Article – Exploring Dopamine

Dopamine is an important chemical messenger in our brain, with many functions:

  • It’s our internal reward system
  • It’s our internal motivation system
  • It helps with our memory and attention
  • It regulates our body movements

Dopamine levels are typically well regulated within the nervous system, however – for some of us, we simply don’t have enough of it!

Here, are some easy ways to increase it:

Increase Protein Intake

Studies have shown that increasing the amount of tyrosine and phenylalanine in the diet can increase dopamine levels in the brain, which may promote deep thinking and improve memory (1) (2)

Some easy ways to increase protein into your diet includes:

  • When eating a meal, eat the protein source first
  • Use cheese as a snack
  • Start the morning with eggs (inc. pancakes!)
  • Top up food with chopped almonds
  • Eating Greek yogurt (and not the Greek Style substitute!)
  • Have a protein shake for breakfast
  • Include a high protein food with every meal
  • Add some peanut butter to snacks
  • Include fish into the diet
  • Replace the white rice, pasta, and bread with whole grains

Eat Less Saturated Fat

A growing bank of evidence is showing that when we eat too much saturated fat in our diet, it reduces the dopamine signals in the reward areas of the brain!  The study was conducted on rats … but it’s food for thought! (3)

So, why not replace the saturated fats with a healthy alternatives – for more tips on this, take a look at the NHS Guidelines.  Small, simple alternatives are easy to implement.  And if you’re looking to increase dopamine levels – it’s worth it!

Eat Probiotics

We all know the growing evidence between the brain and the gut.  But did you know that the gut contains a large number of nerve cells that produce many neurotransmitters, including dopamine?  I know right!

There are lots of different types of probiotics out there.  But, if you want to increase the protein intake alongside the probiotic – eat Greek Yoghurt.  It ticks off two boxes in one!

Exercise

It’s not rocket science – we all know that when we exercise, we feel better -but in this example, we are looking to increase dopamine and studies suggest that exercise can boost dopamine levels in the brain (4).

For me, it isn’t just about getting fitter, I found that by doing ‘heavy’ styles of workouts – so that’s focused on high impact weights.  It grounded my mind – back into my body!

Improve Sleep

When dopamine is released in the brain, it creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness. Which is great – when you have a full day ahead of you.  However, what happens if you struggle with falling asleep – or staying asleep?

Research is showing us that dopamine is released in large amounts in the morning, when we wake up, with it dropping naturally in the evening – ready to go to sleep.  However, the lack of a healthy sleeping pattern disrupts these natural rhythms.

The ways in which we supported this natural rhythm, was through:

  • Lots more exercise during the day
  • Regular bedtime schedule (except weekends)
  • Waking up at the same time each day (except weekends)
  • Blackout blinds or sleep mask
  • White noise machine or fan (to block out external noise)

Listen to Music

Listening to music is a fun way to stimulate dopamine release in your brain.  Link this with movement of exercise and you are ticking those boxes again!

Just remember – the objective is dopamine and when we listen to music is increases the reward and pleasure areas of the brain, which are rich with dopamine receptors! (6)

Meditation

Anyone who has ever listened to me talk about my self-care, will know – I do LOTS of meditation! It is an effective way for me to regulate my nervous system – to balance and re-energise.  So, it doesn’t surprise me when I read the research on how it also increases levels of dopamine in the brain.

One study including 8 experienced meditation teachers found a 65% increase in dopamine production after meditating for 1 hour, compared with resting quietly.  A 65% increase!  (7)

Increase the Sunlight

Studies are showing us, time and time again – the importance of sunshine exposure – and not just for the Vitamin D!

If we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to get out into the sunshine – we reduce our levels of mood-boosting dopamine neurotransmitters.  Less transmitters – less motivation to do anything.  Can you see the cycle!

I do love a study – and this one shows how 68 healthy adults who received the most sunlight exposure, over a 30 day period had the highest density of dopamine receptors in the reward and movement regions of their brains! (8)  So, get out of the car and get into the sunlight … not only to exercise, but to receive that dopamine hit!

Final Thoughts

As you can see throughout this post – there are many, many easy ways to get an increase in dopamine levels.  Remember, for some of us – especially those with a neurodivergent brain – we simply don’t have as much as we may need to function with the expectations upon us, at that exact time.

So, if we don’t have as much – we need it in other forms.  Balance this with social expectations that are in line with our capacity and we have a great recipe for happiness!

If you are a professional, working with a young person who is struggling to focus on the expectation you have put upon them.  Stop for a moment and ask yourself ‘what if …’

  • What If … we sat outside in the sunshine?
  • What If … we started each day with a high protein breakfast?
  • What If … we incorporated exercise through the day?
  • What If … we used meditation techniques?

What would happen then I wonder?  … Why not find out 🙂

Source:

  1. Food for thought: association between dietary tyrosine and cognitive performance in younger and older adults
  2. Food for creativity: tyrosine promotes deep thinking

  3. Dampened Mesolimbic Dopamine Function and Signalling by Saturated but not Monounsaturated Dietary Lipids

  4. Exercise duration and mood state: how much is enough to feel better?

  5. Dopamine: A Modulator of Circadian Rhythms in the Central Nervous System

  6. Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions

  7. Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness

  8. Sunshine-exposure variation of human striatal dopamine 

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