dopamine activity [126].

3) Lithium

Lithium impairs dopamine release [127, 128].

4) Manganese

Long-term manganese decreases dopamine release in the brain [129, 130].

A study showed that manganese exposure, even within the safety limit, decreased dopamine production in primates [131].

5) Salvinorin A

Derived from the plant Salvia divinorum, Salvinorin A decreases dopamine [132].

6) 5-HTP

Serotonin shares the same conversion and breakdown enzymes with dopamine.

Long-term supplementation with 5-HTP, the immediate precursor of serotonin, can cause dopamine depletion, which may worsen certain neurological and psychiatric diseases [133].

Conditions Linked with Low Dopamine

1) Inflammation

Inflammation decreases dopamine [134]. That’s why we feel less motivated and more sluggish when we are sick [134].

2) Maternal Deprivation

Maternal deprivation of rat pups leads lower dopamine levels. However, these pups reared in isolation have higher levels in response to stress [135].

3) Diet High in Saturated Fats

Saturated fats can suppress dopamine [9, 136].

4) Chronic Sugar Intake

Sugar acutely increases dopamine, which, over time, leads to a reduced number of 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 [137].

5) Iron Deficiency

Iron is a cofactor for tyrosine hydroxylase, a key enzyme in dopamine production [138]. Iron-deficient rats have reduced brain dopamine levels [138].

Low brain iron stores may contribute to ADHD symptoms because low iron levels in the brain can alter the activity of dopamine [139].

Weaning rats fed an iron-deficient diet showed decreased physical activity and increased anxiety-like behavior with a reduction of brain dopamine receptors [140].

However, some studies indicate iron deficiency has the exact opposite effect [141].

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967083/figure/Fig3/ increase dopamine
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967083/figure/Fig3/

About the Author

Biljana Novkovic

Biljana Novkovic

PhD
Biljana received her PhD from Hokkaido University.
Before joining SelfHacked, she was a research scientist with extensive field and laboratory experience. She spent 4 years reviewing the scientific literature on supplements, lab tests and other areas of health sciences. She is passionate about releasing the most accurate science and health information available on topics, and she's meticulous when writing and reviewing articles to make sure the science is sound. She believes that SelfHacked has the best science that is also layperson-friendly on the web.

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