Man with a bike excercising outdoors to increase dopamine

How to Increase Dopamine Naturally

Have you been feeling blue, or just a little bit demotivated? Maybe that DIY project you were looking forward to doesn't get you excited anymore. Or maybe you need several power naps just to get through the day.

While we all have our "off" days, experiencing fatigue, mood swings, a lack of focus, or even a low sex drive for a prolonged period of time may indicate a dopamine deficiency, according to Life Extension's Education Specialist, Dr. Crystal M. Gossard, DCN. "There is a reason why dopamine is called the 'feel-good' neurotransmitter," she explained…and if we don't have enough of it, well, we won't feel so good!

The good news is there are natural ways you can boost dopamine production. How? Let's get started.

What is dopamine?

Woman in deep positive thoughts sitting on a couch

Dopamine is how we experience pleasure, neurologically. That satisfaction we feel about a delicious meal, having sex or even getting positive comments on social media all involve the release of dopamine in specific areas of the brain.

But dopamine isn't just about finding your bliss—it's also essential to how we move, think, plan and focus.

Where is dopamine produced?

Dopamine is produced in the brain and released into the synaptic gaps, the microscopic spaces between neurons; it's called a neurotransmitter because it literally transmits information between one neuron to the next.

Our brains release dopamine during pleasurable situations, resulting in a rewarding feeling that causes us to seek out those behaviors, explained Life Extension Clinical Information Specialist, Riley Carroll, who holds a B.S. in Neuroscience. Factors such as nutrition deficiency, lack of exercise, poor sleep, stress and aging can cause dopamine levels to decline—and when that happens, a whole host of health consequences can occur.

What does dopamine do?

Woman smiling because of her healthy dopamine levels

Not only does dopamine play a crucial role in learning, memory and movement, but it also shapes so much of our outlook and personality. "Whether we're craving certain foods or seeking out certain behaviors that bring us joy, the motivating factor we feel is often the result of dopamine," Carroll explained.

What's more, dopamine influences our focus and attention. The rewarding feeling we get acts as a reinforcement for certain behaviors, making us more likely to repeat them—it's a cycle of motivation, reward and reinforcement, she added.

And dopamine impacts your whole-body health—not just how you think and feel. Researchers have found dopamine receptors in peripheral areas of the body (away from the central nervous system), which demonstrates that this neurotransmitter also influences blood flow and renal activity, noted Carroll.

How to check your dopamine levels

You can take a simple lab test to see if your dopamine levels are what they should be. Clinical research has shown that a urine test gives us a good indication of neurotransmitter levels throughout the body (not just in the brain), which correlates to physical and mental symptoms. The test also provides an overall assessment of the body's ability to make and break down neurotransmitters, making it a valuable tool that helps you determine if you lack adequate dopamine levels. Once you have this information, you can make adjustments to achieve balance and well-being.

7 ways to raise your dopamine levels—naturally

Man excercising outdoors to improve his dopamine levels

With some basic lifestyle adjustments, you can help boost dopamine production. Follow these seven tips to restore dopamine levels that have fallen off from their ideal range. The good news is that most of these are easy to do…and some are even pretty fun!

  1. Eat your way to more dopamine—A great way to ensure your body produces enough quantities of dopamine (and any neurotransmitter) is by supplying it with the precursors it needs to make dopamine, Carroll pointed out. Eat foods high in protein, like poultry, eggs, dairy and legumes. Because of their high protein content, these foods are rich in tyrosine and phenylalanine, two amino acids used to produce dopamine.
  2. Choose nutrients that encourage healthy dopamine levels—Having a strategic nutrient plan is also a great way to help the body boost dopamine levels, added Dr. Gossard. This means going beyond your multivitamin. Adding B-complex, phellodendron, curcumin, magnesium and fish oil can provide wonderful foundational help because these nutrients contain vital support for the production and metabolism of dopamine—and almost all other neurotransmitters.
  3. Boost your mood with probiotics—Probiotics are not just for gut health. These friendly bacteria you consume can help your body function properly. When you eat foods that contain probiotics like fermented foods, and healthy sources of fiber like veggies, you're replenishing the good bacteria in your gut. Studies show that probiotics may help increase dopamine levels and even positively influence our mood, explained Dr. Gossard.
  4. Get your body moving—Working up a sweat, whether it's weightlifting, dancing or doing yoga, does wonders for your brain, and it's been shown to benefit dopamine levels as well. Studies have shown that cardio and high-intensity exercise may increase dopamine levels in the brain, Carroll pointed out. The good news is you don't have to exercise until you're red-faced and jelly-legged. Even if you just have 10 minutes, a good sweat session goes a long way!
  5. Catch your ZZZs —Getting enough quality sleep benefits your whole body—including your dopamine levels.
  6. Turn up the beat—Another great way to stimulate the brain to release dopamine is by listening to music, Carroll said. Brain imaging studies have shown that listening to music causes increased activity in the reward and pleasure areas of the brain.
  7. Clear the mind, boost dopamine levels—Here's yet another reason to incorporate meditation into your daily routine (even if it's just for five minutes): it can significantly support dopamine levels in the brain, said Dr. Gossard.

Dopamine is a vital chemical messenger that influences how we feel, and it's the driving force behind our motivation in choosing foods, hobbies and other activities that bring us pleasure. Maintaining adequate dopamine levels is essential to staying focused, motivated, as well as enjoying (and remembering) life's precious moments.

Remember: It's never too late or too early to start making dopamine-friendly choices!

About the Author: Jessica Monge has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences & neuroscience and a master's degree in comparative studies and related languages from Florida Atlantic University. She worked as a tutor, freelance writer and editor before joining Life Extension, where she is currently a Digital Content Writer.