By Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT
Source Article: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-increase-dopamine
Eating certain foods, like those high in protein, and engaging in healthy practices like exercise and sleeping the recommended amount can help increase your body’s dopamine levels without medication.
Dopamine is an important chemical messenger in your brain that has many functions.
When dopamine is released in large amounts, it creates feelings of pleasure and reward, which motivate you to repeat a specific behavior (
In contrast, low levels of dopamine are linked to reduced motivation and decreased enthusiasm for things that would excite most people (
Dopamine levels are typically well regulated within the nervous system, but there are some things you can do to naturally increase your levels.
Here are the top 10 ways to increase dopamine levels naturally.
Some animal research has found that saturated fats, such as those found in animal fat, butter, full-fat dairy, palm oil and coconut oil, may disrupt dopamine signaling in the brain when consumed in very large amounts (
So far, these studies have been conducted only in rats, but the results are intriguing.
One study found that rats that consumed 50% of their calories from saturated fat had reduced dopamine signaling in the reward areas of their brains compared with animals that received the same amount of calories from unsaturated fat (
Interestingly, these changes occurred even without differences in weight, body fat, hormones, or blood sugar levels.
Some researchers hypothesize that diets high in saturated fat may increase inflammation in the body, leading to changes in the dopamine system, but more research is needed (
Several older observational studies have found a link between high saturated fat intake and poor memory and thinking ability in humans, but it’s unknown whether these effects are related to dopamine levels (
In recent years, scientists have discovered that the gut and brain are closely linked (
In fact, the gut is sometimes called the “second brain” because it contains a large number of nerve cells that produce many neurotransmitter signaling molecules, including dopamine (
Research in this area is limited. However, several studies show that when consumed in large enough quantities, certain strains of bacteria can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in both animals and humans (
Although there is a clear link among mood, probiotics and gut health, it’s not yet well understood.
Dopamine production likely plays a role in the way probiotics improve mood, but more research is needed to determine how significant the effect is.
Velvet beans, also known as Mucuna pruriens, naturally contain high levels of L-dopa, the precursor molecule to dopamine.
Studies show that eating these beans may help raise dopamine levels naturally, especially in people with Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder caused by low dopamine levels (
A 1992 study in people with Parkinson’s disease found that consuming 250 grams of cooked velvet beans significantly raised dopamine levels and reduced Parkinson’s disease symptoms 1–2 hours after the meal (
Similarly, several studies on Mucuna pruriens supplements found that they may be even more effective and longer lasting than traditional Parkinson’s disease medications and may have fewer side effects (
Keep in mind that velvet beans are toxic in high amounts. Make sure to follow the dosage recommendations on the product label.
Fava beans are another good source of L-dopa. For people with dopamine deficiency diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, eating natural food sources of L-dopa like fava beans or Mucuna pruriens may help restore dopamine levels (
Even though these foods are natural sources of L-dopa, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before making changes to your diet or supplement routine.
Exercise is recommended for boosting endorphin levels and improving mood.
Improvements in mood can be seen after as little as 10 minutes of aerobic activity but tend to be highest after at least 20 minutes (
While these effects are probably not entirely due to changes in dopamine levels, animal research suggests that exercise can boost dopamine levels in the brain.
In rats, treadmill running increases the release of dopamine and upregulates the number of dopamine receptors in the reward areas of the brain (
However, one 3-month study in humans found that performing 1 hour of yoga 6 days per week significantly increased dopamine levels (
Frequent aerobic exercise also benefits people with Parkinson’s disease, a condition in which low dopamine levels disrupt the brain’s ability to control body movements.
Several studies have shown that engaging in intense exercise several times per week significantly improves motor control in people with Parkinson’s disease, suggesting that there may be a beneficial effect on the dopamine system (
More research is needed to determine the intensity, type, and duration of exercise that is most effective at boosting dopamine in humans, but the current research is very promising.
When dopamine is released in the brain, it creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness.
Animal studies indicate that dopamine is released in large amounts in the morning when it’s time to wake up and that levels naturally fall in the evening when it’s time to go to sleep.
However, lack of sleep appears to disrupt these natural rhythms.
When people are forced to stay awake through the night, the availability of dopamine receptors in their brains is dramatically reduced by the next morning (
Because dopamine promotes wakefulness, reducing the sensitivity of the receptors should make it easier to fall asleep, especially after a night of insomnia.
For optimal health, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7–9 hours of sleep every night and maintain proper sleep hygiene (
Sleep hygiene can be improved by sleeping and waking at the same time each day, reducing noise in your bedroom, avoiding caffeine in the evening, and using your bed only for sleeping (
Listening to music can be a fun way to stimulate dopamine release in your brain.
Several brain imaging studies have found that listening to music increases activity in the reward and pleasure areas of the brain, which are rich with dopamine receptors (
A small 2011 study investigating the effects of music on dopamine found a 9% increase in brain dopamine levels when people listened to instrumental songs that gave them chills (
Because music can boost dopamine levels, listening to music has even been shown to help people with Parkinson’s disease improve their fine motor control (