Dopamine is an essential neurochemical that plays a pivotal role in producing feelings of reward and well-being, among other functions. When dopamine is released in the brain, positive emotions motivate the person to repeat a particular behavior that may be beneficial for survival and wellness.
On the other hand, low dopamine levels are associated with a loss of motivation and excitement for activities that would be pleasurable for others, such as eating, exercising, or socializing. For those in recovery from substance abuse or addiction, increasing the brain’s ability to produce dopamine naturally is essential to improve mood and discourage a return to substance abuse as a means to experience pleasure.
Frequent drug or alcohol abuse, over time, hijacks the brain’s pleasure and reward system. As the brain acclimates to a substance’s presence, it becomes less able to produce dopamine, serotonin, and other vital neurotransmitters on its own, without chemical intervention.
Behaviors and Activities That Can Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally
People new to recovery sometimes struggle to experience pleasure, but fortunately, some things can be done to boost dopamine levels without the use of substances, such as the following:
Proteins are macronutrients made up of nearly two dozen amino acids. The body can produce some on its own, but others must be obtained through diet. For example, tyrosine is an amino that plays a crucial role in the body’s dopamine levels through conversion into this essential neurochemical. Tyrosine can also be produced from another amino known as phenylalanine, and both can be found in foods high in protein, including beef, pork, eggs, poultry, dairy, soy, and legumes.
Studies have shown that by increasing the amount of tyrosine and phenylalanine in a person’s diet, the amount of dopamine produced can also be increased. On the other hand, when phenylalanine and tyrosine are not consumed in adequate amounts, dopamine levels may become depleted.
Avoid Saturated Fat
Some animal research has suggested that saturated fats may interfere with dopamine signaling in the brain when consumed excessively. These fats can be found in animal fat, dairy, butter, lard, and palm oil, among others.
One study found that when rats received half of their calories from saturated fat, they exhibited reduced dopamine signaling in the reward regions of the brain when compared to those with the same caloric intake from unsaturated fat.
Precisely why saturated fat may have the potential to affect dopamine levels adversely is not clear. Researchers and health experts have posited, however, that eating a diet high in saturated fat may increase inflammation in the body, resulting in adverse changes to the dopamine signaling system.
Recent research has suggested that functioning in the brain and the gastrointestinal tract are closely linked. Moreover, the “gut” has often been referred to as the “second brain, as it contains many nerve cells that produce chemical messengers such as dopamine.
Also, some bacteria species that live in the gut can produce dopamine, thereby having the potential to influence mood and behavior. Several studies have found that specific strains of bacteria can relieve depression and anxiety symptoms in both humans and animals when consumed in a large enough amount.
Exercise is strongly recommended for increasing endorphin levels and improving mood. Positive emotional changes can occur after just a few minutes of aerobic activity but tend to be most significant after 20 minutes or more.
In humans, one three-month study determined that practicing yoga for one hour six days a week could boost dopamine levels significantly. Also, several studies have provided evidence that regular, intense exercise several times per week resulted in markedly improved motor control in persons with Parkinson’s, a disease characterized by low dopamine levels.
Get Plenty of Sleep
The release of dopamine in the brain has been associated with feelings of wakefulness and alertness. Animal research has shown that dopamine is released in high amounts when a person wakes up, and levels fall off when it’s time for sleep. Moreover, a lack of good-quality sleep appears to disrupt these natural rhythms. If a person must stay awake throughout the night, the availability of dopamine in the brain will be reduced significantly by the next morning.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should receive 7–9 hours of sleep each night for optimal health as well as practicing proper sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene can be improved by falling asleep, waking up at around the same time every day, minimizing noise in the environment, avoiding caffeine intake late in the day, and only using the bed for sleeping. In other words, not watching TV and using a cellphone or being otherwise distracted while in bed.
Listen to Music
Listening to music can be a pleasant way to promote dopamine release in the brain. Several brain imaging studies have suggested that music can increase activity in the pleasure and reward regions of the brain that contain numerous dopamine receptors.
One small study that examined the effects of music on dopamine found a 9% increase in this neurotransmitter when subjects listened to instrumental music that gave them “chills.” All research on music and dopamine levels has only used instrumental songs to ensure that the melodies alone (not lyrics) can increase dopamine levels.
Meditation is a holistic practice that involves clearing the mind, focusing inward, allowing thoughts to pass by without judgment, or thinking of nothing at all. It is typically performed while sitting, and regular practice has been associated with improved mental health and physical well-being.
Recent research has found that these benefits may be linked to increased dopamine levels in the brain. One study that included several experienced meditation instructors revealed an average of a 64% boost in dopamine production after a one-hour meditation session, compared to just resting quietly. It is thought that these changes may help people who meditate maintain a positive mood and motivate them to remain in the meditative state for a more extended period.
There are many vitamins and minerals that the brain and body need to produce dopamine, including folate, iron, niacin, and vitamin B6. If a person’s body is deficient in one or more of these essential nutrients, it may have difficulty producing enough dopamine to satisfy its own needs.
Blood tests can determine if a person lacks these nutrients in their body, and if so, supplements containing the necessary ingredients can be used to increase levels. In animal studies, several other supplements have linked to increased dopamine, including vitamin D, magnesium, oregano extract, and green tea.
Getting Help for Addiction
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer comprehensive addiction programs founded on the concept of integrated and holistic treatment. Using a multi-faceted approach, we provide a variety of therapeutic services, including behavioral therapy and experiential activities, to those we treat. A significant amount of research has shown that such comprehensive programs are the most effective at helping people achieve the best outcomes, including long-lasting sobriety and wellness.
If you ready to begin your personal journey to recovery, we urge you to contact us as soon as possible and discover how we can help you get started—one step at a time!