Is it one of those days? The kind of day you feel low, demotivated, and lethargic, procrastinating on your to-do list? Like you feel worried over nothing in particular, and mild loss of satisfaction with life?
Worry not, I’ve got good news.
Some suggestions to fix this hollow feeling. Lend me your ear as I acquaint you with *drumroll* Dopamine! A critical neurotransmitter in the brain, dopamine plays a significant role in determining your mood, motivation, and pleasure levels.
In short, it is your brain’s feel good chemical. Apart from prompting the feeling of happiness and boosting your contentedness levels, dopamine contributes to regulating weight, and the health of your heart and brain.
Without dopamine, we would all be very much like a couch potato, distressed and depressed.
Your brain communicates with the help of neurons that use receptor sites to receive and send messages. One nerve releases the chemical dopamine, which passes through a synapse to attach itself on the receptor of the next nerve.
When dopamine levels are exhausted, the messages get jumbled, marring your brain’s ability to take care of your sleep, mood, focus, and hunger.
For starters, dopamine improves your focus and concentration, driving you to accomplish what you set out to achieve. Dopamine works to give you that “Yes! I did it!” feel when you fulfill your larger goals.
It helps you plan ahead and ignore distractions when working. When your brain has dopamine, you feel joy, delight, gratification, and generally much happier. Low levels of dopamine will make you lethargic and leave you feeling demotivated.
There many unsustainable, short-term ways to boost the dopamine level in your brain.
First and foremost, dodge any thought of self-destructive activities and do not rely on caffeine or other such psychostimulants to remain alive through that low energy-demotivated-unhappy day.
You need not bite your nails over dopamine deficiency. Here are five proven, healthy strategies to harness the dopamine supply in your brain naturally.
1) Eat Your Way Out of Lethargy and Demotivation
Amino acids are one of the most fundamental resources used by brains to produce neurotransmitters. In the case of dopamine, your brain uses the amino acid called tyrosine. You need food rich in tyrosine so that your brain can produce healthy levels of dopamine.
A diet high in tyrosine provides the building blocks required for synthesizing dopamine. The following are tyrosine-rich foods that can be easily and affordably added to your pantry:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Green tea
Natural probiotics like raw sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir are also great dopamine boosters.
A diet supplemented with healthy probiotics helps maintain the “good germs” in your gut, supporting your body’s natural digestive and metabolic functions. This naturally increases dopamine production in your body.
An honorable mention: bananas, specifically the ripe ones. Thanks to high levels of the essential amino acid tyrosine, bananas are an outstanding food for boosting dopamine levels.
In addition to bananas, fruits high in amino acids include prunes, blueberries, and strawberries. Yummm!
In the case of beets, the redder, the better. The betaine in red beets acts as an antidepressant apart from helping in dopamine production.
Dopamine levels can be enhanced by indulging in a folate rich diet. Eating green leafy vegetables, cauliflower, and broccoli in raw form ensures adequate supply of nutrients to your body. Shoot for at least 2-3 servings of cruciferous vegetables each day and you will feel amazing. Other foods high in folate content are black beans, papaya, lentils, and chickpeas.
Foods to Avoid
Strictly steer clear of sugary and fatty foods.
Foods high in trans fats and saturated fats cause an increase in the proportion of bad bacteria in your intestine, which impacts the production of neurotransmitters in your brain.
Dopamine levels are seen to deplete due to the existence of lipopolysaccharides, which are byproducts of such bacteria. These endotoxins cause inflammation and put your immune system to work.
Although sugar has been found to increase dopamine levels in the short term, it is less as a food item, and more as a drug.
Do you ever feel a sugar “high” after munching on something really sweet? Of course! We all do.
Sugar functions the same way as alcohol and drugs; it actually reduces dopamine levels. What’s worse, these decreased levels of dopamine lead to compulsive addictions.
Drawing the line on sugar intake will help deal with cravings. For those with a sweet tooth and can’t do without sugar, try chromium picolinate supplements.
Just like sugar, caffeine gives you the momentary boost you need. However, it does hardly any good to your system.
After the initial high you experience, your dopamine levels fall drastically.
Avoiding – or at least mitigating – caffeine and resorting to decaf is an effective way to stop yourself from becoming dopamine-deficient.
2) Cross Swords with Stress
Experts suggest that one of the easiest ways to keep your dopamine levels high is to avoid stress. Stress can come from just about anywhere: unhealthy food, daily life pressures or bad adrenal function.
If left unchecked, chronic stress is detrimental to your health. The first step in managing stress and protecting yourself is to find simple ways of dealing with everyday circumstances.
It could be anything as simple as a massage therapy or as bold as a vacation in the Alps. Whatever it may be, engaging in relaxing activities will give a leg up in boosting dopamine levels.
3) Dopamine Supplements
As much as I’d like to, directly injecting dopamine is not a safe or sustainable solution to dopamine deficiency. However, you can rely on supplements that bolster your brain’s dopamine production. Here are a few that you can grab on Amazon at your local drugstore:
- Ginkgo Biloba – Traditionally used for improving concentration, fatigue, depression, and other brain-related problems, Ginkgo improves oxygen and blood flow to your brain, resulting in better transmission nerve impulses. This indirectly increases your brain’s dopamine levels.
- L-theanine – Found in green tea, L-theanine enhances memory recall and learning abilities and improves overall mood as well. A trusted compound to boost dopamine and serotonin levels, you could either resort to taking theanine as supplements or stick to drinking 2-3 cups of green tea a day.
- Curcumin – One of the active ingredients in Turmeric, it is capable of effortlessly crossing the blood-brain barrier and lifting your dopamine levels. Further, research has shown that curcumin inhibits memory loss issues from dopamine deficiency.
It’s important to acknowledge that, although these supplements are natural, your body will gradually become used to their effects.
Over a longer term, your dopamine levels will not deplete, but such supplements may cease to have any effect.
4) Sweat it out!
Working out is one of the best ways to flood your brain with dopamine.
Research shows that just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise will shoot up dopamine levels and improve the sensitivity of dopaminergic receptors.
Of course, a single session of such exercise will have just a temporary impact. To truly alter the synthesizing of the feel-good chemicals in the long run, it’s essential to make exercise a regular activity.
As substantiated by the Brookhaven National Laboratory, brain function and neurotransmitters are elevated as your body acclimates to routine exercise.
It takes anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes exercise – time when your heart is beating at elevated levels – for dopamine to set off. Therefore, one of your goals when working out is to keep your heart rate up.
Even though intellectually you may hate workouts, your body is thirsty for physical activity. In order to make the whole deal enjoyable, your brain releases the feel good chemicals dopamine, serotonin and a mixture of endorphins.
These lift your mood up and give you what’s called the “runner’s high” after a solid exercise session.
Dr. John Ratey, an acclaimed psychiatrist, studied the effect workouts have on human brain. He discovered that physical activity advocates the growth of brain cell receptors, which in turn boosts the dopamine baseline levels.
Even non strenuous, gentle activity can raise dopamine levels. If you still hesitate at the thought of hitting the gym, get out there and or climb the stairs at work on a daily basis and you’ll feel much better.
5) Hit the Hay and Leave Your Bed at the Right Time
As a matter of fact, your 24-hour day must include 7-8 hours of sleep at night combined with some physical activities during the day. Sleeping and waking up on time are keys to feeling happy and focused throughout the day.
First, you will be all pepped up and energized to make it through the following day. Second, your dopamine levels are up and balanced. When you’re sleep deprived, your dopamine levels are likely to drop through the floor, leaving you feeling irritated, unfocused, and unhappy. The eight-hour sleep pattern is essential for your brain to mend and get back on its feet before the next day begins.
This “mending process” includes refilling the pool of neurotransmitters; on the contrary, lack of sleep leads to a depleted receptor count.
Sleep deprivation, if prolonged, will gradually burn out all the receptors,
Dopamine has a wide range of effects on the body, affecting everything from motivation, behavioral patterns, sleep patterns, mood levels, excitement and happiness.
Finding natural and safe ways to level up the dopamine in you is not rocket science. You simply need to follow the right methods irrespective of how quickly or slowly the impact will be felt.
Long-term dopamine deficiency caused by poor life choices leads us down a scary path. Cases include illicit drug use and addiction to sugary foods. By and large, you should avoid anything that gives you that “high” feeling without much hard work.
What you decide to feed your body and brain will result in how you feel. It’s easy for a doctor to write prescription of medication for depression and fatigue related issues – but a “magic pill” is only a temporary band-aid solution.
Most likely, such medications come along with a bundle of side effects and do more harm than good.
A smarter approach: treat yourself to a healthy diet, regular fitness workouts, and some relaxing massages for consistent, overall well-being.