Do Dopamine Supplements Really Work?
Can you really boost your dopamine with supplements? Research shows that you can!
Now there isn't such a thing as a dopamine pill however there are various natural supplements that support dopamine production in different ways.
They may do this by providing the necessary building blocks for dopamine synthesis, increasing the number of dopamine receptors, supporting existing dopamine receptors, or slowing the breakdown of dopamine.
Are Dopamine Supplements Effective?
Though dopamine boosting supplements won't necessarily solve issues such as depression or anxiety, there is evidence showing that they can make a difference in mood, brain function, sleep, energy, handling emotional stress, and even the treatment Parkinson's Disease (1)(2)(3).
Dopamine cannot be supplemented but we can support the body in producing enough and improving its use to support mental, emotional, and physical health.
Many people prefer to go the natural route as there are less likely to be side effects from natural supplements compared to medications.
In order to get the most benefits from your dietary supplement, it's important to choose a good quality supplement and take the appropriate dosing.
What Is Dopamine?Dopamine is both a hormone and neurotransmitter, associated with feelings of motivation, pleasure and zest for life. For these reasons it is also known as the "happy hormone".
Dopamine is released by nerve cells and is responsible for making you feel driven and focused.
If you find yourself lacking motivation, focus, or concentration, you could be low in dopamine. This neurotransmitter plays a role in many functions, from controlling our movement to helping us solve complex problems. Also known as the “motivation molecule”, dopamine helps create feelings of happiness and motivation while enhancing our focus and cognitive function. Dopamine is also known as a “reward chemical” because it’s associated with the brain’s reward and pleasure systems. Dopamine is the satisfying feeling of crossing a task off on your to-do list, and the anticipation and excitement of having your favorite dessert after dinner or buying something on your wish list.
Dopamine is also responsible for the “warm and fuzzy” feeling you get when you think of pleasurable memories, your favorite activities, vacation spot, loved ones, and so on. When you feel pleasure, euphoria, and excitement, what you’re actually feeling is a rush of dopamine. Now, as mentioned above, dopamine plays a key role in brain health as it is associated with motivation, productivity, focus, and concentration. Dopamine is the reason why we can complete difficult tasks, stay engaged with projects, make smart decisions and achieve hefty goals. But when our dopamine levels are low, we tend to have difficulty concentrating on one task at a time. We also feel unmotivated, tired, and forgetful. Other symptoms of low dopamine include mood swings, a lack of interest in life, or feeling like “the thrill is gone” as described by BeBrainFit.com.
Fatigue, depression, sugar cravings, and relying on stimulants to get through the day are also signs of a lack of dopamine. As you can see, dopamine is a complex molecule that wears many hats not only when it comes to your mental well-being, but the success you experience in life. Without the ability to feel motivated and focused, completing any task or activity feels like a chore. Low dopamine could also be the reason why you avoid doing things that will improve your well-being (such as going to the gym) and also promoting destructive behaviors, such as procrastination and addiction. Luckily, there are natural ways to increase your dopamine levels to improve your drive and zest for life. Since dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s produced in the brain, you cannot take it as a nutritional supplement. However, certain foods and nutrients have been shown to increase dopamine production, which can be included in your diet each day.
How Natural Supplements Work to Increase Dopamine
Some supplements contain natural herbs to improve dopamine levels while others may include vitamins and nutrients required for dopamine release and the production of neurotransmitters.
Some of the most effective natural supplements that have been shown to improve dopamine levels include probiotics, fish oil, vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium, ginkgo, curcumin, mucuna pruriens and ginseng.
Amino Acid Dopamine Supplements
Amino acids work as precursors to neurotransmitters such as dopamine. It is encouraged to eat quality protein in order to obtain the necessary amino acids for mental health but also overall healthy function. Though sometimes supplementation may be necessary in certain cases if conversion from amino acids is poor or production is compromised due to lack of nutrition, poor digestive function, stress, or other factors.
L-tyrosine is the most common amino acid and dietary supplement used to increase dopamine. It is first converted to L-DOPA by the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase which then produces the actual neurotransmitter.
It is known as a conditional amino acid meaning your body can make some of it on its own but not always enough when under the effects of stress, exhaustion, or illness.
Studies show that increasing the amount of tyrosine in the diet can help to improve levels of dopamine. But is diet enough? In certain situations, tyrosine supplementation may be recommended to increase dopamine levels when diet is not enough. Generally recognized as safe when taken within the recommended amounts, it may potentially cause side effects, such as gastrointestinal issues or interact with certain medications. Consult with your doctor before starting any new supplement.
SAM-e (s-adenosyl methionine) is a metabolite of the amino acid, methionine. It is most commonly taken for anxiety and depression as it can increase not only dopamine but also serotonin and norepinephrine.
Low levels of SAM-e have been associated with cognitive decline and low mood.
If you are taking supplements or medications for depression or have bipolar disorder, SAM-e may potentially make things worse so always check with your medical provider before supplementing.
Green, white, and black tea consumption is often recommended to boost dopamine levels because they contain the amino acid, l-theanine. This amino acid can also be taken in supplement form particularly to help calm an overactive mind but also boost mood and focus by increasing dopamine in the brain.
This is why tea can induce an increase in calm mental focus and even energy levels but without the jitteriness of say a substance like coffee.
In order to receive therapeutic effects you might need to consume up to 3 cups of tea per day, otherwise, supplementation is recommended.
Herbal Dopamine Supplements
Nature thought of everything! Herbal medicine is nothing new, as humans have been using herbs to enhance their health and wellbeing for thousands of years.
Dopamine promoting herbs can help to promote healthy dopamine levels in the brain, supporting mood and brain function.
Also known as the "magic velvet bean", this plant originates from areas such as Africa, India, and China.
One of the highest L-Dopa-containing plants, Mucuna Pruriens can help to promote levels of dopamine and as a result support sleep, reduce anxiety, and improve feelings of well-being.
L-Dopa is the most significant compound found in Mucuna Pruriens and it has even been shown to be effective at boosting dopamine levels in Parkinson's patients, a condition associated with low dopamine (7).
It has even been shown to exhibit anti-depression effects by increasing not only dopamine but also serotonin and norepinephrine, which are typically out of balance amongst patients with depression (8)(9).
Speak with your doctor before supplementing if you are taking medications, have health concerns, or are pregnant.
Curcumin, the active component found in the spice turmeric, not only has potent anti-inflammatory effects but it also has nootropic properties and the ability to increase dopamine and serotonin (10)(11).
Always look for a quality curcumin supplement that is bio-available in order for the body to optimally utilize the therapeutic compounds and receive a maximum of the benefits.
A popular herbal support for various health conditions, gingko can help to improve mental performance and regulate neurotransmitters.It can help to increase dopamine levels by acting as a monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor. MAO is a substance that breaks down neurotransmitters in the brain thus gingko can help to increase levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine.
But it doesn't stop there! Gingko can also support cognitive function by increasing oxygen flow to the brain and reducing oxidative stress because it functions as an antioxidant .
Foods to Eat to Increase Dopamine Production
Before supplementing, we need to establish a healthy foundation with a nutritious diet as certain foods can actually lower your dopamine levels, such as simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol, by causing spikes and crashes. Excess consumption of saturated fats, as well as artificial sweeteners, can also decrease dopamine (16)(17).
Unhealthy ways of increasing dopamine may include excess caffeine, alcohol, sugar, video games, porn, drugs, and gambling, however, they are only temporary boosts and cause more harm than good.
Other foods, on the other hand, can support the body in regulating its own levels of dopamine.
In order to produce dopamine, the body requires a sufficient amount of the amino acid, L-tyrosine. Therefore, increasing the amount of tyrosine-rich foods in your diet can help increase dopamine levels naturally. Foods that are high in tyrosine include chicken, salmon, cod, turkey, pork, cheese (especially parmesan and cottage cheese), egg whites, seaweed, pumpkin, spinach, banana, avocado, kidney beans, sesame seeds. As you can see, increasing your dopamine is easy when you’re eating a diet rich in whole foods. Add an avocado to your green smoothie, serve up some wild salmon for dinner, enjoy egg whites with some turkey bacon in the morning and you’ve significantly increased the tyrosine in your diet and promoted dopamine production.
Ways to Increase Dopamine
You can also take tyrosine as a nutritional supplement. Most tyrosine supplements recommend beginning at 500 mg of tyrosine each day, but for extra mood and stress support, there are tyrosine supplements available at higher doses, such as AOR’s L-tyrosine. As always, it’s important to check with a licensed healthcare practitioner for safety and dosage before adding any new nutritional supplements to your diet. You can also increase your dopamine levels through certain activities. Keeping a daily log of your achievements can help increase motivation, while physical activities such as running and yoga naturally increase dopamine production. Dopamine can also be increased through creative activities, such as painting, photography, drawing and writing. As you can see, the importance of dopamine for your mental well-being cannot be understated. By increasing your dopamine levels, you’re more likely to find life’s challenges easier to overcome, improve your decision-making skills, meet obstacles with a greater sense of calm, and rediscover the motivation and focus you need to achieve great things and create the success you desire from life.
The Dopamine Friendly Diet
We've already established that there are things that can interfere with healthy levels of dopamine but there are also many ways to support this important neurotransmitter. Below we list some dietary and lifestyle practices that can have a real influence on mental health and brain function by supporting healthy dopamine levels.
1) Light & sun exposure
Who doesn't love the feeling of the warm sun on your skin? For many of us we may feel our mood improve during the summer months, notably due to an increase in sun exposure, linked to various mechanisms such as vitamin D synthesis and increased production of endorphins such as serotonin (18).
But what about dopamine? Light exposure can also influence our dopamine levels as increased bright light or daylight exposure has been associated with upregulated receptors and greater levels of dopamine (19)(20).
Spending time outdoors as early as possible in the day can not only help to support mood and energy but also a good night's sleep by promoting melatonin production in the evening. And if you do find yourself in a climate that is grey and dark for many months you might want to look into light box therapy which can provide similar benefits.
You've probably heard that exercise releases endorphins aka "feel-good hormones". This is why we typically feel better during and after physical activity as opposed to before we started when it can be hard to motivate ourselves, as it is a mood booster!
Physical activity is a free tool you can use that may help to regulate dopamine levels (23). Studies have demonstrated increased levels of dopamine in the bloodstream during and after exercising and regular physical activity has been associated with a lower risk of depression and depressive symptoms (24).
Not sure how to get started? Read our blog post here for everything you need to know to start your very own meditation practice.
4) Unsaturated fat
The type of fat that you eat really does matter but so does the quantity! Though saturated fats can be part of a healthy diet, excess consumption has been correlated with increased inflammation and altered levels of dopamine (29).
Saturated fats include butter, palm oil, coconut oil, cheese, and red meat. Commonly sought-after foods where you can find saturated fats hiding also include pizza, baked goods, and fried foods.
These fats can be addictive and provide short-term spikes in dopamine however this typically results in crashes and deficiency over time. Thus it is best to keep them at a lower intake.
Unsaturated fats can be found in foods such as avocado, olive oil, anchovies, salmon, seeds and nuts.
About the Author
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.