When my aunt was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, we realised the importance of dopamine in our body and researched ways to improve it.
What is Dopamine
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain which is important for many functions in our body like movement and emotional response. It is believed to be directly responsible for motivation and attention, feelings of pleasure and reward, a feeling of vitality and aliveness in a person. It is also called a feel-good chemical. It regulates the brain’s 'reward and pleasure' centers.
Dopamine is essential in many cognitive functions like learning, concentration, memory, mood and motor control and sleep. It also aids in other vital functions outside of the brain like digestion, stimulates sodium excretion and maintains electrolyte balance, expands blood vessels, helps increase urine output in the kidneys and in the pancreas reduces the production of insulin.
When the dopamine-producing cells in the brain deteriorate and are unable to produce the required amount of dopamine, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's, dementia are caused which are very difficult to live with. The deficiency of dopamine causes tremors, inability to focus, difficulty eating and swallowing, muscle aches and pains, muscle stiffness, constipation, sudden weight loss or gain, anxiety, sadness, depression, and fatigue. They develop an addictive personality and take to alcohol and drugs and develop harmful habits like gambling and shopping which give them a temporary high.
Methods to Increase Dopamine levels in the Brain
Though the exact reasons for the deterioration of dopamine-producing cells are not known, it is believed that genetic and environmental factors are responsible for the disorder. Potential causes are long term addiction to caffeine, alcohol, drugs, poor diet, psychological stress, lack of exercise, advanced age, head trauma, illness, and long term exposure to pesticides and herbicides.
The good news is that dopamine can be increased naturally thereby improve our focus and motivation and overall health.
Methods to Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain
- Meditation-Studies show that meditation increases dopamine levels substantially and when done regularly the benefits are immense. So go ahead, start meditating regularly for good health.
- Act of Goal setting-Making a To-Do-List even for everyday tasks is a good idea. The act of goal setting increases dopamine because the brain visualizes the goal and pumps up the dopamine. A list of daily tasks in combination with long term goal setting is highly recommended. As you tick off each box in the to-do list the dopamine level shoots up and that gives you the motivation to do more and achieve your goals with enthusiasm.
- Diet rich in Tyrosine- L- Tyrosine is an amino acid or building blocks for creating dopamine. Some of the foods that contain - L- Tyrosine are Fish, Avocados, Eggs, cheese, bananas and pumpkin seeds. So have plenty of these foods regularly.
- Regular Exercise-Physical exercise is known to significantly increase the dopamine levels in the brain. Simple exercises like walking, running, dancercise, lifting weights, whichever suits you best should be done. Go for the exercise that you like and that which suits you best. So get moving, be active and stay fit.
- Green Tea- Studies have shown that the polyphenols found in green tea can boost the dopamine levels considerably. So stock up on green tea the next time you go shopping.
- Create something interesting-This could be anything from music to writing to painting. Always try to create something new and interesting to keep the brain active and maintain dopamine levels.
- Natural supplements: Probiotics, curcumin, Oregano oil, Ginseng, Berberine, Magnesium and Vitamin d are good for increasing dopamine. These supplements are generally safe but it is best to take your doctor’s advice before adding them to your diet as they may react with other prescriptions or over the counter drugs used by you.
- Positive thoughts and cheerful countenance-As anxiety is a factor known to contribute to the deterioration of dopamine, it is good to have positive thoughts and be happy and cheerful always. Keeping life simple is a good way to keep stress and anxiety at bay.
- Sleep- Getting enough sleep is very important as lack of sleep disturbs the natural rhythm of the body and in turn, affects dopamine generation. Ideally, eight hours of sleep is needed for our body to rejuvenate and refresh.
- Sunlight exposure-Sun exposure is known to boost dopamine levels due to an increase in vitamin D. But too much exposure can cause skin damage, so due care has to be taken for skin protection and moderation is important.
The dopamine receptor is a type of G protein-coupled receptor. Dopamine binds to this receptor and depending on the type of receptor has many types of functions. Dopamine receptors are found in the central nervous system. They are located and encoded by different genes. Dopamine receptors play an important role in our daily life functions. The hormone dopamine and its receptors affect movement, emotions and the reward system in the brain. There are five types of dopamine receptors, D1, D2, D3, D4, D5 and each has a different function. D1 and D5 receptors group together and D2, D3 and D4 group together in a separate subgroup. So working to increase the number of receptors will give long term pleasure and more drive in life. There are natural ways to increase dopamine receptors in our body.
- High-Intensity Interval Training- Involves short periods of intensive exercise followed by less-intense recovery periods. Exercise in general increases the number of dopamine receptors in the brain and studies have shown that High-Intensity Interval Training is the most effective form for increasing dopamine receptors.
- Technology Fast- Take time off from all technology for a few weeks and reap the benefits of an upgrade in your dopamine receptors. Overstimulation causes the receptors to burnout; low stimulation for a period of time will make the brain regulate the dopamine receptors to feel something. So take a technology fast and reap huge benefits later.
- Intermittent Fasting- is a good way to boost dopamine receptors. It means to fast for a particular period of the day followed by a period in which you consume food. The 16/8 method is found to be most effective. That is 16 hours of fasting each day followed by an 8-hour eating window. It is not only good for maintaining weight but also helps boost dopamine.
- Cold showers and Ice baths are said to have beneficial effects in increasing the dopamine receptors. It is very difficult to have these but the results are fantastic in the long run.
- Music Therapy- Studies show that music helps lower stress and anxiety which are contributory factors for dopamine depletion. Music like meditation and yoga is very beneficial to boost dopamine receptors.
- So what burns out the dopamine receptors? Ironically it is dopamine itself that burns out dopamine receptors. That means when there is too much dopamine for too long a period in the brain, it starts to protect itself by slowing down the receptors. The reasons are more stimulus to the brain than it can handle.
Things to Avoid for the Dopamine Burnout
- Avoid Junk food- In addition to being unhealthy, it knocks out the dopamine receptors. Do not indulge in fast food, fried food, and sugary stuff. Fast food can be indulged in not more than once or twice a week. To avoid nutritional deficiencies, a diet rich in vitamins and minerals is advised.
- Addiction to Technology or unhealthy habits: Stay away from your mobiles, computers and other screens and social media occasionally. Constantly engaging in exciting stuff on the internet can harm the dopamine receptors. Limiting the use of these addictive habits is the answer to avoid the drain on your dopamine and to save your brain. Alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs are other addictions that are harmful to your health. The constant spike in dopamine levels due to alcohol and other addictive consumptions will damage dopamine receptors and can lead to dangerous diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. So Stay away from such addictions and if already addicted, get help and get over it.
- Don’t try to escape life: Trying to get stimulated by various addictions is not a solution to the problems in life. Take to nature; go on hikes, mountaineering, and such other adventure sports to get happiness naturally. Spend time with pets and kids and imbibe their simple joys of life.
- Have a disciplined routine-Procrastination and inconsistent lifestyles can affect the dopamine receptors. Have a disciplined routine and follow it every day. A good diet, regular exercise, a to-do list will all help in the long run.
- Overweight- obesity or overweight is another reason for the burn out of dopamine. To manage your weight and maintain an optimal weight constantly is very important.
- Chronic Stress and anxiety- Avoid stress and anxiety. Practice deep breathing during difficult situations and always keep a calm countenance. Yoga and meditation are known to help in keeping the mind balanced.
- Avoid overuse of anti-depressant drugs-Some people take to anti-depressant drugs for every simple stressful situation which is very dangerous as you can get addicted to it. They can be very harmful in the long run and can lead to damage to the dopamine receptors.
Studies have shown that a neurochemical imbalance particularly dopamine results in numerous debilitating disorders that impair our normal movements and moods of our everyday life. Dopamine deficiency increases the risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer and dementia. Low dopamine levels can make one prone to addictions, depression, and anxiety leading to obesity, sleep disorders and eating disorders. So it is very important to maintain the balance of dopamine in our system. This can be done naturally with a disciplined lifestyle, good diet, exercise, meditation and cultivating interesting hobbies. Abstaining from addictive habits and junk food and keeping stress at bay are also important. So it is time for us to make those changes and take steps to boost the dopamine and dopamine receptors in our body, as they crucial for maintaining our good health and vitality.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 VIDYA D SAGAR
VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on December 12, 2019:
Thanks for the comment. It's always better to try natural remedies as medications often cause side effects in the long run. Meditation and Breathing exercises are known to be very helpful, please try them. All the best Joan
Joan Meeks on December 12, 2019:
The article on dopamine was very informative. I have overwhelming stress disorder. I am currently taking an opioid to control it. I will try todo the suggestions in your article. I so much to elevate opioids from my daily intake. Thank you
VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on December 05, 2019:
Thank you so much, Liz Westwood. I really appreciate your encouraging comments. It truly inspires me to write more.
Liz Westwood from UK on December 05, 2019:
This is a fascinating article. Thank you for sharing your interesting research. I appreciate the practical suggestions you have made.
VIDYA D SAGAR (author) on December 05, 2019:
Thanks, Shweta and Deepak, I appreciate your comments. It inspires me to write.
Deepak on December 04, 2019:
Very informative article. It is true that a simple and disciplined lifestyle is very important to lead a healthy and productive life. Thanks for sharing.
Shweta on December 04, 2019:
Wow useful info. with our current lifestyle these things are very common. good to know it can be avoided by making some simple lifestyle changes.
Marvin Parke from Jamaica on December 02, 2019:
Thank you very much for this