Why Your Body and Mind Needs More Dopamine
You have probably heard of Dopamine before, but maybe not stopped to fully appreciate what it is. As it turns out, Dopamine is one of the natural “brain chemicals”, otherwise known as neurotransmitters, which our bodies need to function optimally.
Neurotransmitters are necessary to get electrical impulses across nerve gaps;and to increase conduction so that they can reach the target cell.
But dopamine does much more than merely promote nerve conduction, and has many more important psychological effects. Know that feeling of well-being you experience after experiencing pleasure?
Think of doing something you love, having sex or binging on a sweet treat. Those feelings of euphoria are mediated in large part by dopamine.
Some other important functions of this neurotransmitter include:
Motivation– motivation does not just “happen” as many people believe, and this explains why some people are able to display greater drive than others. It’s not just a matter of laziness, but differences in dopamine levels in the brain.
To elicit increased drive, dopamine needs to travel along the mesolimbic pathway. On its trip along the mesolimbic pathway it encounters the nucleus acumbens, where dopamine can accumulate and send signals to the brain to expect a positive or negative impulse.
In turn, you the feel motivated to do something to deal with the impulse.
Concentration– the old adage is true “do what you enjoy”. You can thank dopamine for this as well. Have you ever noticed that time seems to stall when you are tasked with boring work?
This is because your brain deems it as hardship, and dopamine levels are far from optimal. In contrast, when you are working on something you love, your focus is laser targeted and time flies.
This is because of the perfect cocktail of dopamine and other neurotransmitters and hormones, which keep you stimulated and interested in the task; or pleased with what you are doing.
Experiencing Joy And Pleasure– dopamine controls the “reward seeking” center of your brain, making certain life experiences pleasurable or euphoric. Think of sex, achieving milestones, and just indulging in foods that make you melt.
Without an adequate and appropriate dopamine response, life would be one dreary day after another.
But please be beware– it’s possible to desensitize and rewire the way that the brain experiences pleasure.
Addictions can often cause these changes, either via drugs or pornography. Nothing in excess is ever good, and addictions are a serious threat to anyone’s health and well-being.
The Effects Of Low Dopamine
While having highto normal dopamine levels is optimal, many times people may experience disturbances that result in diminished brain dopamine levels. This, of course, has negative implications on your health and well-being, such as:
- Frequent Malaise/ Lethargy
- Low sex drive or poor sexual pleasure. In males, low dopamine can lengthen the refractory period (the time between two orgasms)
- Inability to concentrate, and short-term memory loss.
- Low motivation and drive
- Propagation of Parkinsonian Syndrome- Parkinson’s Disease is characterized by neurodegenerative changes in the brain that ultimately lead to decreased dopamine presence. However, in like manner, a low dopamine level to begin with could feed into Parkinson’s development, as iron sharpens iron. Thus, the two are intimately involved, and will keep getting progressively worse regardless of intervening steps you may take. The dopamine receptors presence will soon become desensitized and downregulated, meaning that more and more dopamine will be required to elicit normal responses.
The Immediate Fix? Try Increasing Your Dopamine Levels
Given that you’re not predisposed genetically to developing Parkinson’s disease, you can successfully increase your brain dopamine levels via a concerted effort on dietary and lifestyle fronts.
If you do happen to suspect your dopamine levels are low (your doctor probably won’t order a test for this neurotransmitter as part of a routine visit), the best bet is to start by addressing your diet.Diet is by far the safest and most effective ways to stimulating dopamine, and something you can start today.
If your dopamine levels aren’t low because of a poor diet, but rather because of COMT mutations (COMT is an enzyme that metabolizes neurotransmitters), then you will have an uphill task keeping levels high.
Highly active COMT genes are also associated with obesity, as neurotransmitters such as epinephrine and nor-epinephrine are broken down rapidly and are not able to elicit their maximal function.
Luckily, consuming more tyrosine rich foods can help you increase dopamine production, regardless of your COMT activity.
Ways To Increase Your Dopamine Brain Levels
There are quite a few ways to increase your dopamine levels, and as you will see, quite a few involve consumption of a specialized type of food or supplement.
There are also additional hacks that you may not have heard of, so let’s dive straight into things:
Tyrosine Rich Foods
Tyrosine is an amino acid that is integrally involved in the synthesis of dopamine, being first converted into L-Dopa then dopamine itself.
The conversion of tyrosine into L-Dopa is considered the “rate limiting” step, in the sense that depending on the efficiency of this conversion, so too will your dopamine levels correspond.
Regardless, the best way to better your chances of upping dopamine synthesis is to consume more tyrosine rich foods. Make sure you get more of these in your diet:
- Dark Chocolate
- Leafy Greens
- Dairy and meat
- Green tea
Are those all? Not at all. There are hundreds more that you can select, depending on your personal preference. These just strike a fair balance between year-round availability and cost effectiveness.
Mucuna Pruriens is an extremely promising supplement that can boost your dopamine levels, thanks to its excellent levels of dopamine’s precursor, L-Dopa.
Also known as Velvet Bean, studies have been conducted on it and have so far revealed its potential in treating Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by progressively reduced dopamine levels.
When dopamine production is stimulated via exogenous administration of L-Dopa, symptoms greatly improve.
Mucuna Pruriens also has great potential for managing other dopamine related disorders such as sexual dysfunction or depression, and may also raise testosterone levels due to its influence on stimulating luteinizing hormone release (as was found in rodents).
Research has found that sudden exposure to cold water therapy results in stimulation of brain dopaminergic pathways, paving the way to get your motivated and having potential in managing conditions such as depression.
Cold water therapy also has additional benefits than just dopaminergic stimulation, as it can enhance circulation, mental acuity and a short-burst increase in metabolic rate.
Therefore, some experts recommend cold water showers first thing in the morning to get you up and going.
It is well known that a cup of Joe in the morning helps to get all your cylinders fired up, but it is less understood why this occurs.
For one, caffeine in stimulant drinks binds to adenosine receptors in the brain and inhibits sleepiness, but they also increase production of catecholamines such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
This increase is why you also feel motivated after consumption of said beverages, and not merely awake.
Probiotics Can Offer Support
Though they won’tdirectly increase L-Dopa or Dopamine levels, probiotics do help to ensure what you have functions optimally by keeping colonies of “bad” bacteria in check.
One of the many metabolites of these bad bacteria are lipopolysaccharides, which can adversely affect dopamine levels.
The Bottom Line
The importance of dopamine cannot be overstated, as it is makes a large part of us alive. However, as with anything in this life, optimization, and not excessiveness, wins the day.
Too much dopamine just paves the way for loss of dopamine sensitivity and dysfunction, which does no good. Think of addictions, when you continually seek out the next “high” to get your dopamine fix.
The brain is complex, and yet very primitive. Stick to things that are tried and true, and don’t overstimulate a good thing.