How low levels can affect our mood, motivation and general well-being...
Dopamine is one of the better-known neurotransmitters in the human body. Commonly referred to as the “feel-good” chemical, dopamine is what your nervous system uses to send messages between nerve cells. Specifically, it influences how we feel pleasure and happiness.
More than just a mood-booster, dopamine is a powerful tool , critical to how we process thoughts, focus on ideas, and make connections. We’d struggle to feel motivation, pay attention to specific tasks, or even regulate our emotions without dopamine.
Today, we’re going to show our appreciation for the body’s feel-good neurotransmitter, by describing everything dopamine does, and how it works.
What does dopamine do?
Like most of the most important parts of our body’s processes, dopamine is something we don’t usually notice – until there’s a problem. You don’t actively produce this substance – your body just creates it in the background in response to certain activities. Your brain releases dopamine when you eat food you crave or have sex, so it’s commonly associated with feelings of satisfaction. What’s more, as human beings, we’re naturally predisposed to seek out dopamine. After all, who wouldn’t want more pleasure in their day-to-day life? Dopamine motivates us to seek out rewards, like certain types of food and gives us a feeling of satisfaction when we get those things. However, dopamine isn’t all about pleasure and reward. The neurotransmitter can also impact a range of different functions within the body:
Emotions and thoughts
Arousal and sex
Focus and attention
The fight or flight response
Usually, dopamine works alongside different neurotransmitters which influence its effect. For instance, serotonin and dopamine working together create feelings of happiness, while dopamine and adrenaline prompt focus and alertness.
Can you have too much or too little dopamine?
When you have the right amount of dopamine in your system, the result is a good mood, excellent alertness, and fantastic productivity . The right balance of dopamine keeps us working at peak performance. Unfortunately, it is possible to have too little, or too much dopamine too.
While high levels of a substance we call the “feel-good” neurotransmitter can seem like a good thing, the side effects can be significant. High dopamine may increase your energy, concentration, and sex drive, but it can also lead to competitive and aggressive behaviour, anxiety, and stress. Higher dopamine can also be a major culprit in conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
Other conditions like ADHD, Schizophrenia and a higher risk of substance abuse disorders are also associated with changes in your dopamine balance. If your dopamine levels are out of balance, you can suffer from a range of symptoms, like Loss of balance, weight change, tremors, muscle cramps, trouble sleeping, low energy, hallucinations, anxiety, mood swings and constipation
Natural ways to balance dopamine levels
Balancing your dopamine levels can be an excellent way to reduce anxiety. It can also improve your motivation levels, and reduce your risk of various long-term conditions, including depression.
The first step in finding a natural solution is often speaking to your doctor. While many people assume they need to increase their dopamine levels, you might actually benefit from reducing your exposure to this neurotransmitter in some cases. Once you’ve spoken to your doctor, you can try the following tips:
#1 Sleep properly
Lack of dopamine can make you sleepy because it reduces your feelings of alertness and motivation. However, failing to sleep correctly also lowers your dopamine. One study found sleep deprivation leads to a noticeable reduction in the available dopamine receptors in patients.Follow a consistent routine for good sleep hygiene to improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest. You’ll need around 7 to 9 hours per night for the best results. It’s also worth speaking to your doctor if you’re having trouble with sleep.
#2 Adjust your diet
Changing your diet can have a huge impact on dopamine. Protein, for instance, is made up of lots of building blocks known as amino acids. One of these amino acids (tyrosine), is crucial in the production of dopamine. This means eating additional protein could improve your chances of higher dopamine levels in the brain. At the same time, less healthy foods rich in saturated fats could disrupt the dopamine signalling in your brain, according to some studies Altering your diet to feature fewer saturated fats and more protein could improve dopamine and lower your risk of weight gain too.
#3 Try probiotics
Supplements can make a big difference to your longevity and wellbeing. Lately, we’ve begun to discover a significant link between the brain and the gut. Some scientists refer to the gut as a “secondary brain” because it also has a number of nerve cells responsible for producing neurotransmitter signalling molecules. Certain species of bacteria living in your gut can produce dopamine, which may have an impact on your mood and behaviour. With the right strains of positive bacteria in your probiotic supplement, you can even reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression in some cases .
#4 Exercise more often
Exercise is brilliant for increasing your endorphin levels and positively influencing mood. After just a few minutes of exercise, you might find you feel less stressed, more focused, and generally happier. By the time you’re done with your routine, the effects can be significant. While the mood-boosting benefits of exercise aren’t entirely due to dopamine levels, animal research indicates exercise can improve dopamine levels in the brain .
Exercise also makes you healthier by helping you to lose weight, improve cardio performance, and strengthen your muscles.
#5 Enjoy the little things
Finally, sometimes all you really need to enjoy a boost of dopamine is to celebrate the little things in life. Doing something you enjoy purposefully on a regular basis and connecting that action to an accomplishment is a great way to tell your brain something great is happening. Since dopamine is associated with your “satisfaction” and “reward” responses, taking the time to mindfully appreciate your accomplishments each day can really improve dopamine production.
Get your dopamine balanced
If you’re concerned about your dopamine levels, the best thing you can do is speak to your doctor. Remember, this isn’t just your feel-good chemical – dopamine pays an integral role in the performance of the body and brain. The faster you address an imbalance, the better.