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Low Dopamine: Can Cause You to Overeat, Crave Sugar and High Fat/Rich Foods, Lack Energy and Drive and much more!!
Beth Ley Knotts, Ph.D.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in pleasure, motivation, behavior, movement and learning.

Conditions associated with low dopamine levels include:
  • Depression and other mental disorders
  • Attention disorders (such as ADHD)
  • Parkinson’s Disease

The following are some conditions that can be accompanied by low dopamine:
  • Low Motivation
  • Fatigue/lack of energy
  • Weight gain
  • Increased Appetite especially for sugar and rich foods
  • Low Libido
  • Higher prolactin
  • Anhedonia (lack of pleasure)
  • Memory Problems/“Brain Fog”
  • Introverted personality
  • Lowered ability to form romantic attachments

Healthy dopamine levels are necessary for you to enjoy a satisfying life. Increased dopamine also boosts your energy, helps you set and work towards goals, as well as engaging in fulfilling activities. Increased dopamine will also lead to increased testosterone levels.

How does one raise dopamine levels? The term ‘increase dopamine’ does not always mean that the dopamine level rises. In some instances, without change in dopamine levels, positive results may be realized due to more efficient use of the neurotransmitter or decrease in its breakdown. Therefore, ‘increase dopamine’ can mean any one or a combination of the following:
  • Production of more dopamine
  • Increased recirculation of dopamine
  • Decreased breakdown of dopamine
  • Increased dopamine receptors
  • Increased efficiency of dopamine receptors

Therefore, the term ‘increase dopamine’ is used to mean that more dopamine is available for utilization irrespective of whether there is a real rise or not.

12 Ways to Increase Dopamine

1. Decrease sugar intake
While sugar gives a temporary dopamine high, it causes dopamine depletion in the longer-term. Sugar acts in a similar way to stimulants and addictive products and behavior. Studies indicate that the action of sugar follows the same pathways as compulsive behavior, alcohol and cocaine. And similar to them, it leads to a short-term high and a long-term drop in dopamine.

This causes a continuing need to take more sugar in order to try to maintain the high. This is similar to what happens after using an addictive drug and explains why sweet treats leads to a craving for more.

2. Reduce caffeine intake
Similar to sugar, coffee gives you a temporary dopamine high. However, this soon wears off and you end up with a drop in dopamine level. Therefore, for similar reasons, you will do well for your dopamine levels by reducing your coffee and caffeine intake.

3. Exercise regularly
Besides helping improve your muscle tone, reduce stress, and improve your overall health, regular exercise can help increase your dopamine levels as well as other neurotransmitters including endorphins and serotonin. The overall effects of an increase in these neurotransmitters include better sleep at night. With less stress and better sleep, your body will also produce more testosterone.

4. Increase magnesium intake
Dopamine deficiency can be the result of magnesium deficiency. It is estimated that about half of the American population is magnesium deficient. Magnesium deficiency can result from habitually eating junk and processed food. Its symptoms include cravings for carbs and salt, fatigue, constipation, headaches, muscle aches, hypertension, heart palpitations, mood swings, irritability and anxiety. To address dopamine deficiency arising from magnesium deficiency, supplement and eat foods rich in magnesium such as spinach, artichoke, almonds and hazelnuts.

5. Increase probiotics

Studies show that the presence of more harmful bacteria than beneficial bacteria in the gut has a harmful effect on the brain cells within which dopamine is synthesized. Probiotic foods (kefir, natural yogurt and raw, fermented vegetables) supports the health of dopamine-producing brain cells. Eat foods high in natural probiotics and supplements to increase the numbers of beneficial bacteria.

6. Vinpocetine
Studies suggest that vinpocetine may improve memory, mood, reduce anxiety, and increase perceived well-being. This effect is believed to be due in part to its ability to increase blood flow and circulation, enhance glucose metabolism, and reduce inflammation, and increase certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine.

7. L-tyrosine supplements
Tyrosine is the most important chemical in the synthesis of dopamine. The amino acid is a precursor of dopamine and is considered as a main building block of the neurotransmitter. You can supplement your L-tyrosine intake to increase dopamine. You can do this by taking L-tyrosine supplements such as n-acetyl-l-tyrosine, which readily gets into the brain for the synthesis of dopamine.

You can also improve your dopamine levels by regularly eating certain foods, including:
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Yogurt
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Green tea
  • Almonds
  • Milk
  • Watermelon

8. Mucuna pruriens
Supplementing mucuna pruriens increases your dopamine levels. Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume. It is a rich source of l-dopa, a precursor for dopamine. Studies have found that when used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, mucuna pruriens works even better than the levodopa medication. Parkinson’s disease is one of the conditions that can occur as a result of dopamine deficiency.

9. Prayer and Meditation
Many studies have shown that prayer and meditation has many health benefits. When done regularly, meditation helps to improve relaxation, creativity and learning. Studies have also shown that meditation leads to increased dopamine levels. It also improves concentration and focus. There are many ways to get into a meditative state including activities like photography, knitting, drawing, writing, woodwork and home improvement.

10. Get a healthy amount of sleep
Studies suggest that lack of sleep and disturbed sleep can lead to a reduction in the number of dopamine receptacles. Research has also found that dopamine is necessary for healthy sleep because it has a role in the production of the sleep and relaxation hormone known as melatonin. For these reasons, adequate sleep and dopamine levels have a relationship.

11. Lose excess weight
Studies show that obesity is linked to dopamine dysfunction and that obese people normally have lower amounts of dopamine receptors than normal. Some studies have also found that brains of obese people operate in a similar manner to those of drug addicts. For these reasons, and because dopamine acts on the pleasure centers in the brain, an obese person is less likely to enjoy life, and to receive pleasure, including getting satisfied with the food that they eat. This causes them to overeat. Therefore, it makes sense to work on losing excess weight. This will help you to increase your dopamine levels and improve your overall life.

12. Cold showers, music & healthy sex
Research shows that these activities as well as dancing and eating your favorite foods all boost your dopamine level. In contrast, low dopamine result from addictions to things like sugar, alcohol, cocaine, and activities like gambling, sex, power, shopping, porn and video games.

Because dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is critical for a healthy, happy life, it makes sense to avoid foods, chemicals and activities that lead to dopamine deficiency and to eat foods and supplements and to engage in activities that increase your dopamine levels.