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Boosting Dopamine Naturally: Signs of Low Dopamine and How to Increase It

Updated: Jan 16

| by The Functional Medicine Team at The Facility Denver |


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical messenger that transmits signals in the brain and other areas of the nervous system. It plays a crucial role in various physiological functions and is associated with several important aspects of human behavior and cognition. Notably: dopamine is flagged as THE driving force behind motivation, pleasure, and even pain.


Understanding Dopamine - Low dopamine symptoms and natural ways to boost dopamine

Dopamine and Motivation:


Dopamine is the brain's reward messenger, acting as a key communicator in the cascade of “mental drive”. Whether it's accomplishing a task, pursuing a goal, or even the anticipation of a reward, dopamine fuels the engine of motivation. It reinforces behaviors that lead to rewards, encouraging individuals to repeat those behaviors. This is essential for learning and adapting to the environment.


>> By understanding how dopamine influences our drive, we gain insights into harnessing its power to propel us towards a more fulfilling and purposeful life. <<


Dopamine and Pleasure:


Dopamine is often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter because it is associated with feelings of reward and pleasure. It is released during pleasurable situations and reinforces behaviors that contribute to our well-being and survival.


the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine is released during pleasure

Indulging in a piece of chocolate, engaging in intimate moments, or savoring a cup of coffee can all trigger a surge in dopamine levels.


>> The transient nature of these increases highlights the importance of cultivating a balanced approach to pleasure-seeking activities, preventing the pitfalls of overindulgence. <<


Dopamine, Pain, and Resilience:


Remarkably, dopamine doesn't just play a role in pleasure; it also wields influence over our experience of pain (and other stressors). By modulating the impact of stressors and enhancing our resilience, dopamine acts as a natural buffer, influencing how an individual perceives and copes with stress.


>> Understanding how dopamine affects the body's pain and inflammation systems unveils its potential to transform pain, or stress, into a more manageable sensation. <<


functional lab ranges hba1c

How do I know if I have low dopamine?


Examining low dopamine levels is far from a straightforward affair—it's a nuanced and intricate topic. It's crucial to grasp that while there's a link between low dopamine levels and certain medical conditions, it doesn't translate into direct causation. The relationship is more complex, entering the realms of correlation and causation, adding layers to the understanding.


Take obesity, for instance—a condition linked to lower dopamine levels. The foods we consume and our exercise routines have a tangible impact on how our brain utilizes dopamine. But here's the puzzle: do poor food choices and a lack of exercise lead to low dopamine levels, or is it the other way around? Does a low dopamine level in the brain trigger a "reward system," making unhealthy choices more appealing?


Adding to the complexity, neurotransmitters like dopamine don't operate in isolation; they interact intricately with others, such as serotonin. In essence, delving into the world of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, is a multifaceted journey that requires navigating through interconnected pathways and interdependencies. (Ahem- Everything is connected.)


The following are the generalized symptoms that indicate you would benefit from boosting your dopamine:

  • You lack motivation, “the drive.”

  • You're tired.

  • You can't concentrate.

  • You're moody or anxious.

  • You don't feel pleasure from previously enjoyable experiences.

  • You're depressed; you feel hopeless.

  • You have a low sex drive.

symptoms of low dopamine - The facility functional medicine


>> There is no sure assessment of dopamine levels. A blood test can measure the amount of dopamine, but it doesn't show how your brain reacts to this neurotransmitter; arguably a more important factor. In our functional medicine clinic, we rely on patient history, symptoms, and lifestyle factors to evaluate dopamine activity.

 

Natural Ways to Boost Dopamine


Boosting dopamine levels naturally involves engaging in various activities and incorporating specific substances into your lifestyle. By using these avenues smartly, we can tap into a valuable toolkit for cultivating a more enriching and resilient life.


1. Deliberate COLD exposure

Intentional exposure to cold water boosts dopamine in a very sustained way. Cold exposure (as short as 1 minute in 45-55 degree water) increases the transmission and circulation of dopamine for an extended time.


deliberate cold exposure to boost dopamine

Why we love it: Deliberate cold exposure is a very safe tool that gives you the boost in dopamine that you would see with more nefarious pharmacology. (think: cocaine and methamphetamine)


2. Intentional LIGHT exposure

Natural light exposure early in the day triggers dopamine release acutely. It also increases certain dopamine receptors that are under photic control. This up regulation of available receptors allows whatever circulating dopamine already in the system to have a greater and more potent effect. Making an effort to get sunlight in your eyes and on your skin (safely) as close to sunrise and waking as possible is another safe, and fairly simple habit to change brain chemistry in a powerful way.


early morning light to improve levels of dopamine

[ Worth noting: Bright light exposure after the sun goes down will have the opposite effect, blunting dopamine levels acutely AND in the following day. - Wear your blue blockers! ]


3. Engaging in EFFORTFUL ACTIVITY

Engaging in effortful activities, especially those that challenge and elevate you, becomes a powerful tool for increasing dopamine levels. Activities like meditation, with its blend of focus and relaxation, contribute not only to momentary boosts but also to the overall mental resilience needed to navigate life's complexities. It is the effort required, not necessarily the activity itself, that enhances dopamine release and efficacy.


ways to naturally increase dopamine


4. Seeking out PLEASURE.

Both the pursuit and act of pleasurable behavior can double the amount of dopamine circulating in your blood. This includes physical intimacy and sex; but also any activity that brings you joy. Again, it isn’t only the actual DOING… but the pursuit and anticipation of a good feeling that positively influences dopamine.


how to change neurotransmitters - functional medicine Denver


 

Nutrition and Supplements to Boost Dopamine


1. Foods Rich in L-Tyrosine.

Tyrosine is an amino acid that is a precursor to dopamine. Therefore, consuming more tyrosine in your diet is a direct pathway to dopamine synthesis. Foods rich in tyrosine include beef, poultry, fish, aged cheese, pumpkin seeds, lentils, and tofu.


Foods Rich in Tyrosine

2. Caffeine.

Even in moderate amounts (100-250mg), caffeine has an acute influence on increasing dopamine. This is the short-term “quick effect”. Like early morning light exposure, caffeine also increases the density of dopamine receptors, making you more sensitive to dopamine's effects.



3. Nicotine.

The effect of nicotine on dopamine levels is potent. Acute exposure can increase dopamine 150% over baseline. At the same time, nicotine decreases the activity of another neurotransmitter called GABA. This relationship sends dopamine skyrocketing without inhibition.


Meal Timing for glucose management -small meals for blood sugar regulation
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It is important to recognize that the dopamine effect from nicotine is extremely short-lived. This makes nicotine a highly addictive substance as we continue to chase that same pleasure/reward. Over time, baseline dopamine levels are reduced... leaving you needing "higher highs".


4. Chocolate.

Another (extremely) short-lived effect on dopamine comes in the form of sweet, sweet goodness. Consuming chocolate can increase your baseline level of dopamine by 150%. Unfortunately, this increase only lasts a few seconds to a few minutes.

medications and supplements that increase dopamine

5. Non-Prescription Supplements.


Certain supplements can acutely spike dopamine levels. This is helpful for a short-term performance boost to enhance motivation, mood, and focus. The most potent things are Mucunopuriens, L-Tyrosine, and Phenylethelamine. Each of these will have a very individualized effect depending on YOUR underlying brain chemistry.


We do not recommend self-experimentation here, as the after effects from a crash in dopamine can wreck your inherent reward system.


6. Prescription Drugs.


Several different classes of drugs have action on dopamine synthesis and dopamine receptors. This includes anti-depressants like Wellbutrin, ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin, Parkinson's treatments like L-Dopa, and anti-anxieties like Risperdal. We won't go into detail of these drugs here, but you can learn more about the clinical management of dopamine deficiency from the Cleveland Clinic.


7. Illicit Drugs.


Certainly not something we're promoting... but relevant in the conversation about dopamine. It's worth highlighting that illicit drugs unleash a significantly more powerful surge of dopamine compared to natural rewards. Amphetamines, like meth, can skyrocket dopamine levels by a staggering 1,000 percent. Keep in mind, the quantity of dopamine released varies among individuals due to factors like unique brain chemistry. Yet, consistently seeking pleasure from these high-dopamine rewards may result in uncomfortable comedowns, foster addiction, and hinder your brain's natural ability to produce dopamine and experience pleasure.


Amphetamine Study
Amphetamine Paradoxically Augments Exocytotic Dopamine Release and Phasic Dopamine Signals, D.P. Daberkow, et al. Journal of Neuroscience 9 January 2013, 33 (2) 452-463

 

While supplements and drugs can feel like a 'quick fix' to boost dopamine, the safest and most sustainable way to tap into the physical and cognitive enhancing effects of dopamine is to lean into the behavioral tools.


Remember that balance is key. While these activities contribute to natural dopamine elevation, it's important to approach them in moderation. Excessive reliance on any single source may lead to addictions and impact overall well-being. Striking a balance ensures we harness the benefits of dopamine without falling into the pitfalls of excess.


The DOPE on Dopamine - The Facility Denver - Functional medicine

 

More Resources on Dopamine-


 

CLICK HERE to shop our supplement store - products are also available in our Cherry Creek Clinic.


If you're curious about building a personalized supplementation protocol for controlling and managing your blood sugar, contact us to book a consultation! (This can be remote).



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Functional Medicine Denver Colorado Facility Nutritionist



Want to work with a functional medicine doctor to run labs and assess nutrient status? Struggling with hormone imbalance, IBS, weight gain, mood changes? Let's look at BIOCHEMISTRY. Read more about Functional Medicine at The Facility here.



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Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine | The Facility Denver | Functional Medicine
Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine | The Facility Denver | Functional Medicine





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