9 Natural Ways to Balance Dopamine in the Brain

Dopamine

Dopamine has been making headlines these days. Check out some of the latest articles on this feel-good neurochemical:

“Can dopamine décor make your home a happier place to be?” (Cosmopolitan)

“‘Dopamine dressing’ is our new post-pandemic salve” (Mic)

“Break the cycle of addiction with these strategies to keep dopamine in check” (NPR)

Why is dopamine top of mind? A growing number of people are aware of dopamine’s influence on pleasure, but this unique neurotransmitter is involved in so much more. For example, it helps with focus and staying on task. Dopamine also supports the brain’s ability to recall life’s significant moments, whether good or bad. Dopamine can be likened to a “chemical of more.” You always want more of it since it is the principal neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. Let’s take a deeper dive into this fascinating neurochemical.

Why is dopamine top of mind? A growing number of people are aware of dopamine’s influence on pleasure, but this unique neurotransmitter is involved in so much more. Click To Tweet

WHAT IS DOPAMINE?

Synthesized in the ventral tegmental area in the brainstem and substantia nigra, dopamine is the neurotransmitter of wanting, especially wanting more. It is involved with anticipation, possibility, love, and seeking success to maximize future resources. Dopamine is released when you expect a reward (food, sex, money, shopping) or when you get an unexpected happy surprise. It is involved with motivation (going toward a reward), memory, mood, and attention.

Think of dopamine as a salesman that drives you to pursue a better life. But like many salesmen, it can also lie to you and promise you pleasure when, in fact, pain will result (such as engaging in drug abuse or affairs).

Dopamine also helps to regulate motor movements, which is why you jump when you get excited, such as when your team wins the World Series, or when your child hits a home run in Little League.

There are 2 main brain dopamine systems that relate to happiness:

  1. The dopamine reward center in the front half of the nucleus accumbens of the basal ganglia (involved with seeking pleasure and addiction). Think of the dopamine reward system involved with wanting and desire.
  2. The dopamine control center that enhances the activity of the prefrontal cortex/orbitofrontal cortex and helps you think before you act and stop unhelpful behaviors. The dopamine control center is involved with forward-thinking, judgment, planning, impulse control, and long-term happiness.

Think of these 2 systems as the gas (dopamine reward center) and the brakes (dopamine control center); both are essential to get anywhere special.

CAN DOPAMINE IMBALANCES CAUSE PROBLEMS?

For happiness and a healthy sense of drive, dopamine needs to be balanced. Too much or too little of it causes problems. For example, too much dopamine has been associated with agitation, obsession or compulsions, psychosis, and violence. Of the more than 100 murderers who have had brain SPECT imaging done at Amen Clinics, nearly half of them committed their crimes when they were on methamphetamines, which raises the brain’s dopamine levels.

Too little dopamine can cause depression, low motivation, apathy, fatigue, boredom, Parkinson’s disease, impulsivity, sugar cravings, and thrill-seeking and conflict-seeking behavior. Low dopamine is also thought to be the primary issue in ADD/ADHD (often associated with short attention span, distractibility, disorganization, procrastination, and impulse control issues). Many people with ADD/ADHD play the game of “Let’s have a problem” in an unconscious attempt to stimulate dopamine.

9 WAYS TO BALANCE DOPAMINE NATURALLY

Keeping dopamine balanced is critical to happiness. Here are 10 natural ways to do it.

1. Consume foods high in tyrosine.

An amino acid building block for dopamine, tyrosine can be found in almonds, bananas, avocados, eggs, beans, fish, chicken, and dark chocolate.

2. Try a diet that’s higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates.

In animal studies, ketogenic diets have been shown to increase dopamine availability in the brain. Eating highly processed and sugary foods leads to cravings and overeating, which leave a strong imprint on the pleasure centers in the prefrontal cortex and lead to weight gain. Being overweight can impair dopamine pathways.

3. Make physical exercise a habit.

Physical exercise increases levels of dopamine, while slowing down brain cell aging. Exercise has also been associated with improved mood and a better overall outlook on life.

4. Say “om.”

Hundreds of research studies have demonstrated the overall health benefits of prayer and meditation (or focusing your mind). One study found that dopamine production jumped 65% following a single hour of meditation.

5. Get a rubdown.

Exciting research has demonstrated that massage therapy increases dopamine levels by about 30% while decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.

6. Get adequate sleep.

To ensure that your brain increases dopamine naturally, make sure you get enough sleep. Lack of sleep has been shown to reduce concentrations of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, and their receptors.

7. Listen to calming music.

It is no surprise that listening to calming music can increase pleasurable feelings, improve mood, reduce stress, and help with focus and concentration. Research has demonstrated that much of this occurs because of an increase in dopamine levels.

8. Go outside.

Sunlight exposure increases dopamine in the brain, according to research.

9. Take nutritional supplements.

The herbals ashwagandha, rhodiola, and panax ginseng have been found to increase dopamine levels, promoting improved focus and increased energy while enhancing endurance and stamina. Other supplements that increase dopamine include curcumins, l-theanine, and L-tyrosine, which promote alertness, attention, and focus.

Depression, violence, obsessions and compulsions, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

11 Comments »

  1. What is your best supplement recommendation to help increase dopamine levels?

    Comment by Debbbie — June 1, 2022 @ 4:22 AM

  2. Thank you for the reminders. Thanks, also, for the ‘permission’ : ) to get a massage.

    Comment by Ruth Vincent — June 1, 2022 @ 5:42 AM

  3. Getting adequate sleep is so often recommended but the problem is that so many of us suffer from insomnia. Today’s health system and physician training does so little to promote assisting patients with chronic insomnia other than medication. CBT-I is rarely offered to patients as an alternative to medication. We desperately need to have more physician training and offering CBT-I as resource for insomnia. Just telling people to get more sleep does not offer any relief.

    Comment by Kathy — June 1, 2022 @ 7:20 AM

  4. Your information is literally life saving. Thank you for sharing and updates.

    Comment by Sharon Falls — June 1, 2022 @ 7:55 AM

  5. What is the best supplement to improve dopamine? Also memory, focus and energy?

    Comment by Jackie J — June 1, 2022 @ 8:15 AM

  6. Very helpful at a time Ian trying to approach my conditition more positively.Recovrting from auto accident, flatlined,,kidney infection and k stone and rehab took my drivers license before COVID. More dopne would be welcome!

    Comment by BettyeJewell — June 1, 2022 @ 8:39 AM

  7. Hello Jackie, thank you for reaching out. Here are some additional articles from BrainMD Health regarding dopamine and supplements:
    https://brainmd.com/blog/7-best-ways-to-naturally-increase-dopamine-in-your-brain/
    https://brainmd.com/blog/7-ways-to-boost-dopamine-focus-and-energy/

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 1, 2022 @ 7:14 PM

  8. Hello Debbie, thank you for reaching out. Here are some additional articles from BrainMD Health regarding dopamine and supplements:
    https://brainmd.com/blog/7-best-ways-to-naturally-increase-dopamine-in-your-brain/
    https://brainmd.com/blog/7-ways-to-boost-dopamine-focus-and-energy/

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 1, 2022 @ 7:16 PM

  9. Hello Dr. Amen! and lovely helpful Amen Team!

    What is the Clinical dose for Rhodiola to work on increasing Dopamine? And is there any brand you could recommend? (Living Nutrition vs PureEncapsulations)

    Thank you!

    Comment by Mihaela — June 4, 2022 @ 8:48 AM

  10. I have highest-activity COMT haplotype. Increasing my risk of depression, high rates, of ADHD, heart disease, etc… it greatly reduces my dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin. Found out thru DNA testing. I am hoping the Amen Clinic could some day address this issue. Thank you

    Comment by Loriann — June 5, 2022 @ 5:16 PM

  11. My son has delusional disorder. Any special recommendations?

    Comment by Jennifer — June 6, 2022 @ 3:47 PM

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