As a busy mom of 2 children, I had become no stranger to feeling run-down, fatigued, unfocused and moody. My days were often filled with caffeine, alcohol (did someone say wine?!), and hours spent wondering how my weight had gone from ‘just had a baby’ to ‘crying in the fitting room’.
And sex? Forget about it. The only pleasure I craved was that of a good night’s sleep.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because as a new mom I know it’s easy to think that fatigue, weight gain, inability to focus, moodiness and sometimes just plain unhappiness come with the territory. I thought so too.
But then a friend introduced me to the possibility that my dopamine levels might actually be low.
Hearing these words made me start feverishly researching dopamine and all its interesting characteristics; some enticing, like pleasure and reward, and some frightening… like addiction.
Either way, I learned that a dopamine deficiency could definitely be playing a part in my issues. Being the health enthusiast I am, I was pleased to discover there are ways to increase dopamine naturally.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a highly regarded chemical in the brain that is often spoken of in reference to pleasure and addiction. Dopamine is involved in those feelings of love, lust or addictive behaviors such as alcoholism or gambling.
Dopamine itself is not totally responsible for these addictive behaviors but it does play a part in them. The same way it plays a part in your mood, your ability to focus, your motivation, your memory and more.
Dopamine occupies the driver’s seat of the pleasure and reward center of your brain. Think for a moment about training a new puppy. A puppy figures out it does something good because you reward him for it. It then remembers to do the ‘good’ thing again in order to get the reward again.
It’s the same with dopamine. Dopamine helps your body and your brain realize when it does something pleasurable. It then helps communicate to your body that it was a ‘good’ thing and that you should do it again, and therefore experience the reward again.
Physically, when you receive that reward notification, dopamine is released. It helps the body realize it did something it liked, it then helps the brain remember you liked it and then the cycle continues over and over until you learn what is pleasurable and what is not. (source)
How Does Dopamine Work?
Your brain has billions of neurons. These neurons have to communicate with each other through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Dopamine is one of these neurotransmitters that play a large role in your movement, motivation, mental clarity, mood, pleasure awareness and more.
Picture this: There are 2 houses, also known as “neurons.” Let’s call House 1, Billy’s house and House 2, Sally’s house. At some point, Billy wants to send a message to Sally. They can only do this through their communication transmitter, dopamine. If their dopamine levels are low, then it’s difficult for Billy and Sally to communicate.
With the brain, impaired communication leads to impaired brain function. Impaired brain function leads to changes in your mood, your attention span, your movement, your sleep, and your behavior. (source)
As a tired, hard-working mother, I often thought feeling unmotivated, getting horrible sleep, and having mood swings was just part of my new life. But I was wrong. I started researching and found that most of the “symptoms” of being a mom were actually symptoms of a dopamine deficiency!
What are the Symptoms of a Dopamine Deficiency?
When your brain has an inadequate amount of dopamine it directly affects your mental state, so it’s not surprising that the symptoms of dopamine deficiency are very similar to symptoms of depression. (source)
Dopamine has been referred to as the “happy neurotransmitter,” so you can imagine what happens when your stores are low- just the opposite! You can experience a lack of pleasure, a lack of motivation, be easily distracted, and much more.
According to the Natural Health Advisory Institute, symptoms of dopamine deficiency include:
- Lack of interest in life
- Decreased motivation
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Altered sleep patterns
- Restless leg syndrome
- Mood swings
- Excessive feelings of hopelessness or guilt
- Poor memory, inability to focus/impaired concentration
- Impulsive or self-destructive behaviors
- Addictions to caffeine or other stimulants
- Weight gain
How Can I Increase Dopamine Naturally?
Being a natural health enthusiast, I wanted to try my best to keep things all-natural when addressing this deficiency. I no longer wanted to reach for my bottle of wine in order to receive pleasure.
I learned that having a dopamine deficiency can make you compensate with destructive behaviors to get your dopamine fix, which made me yearn even more for a healthy approach. Sure, the quick fixes seem brilliant and rewarding at the time but the long term effects of continuous engagement in these behaviors can be highly detrimental.
This is why I immediately started looking into how to increase dopamine naturally.
During my search, I was happy to find 7 ways to increase dopamine naturally.
Exercise has been proven to affect the chemicals and neurotransmitters of your brain. A study done in Germany with 10 athletes showed that after some high-intensity exercise, endorphins were released in parts of the brain that help us process emotion.
You may even have experience with the so-called “runner’s high.” While a fable for some, it is quite a real thing for others. U.S. News reported that studies in rodents found that running leads to an increase in new brain cells.
And while the human brain is larger and more intricate than that of a rodent, studies of the human brain have also found an increase in blood flow to the same exact area of the brain. (source)
Furthermore, author of the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain states that “exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain.”
Overall, aerobic activity can act as a long-term antidepressant and provide a short-term euphoric state while also offering general improvements to mood and self-esteem when practiced consistently over time. (source)
Discover Something New
Because dopamine is your pleasure center, it means it recognizes, recalls, and urges you to repeat certain behaviors in order for you to get rewards. Instead of allowing your pleasure center to be triggered by the short-term and detrimental effects of things like alcohol, drugs or risky behaviors, instead put a positive spin on your pleasure-seeking and go discover something new.
Whether you visit a new city, take up a new sport, or check out a new play you are increasing your chances of your reward center seeing and learning a new behavior, which increases dopamine.
Listen to Music
Music is a major stress reliever and dopamine booster. Throw some headphones on and listen to your favorite tunes to get a quick boost. Heck, mix in some dancing and you’re well on your way to boosting your dopamine levels.
YouTube even has soundtracks created specifically for boosting dopamine, serotonin and endorphin release. These binaural beats are said to increase feelings of relaxation in the listener.
Getting creative is highly recommended for a dopamine boost. There are endless amounts of creative activities you can take part in to help with boosting your dopamine levels. Some of these activities include building something with your hands, knitting, drawing, painting, writing, composing music, playing an instrument.
It has recently been found that people with Parkinson’s who were taking dopamine to help treat their disease often became highly creative, writing poems, painting pictures, etc. (source)
I don’t think anyone is quite sure which comes first, the dopamine or the creativity. But it surely can’t hurt to try it out. Being creative is a mood-booster no matter what.
Try Dopamine Boosting Foods
Dopamine is created from the amino acid tyrosine. There are plenty of everyday foods that naturally contain this amino acid. Changing up your diet can be highly effective in boosting your dopamine levels naturally.
Lucky for you, a lot of the main dopamine-boosting foods are things you may like or already frequently eat. Add in more of these secret weapons to your diet and a dopamine boost could be yours in no time.
Here are some of the main dopamine boosting foods to try:
- Bananas, apples, beets, avocado, watermelon
- Chicken, eggs, fish
- Mustard greens, seaweed, wheat germ
- Ricotta cheese, cheese
- Dark Chocolate
- Fava beans
- Green Tea
It’s also wise to cut out sugar from your diet. Sugar is said to be just as addictive as cocaine. Dopamine levels surge when you ingest sugar, creating pleasure and then when the sugar is gone, you crave more. (source)
It’s a terrible cycle to get into and an extremely difficult cycle to escape. If you currently have a lot of sugar in your diet you can slowly and gradually make small replacements until eventually your brain forgets your addiction and you no longer crave it.
If you aren’t getting enough tyrosine in your diet, there are ways to supplement. You can actually replete your neurotransmitters this way. Fitness expert Ben Greenfield states “one example of neurotransmitter repletion with an amino acid blend that can be helpful for insomnia, depression or lack of motivation is taking 3000mg of Tyrosine and 300mg 5-HTP, split into three daily doses.” (source)
According to Ben, using this repletion method without knowing what you are doing is not recommended or safe. An improper balance of 5-HTP can actually deplete dopamine. He recommends speaking with a licensed practitioner prior to experimentation.
You should always consult your physician before experimenting with supplements of any kind.
Another great supplement for increasing dopamine is curcumin. This is probably something you already have in your kitchen! Don’t believe me? Curcumin is the active ingredient in the highly-used spice, turmeric.
Author Patricia Sharp has studied the fact that meditation works magically, by helping release the detrimental behaviors your brain has learned and allowing you to achieve a normal flow of dopamine again. (source)
Meditation can be tough for a newbie but training your brain to release obsessive and destructive thoughts and become one with the moment in front of you can be extremely beneficial for your health, your brain, and your dopamine levels.
How to Increase Dopamine Naturally
As you’ve seen, dopamine is the “happy neurotransmitter” that is in control of your pleasure and reward center. Over time, our brain learns what is pleasurable and what is not. Unfortunately, there are both healthy and unhealthy ways to increase your dopamine levels.
Choosing unhealthy ways to increase dopamine can lead to paths of destruction and addictive behaviors. If you feel your dopamine levels might be low, try healthy ways of boosting this chemical like those I’ve listed above.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to get an all-natural fix of dopamine. There’s no reason you have to reach for drugs, alcohol, sex or other destructive behaviors to get by.
I’ll leave you with this: remember you are not alone. I went through a long period after my children where I thought this is just how life will be from now on. I’m a mom now, which means I’m tired, emotional, and need several cups of coffee and a couple liters of alcohol to get through the week.
Looking back, I’m so grateful my friend brought up the possibility of a dopamine deficiency. There were times I thought giving birth and being a mom automatically meant I was doomed to be tired and sad forever. Once I realized there was something going on in my brain that I hadn’t noticed or thought about before, I became excited, hopeful and free.
I think that discovery in itself helped my dopamine levels get a natural boost that day. Now it’s your turn. Have you ever considered the possibility that low dopamine levels could be affecting your mood and life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.