Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with "reward" and "pleasure" because it makes you feel good and signals to you when your needs are met. As a "feel good" hormone, dopamine can help push and motivate you to take action and move towards what you want.
As part of the brain's reward system, we seek pleasurable activities and behaviors that trigger the release of dopamine which may include physical activity, sex, socializing, and delicious food but also accomplishments and new experiences.
When an activity releases very high levels of dopamine, such as video games, social media, drugs, sex, and highly palatable foods like junk foods and sugar, this can dysregulate dopamine receptors in the long run and make it hard to stop or be satisfied with lower and more natural boosters of dopamine.
This is why it can be so hard to resist things that you know are not good for you because in moments of pleasure and reward, large amounts of dopamine are released in the brain and make you want more of that feeling (2).
The thing is, dopamine needs to stay within a healthy range as it can become too much of a good thing when large amounts of dopamine are released which can even lead to addiction (3).
Too little or too much dopamine can both have negative effects.
When dopamine is low, this can show up as a lack of motivation, fatigue, poor focus, anxiety, insomnia, and low mood.
There are many healthy ways of attaining optimal dopamine levels as well as not so healthy ways.
Foods that can cause spikes and crashes in dopamine levels include sugar, refined carbs, alcohol, excess saturated fats, and artificial sweeteners.
In order to maintain healthy levels of dopamine, your diet does play a big role as there are certain foods that support the production of dopamine. We will explore one of those in greater detail below!
Green tea for increased dopamine
Green tea has been recognized for its many health benefits, and research suggests that it can also support brain health and more particularly dopamine production.
Studies indicate that green tea extract can increase the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain and produce calming, antidepressant, and mood enhancing effects (4).
These brain boosting effects are said to be due to two constituents in particular found in green tea: l-theanine and caffeine.
L-theanine is an amino acid that is found in green tea and is largely responsible for the calming sensation felt when drinking tea (5).
This amino acid has been shown to raise both serotonin and dopamine resulting in increased cognition, attention, and mood (6).
L-theanine is unique as it induces relaxation and calms the mind but without causing drowsiness (7). This allows for consumers to stay focused and alert without being on edge or stimulated.
Caffeine is one of the most popular drinks consumed worldwide and is often consumed for its stimulating effects (10). Drinking coffee as well as tea can feel energizing and rewarding for many people and one of the reasons for this is dopamine.
Though caffeine is found in both coffee and green tea, the effects felt from green tea can be very different due to the calming properties of l-theanine that help to provide a more sustainable release of energy without the jitters.
Caffeine and l-theanine have been shown to provide more significant beneficial effects in combination rather than individually (12)(13). The combination of l-theanine and caffeine, found naturally in green tea, have synergistic effects in boosting brain function and improving cognitive performance (14)(15)(16). This may be why many people report feeling a more sustainable release of energy and focus when consuming green tea compared to coffee.
The antioxidants found in green tea have also been shown to provide neuroprotective effects through their anti-inflammatory actions (17). Green tea may prove to be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of cognitive dysfunction and neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's disease that involve dopamine function though more research is needed (18)(19).
Green tea is a nutritional powerhouse that can improve many functions of the body but also the brain. It represents a natural and safe way to boost dopamine levels while supporting overall brain function and a healthy mood.