How to Regulate Dopamine Levels for Happiness and Health
Finding happiness is one of the most fundamental human drives. Many of the things that we do, from going to work in the morning to going to bed at night, are important to us because they set the foundation for a longer, happier life. But it was not until recently that we actually began to understand the science of happiness on the molecular level.
One of the things that scientists and doctors have found in recent years is a series of neurotransmitters that affect every function of our brains and our bodies. One of these neurotransmitters is called dopamine, and it plays an essential role in our ability to be happy, to focus, to stay awake, fall asleep, and even to move around the house.
Dopamine is so fundamental to human functioning that having just a slight dopamine deficiency in your brain can lead to serious health problems. Meanwhile, just a bit too much dopamine can lead to severe psychological issues, like schizophrenia.
But for most men, the effects of dopamine activity regulation is not an issue of catastrophic diseases or psychoses. It’s an issue of mood regulation. Can you get enough sleep at night? How irritated are you in the mornings? Do you feel depressed in the winter time? Finding out ways to increase your dopamine activity levels through natural lifestyle changes and supplements may be able to help with these issues.
What is dopamine?
In order to understand how to regulate your dopamine levels, it’s helpful to know a little bit about how dopamine works. Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that make every thought and action that we have possible by carrying messages between the neurons in our brains.
Each neurotransmitter plays a different role in the healthy functioning of the human body. Some help with motor functions, others help with memory, and others still help us process our basic senses like eyesight. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that’s most closely associated with certain small motor functions and the reward centers of the brain.
What does dopamine do?
While dopamine is most well known for its role in making humans feel reward and pleasure, it also plays a role in many other brain functions, from sleep to memory. To make matters more complicated, there are actually two different types of dopamine.
There is the dopamine that is made in the substantia nigra part of the brain, which helps us to begin movements and speech in the body. This is the type of dopamine that plays an important role in Parkinson’s disease.
The other type of dopamine is produced in an area of the brain called the ventral tegmental, and it is the neurotransmitter that helps us feel the reward. When these dopamine chemicals are firing, it’s telling our brain that what we just did is worth doing again. This type of dopamine plays a role in depression, addiction, and many other mental health issues.
When someone does not have enough dopamine in their body, it’s called a dopamine deficiency. Since dopamine affects so many vital brain functions, like mood, sleep, memory, learning, and motor control, a dopamine deficiency can have wide-ranging health effects and should be taken very seriously.
Symptoms of dopamine deficiency
There are many symptoms of dopamine deficiency. Some of the most noticeable symptoms include:
- Cramping muscles and muscle spasms
- Abnormal aches and pains
- Muscle stiffness
- Difficulty balancing
- Abnormal weight loss or weight gain
- Contracting pneumonia frequently
- Sleep disturbance
- Sudden mood swings and depression
- Hopelessness, low self-esteem, and feelings of guilt
- Suicidal thoughts
- Low libido
If you have any of these symptoms and think they may be related to a dopamine deficiency, you should consult your doctor right away.
What can cause dopamine deficiency?
There are many different lifestyle choices, supplements, and health conditions that can deplete your natural dopamine levels. Some of these dopamine depleting forces are a poor diet, insufficient vitamin d, misuse of melatonin and other supplements, and health conditions like drug addiction, thyroid disorders, mercury toxicity, Parkinson’s disease, and bipolar disorder.
People who are addicted to drugs often experience a sort of dopamine deficiency that is caused not by having less dopamine in the brain, but by training the brain to need higher and higher levels of dopamine to feel the same ‘high’. This form of dopamine ‘tolerance’ can lead to serious issues over time, and can even permanently affect the brain’s dopamine receptors.
How to increase dopamine
One of the most effective, safe, and enjoyable ways to increase your dopamine levels is by implementing some simple lifestyle changes. These changes are free (or at least very cheap) and they are effective because they use your own bodies mechanisms to create more dopamine.
Diet for increasing dopamine
The foods that we put into our body can affect the health of our brains, including the levels of dopamine that are produced and absorbed. A diet that’s rich in protein, vegetables, monounsaturated fats (like olive oil), caffeine (like in green tea), spices (especially turmeric and oregano), and bananas may help your body to produce more dopamine on its own.
A diet that’s high in junk foods and sugar may do the opposite. Sugar, like addictive drugs, can cause your brain to release a ton of dopamine at once, producing a ‘high’. When this sugar high is produced repeatedly over a very long period of time, it can actually damage your brain’s dopamine receptors, making it harder for you to feel that ‘high’ in the future, from sugar or from anything else.
Exercise for increasing dopamine
There is tons of science out there that proves exercise can help increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. It can even help protect against some of the degenerative effects in the dopamine-related Parkinson’s disease.
You do not need to do strenuous workouts like CrossFit to get the dopamine-producing benefits of exercise. In fact, a variety of light, fun exercises will often do the trick. So, finding a way to run, bike, swim, or even walk each day will do much more than help you shed pounds, it will help you stay happier even after you get home.
Other activities for increasing dopamine
Some other simple but effective ways to naturally increase your dopamine include getting more sunshine (to up your vitamin D), doing meditation and mindfulness exercises, and practicing yoga. Any activity that reduces stress and promotes relaxation can have a positive effect on dopamine regulation.
Dopamine agonist is a class of drugs that are designed to treat diseases related to dopamine deficiency, like Parkinson’s disease. Due to the ‘blood-brain barrier’, the dopamine chemical cannot be directly administered into the body. This means that dopamine agonists are not actually made of dopamine, but are made to mimic dopamine in a way that will obtain the same effect as your own brain’s naturally produced dopamine.
Types of dopamine agonists
There are many different pharmaceutical dopamine agonists. Some of these brand name medications include Apokyn, Parlodel, Neupro, Mirapex, and Requip. A prescription is required for all of these dopamine agonist class drugs.
There are several common side effects experienced by people who take dopamine agonists. These include sudden sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, hallucinations, and lightheadedness. You should always consult your doctor before using any type of dopamine agonist.
Dopamine is generally considered a positive thing. However, when there is too much dopamine in the brain it can cause some serious problems.
It is thought that dopamine overactivity may be responsible, at least in part, for serious psychological problems like schizophrenia, psychosis, and Tourette’s syndrome. Dopamine overactivity may also play a role in some severe cases of acid reflux, and other stomach issues caused by diabetic nerve damage.
Dopamine antagonists are drugs that are designed to bind to the dopamine receptors in certain parts of the brain, restricting the amount of dopamine that can bind there. When these antagonists bind to the front of the brain, which is responsible for integrating emotions and the perception of one’s surroundings, it can lessen some of the serious effects of psychotic episodes.
Types of dopamine antagonists
Some brand name dopamine antagonists include Haldol, Zyprexa, and Reglan. Drugs in this class are available by prescription only. If you feel like you might need a dopamine antagonist to treat an ongoing health condition, you should consult with your doctor.
Since dopamine antagonists lower the amount of dopamine that successfully binds in the brain, side effects often resemble the symptoms of dopamine deficiency. These include stiff movements like those seen in Parkinson’s disease, tremors, fatigue, and hormone irregularities.
For those who don’t have severe psychological disorders like schizophrenia, but would still like to boost their dopamine to improve their mood or treat disorders like depression, natural supplements may be able to help. These supplements come in many forms, from pills to liquids to powders. Most health-food stores will have some sort of dopamine promoting supplement available for purchase.
Types of dopamine supplements
There are many dopamine supplements on the market that one can choose from.
L-Tyrosine is one of the most popular and most scientifically tested natural supplement to improve dopamine levels. Tyrosine is what’s called a ‘dopamine precursor’. That means it is one of the essential elements that need to be present before the body can successfully synthesize dopamine. Promising research suggests that tyrosine supplements can lead to higher dopamine levels in the brain.
Another popular dopamine supplement comes from the velvet bean, also known as mucuna pruriens. This plant naturally contains up to 5 percent L-DOPA. Like tyrosine, L-DOPA is a dopamine precursor that can help the brain to increase its dopamine levels.
L-theanine is an amino acid that naturally occurs in green tea. There is evidence to suggest that L-theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier to help increase dopamine levels in the brain. It has also been linked to increased focus, reduction in stress, and improvements in learning and memory.
Also called golden root, Rhodiola Rosea has been used in eastern medicine for centuries to treat depression, enhance work performance, and help with stress. Golden root can help stabilize dopamine levels in the brain and increase their reuptake. In recent studies, the traditional medicine has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue with just a single dose.
Dopamine supplement side effects
All of these supplements have different potential side effects. Most of these side effects are mild, but there is also a risk that supplements can react poorly with other medication that you take. You should check with your doctor before beginning any supplement to make sure that it’s right for you and your particular health goals.
Final thoughts on dopamine regulation
The role of dopamine in regulating overall health cannot be overstated. Without dopamine, humans can hardly move. With too much dopamine, we are sent into a state of acute psychosis. So, it’s clear that everyone’s health goals should include a healthy level of dopamine.
There are a number of serious, pharmaceutical drugs out there that can help with dopamine-related diseases like Parkinson’s or schizophrenia. But, for the average guy, a little bit of exercise, sunlight, and maybe an over-the-counter supplement should be enough to keep dopamine levels in the normal range.