How To Increase Dopamine Levels To Boost Your Mood + Motivation: 9 Ways

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No one wants to feel anxious and depressed, and if you suffer from anxiety or a low mood, you may have looked into chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, termed neurotransmitters, which can help reduce anxiety, boost mood, and help you feel better.

So, what exactly is dopamine? What are the symptoms of dopamine deficiency? What are the best tips for how to release dopamine instantly or how to increase dopamine naturally in your system?

In this article, we will discuss what dopamine is, common low dopamine symptoms, and tips and strategies for how to increase dopamine naturally and how to release dopamine instantly.

We will cover the following: 

  • What Is Dopamine?
  • Benefits of Increasing Dopamine
  • What Are the Symptoms of Low Dopamine Levels?
  • How To Increase Dopamine: 9 Ways

Let’s dive in! 

A person smiling.

What Is Dopamine?

Before we cover what increases dopamine naturally and how to boost dopamine quickly, it’s helpful to briefly discuss what dopamine is, what low dopamine symptoms are, and why you might want to increase dopamine levels.

Dopamine is considered both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. 

Neurotransmitters can be thought of as chemical messengers in the brain that ultimately stimulate or inhibit various processes or reactions in the body.

Dopamine is primarily associated with driving motivation and is produced by the brain during a “reward” for something pleasurable. 

However, this potent neurotransmitter has also been shown to affect attention, memory, and body movements.

No wonder we want to know how to get more dopamine into our system!

The word dopamine is written on graph paper.

Benefits of Increasing Dopamine

Because dopamine is associated with the reward centers in the brain, dopamine helps generate the motivation to achieve an exciting or important goal. Therefore, dopamine is produced as you set your sights on this goal and start making strides toward achieving it. 

Additionally, dopamine is produced in abundance when you reach that goal, which is why it feels so good to accomplish anything from small daily tasks to major milestones and achievements.

As you approach the achievement of a goal, dopamine production surges, and you start to feel even more motivated and excited. 

The expectation of a reward is ultimately what drives a boost in dopamine.

For example, in the animal kingdom, dopamine has a biological purpose for survival. When a predator is hunting down its prey, the predator’s body is filled with a rush of dopamine in anticipation of slaying the animal and securing a good meal.

This not only feels good and drives the animal to keep hunting for the food (which he or she needs to survive), but dopamine also increases alertness and wakefulness, giving the predator more energy for the chase.

In humans, seeking food-based rewards can elicit a similar dopamine response, and studies suggest that certain foods are prone to trigger dopamine production.

The primary culprit here is carbohydrates, particularly sugar. In fact, some evidence suggests sugar is as powerful of a dopamine trigger as drugs like cocaine.

Because a dopamine surge feels good, we may not only enjoy sweet foods more when we are actually eating them, but we may also come to biochemically crave them in order to replicate that feel-good rush we previously experienced with the food.

A person with their head on their knees, sad.

What Are the Symptoms of Low Dopamine Levels?

A dopamine deficiency can lead to characteristic low dopamine symptoms, including the following:

  • Low mood
  • Low sex drive
  • Lack of motivation
  • Depression, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tremors
  • Gastrointestinal issues 

Ultimately, if you have low levels of dopamine or a dopamine deficiency, your motivation may suffer, and you will not feel particularly compelled to push yourself, make plans towards future achievements, and may feel little reward when said achievements are conquered.

Notably, levels of dopamine are often low in people who suffer from depression. Other conditions associated with dopamine deficiency include Parkinson’s disease and substance abuse.

How To Increase Dopamine: 9 Ways

So, what increases dopamine? Here are nine of the best ways to increase dopamine naturally:

A variety of foods high in protein including meat, fish, poultry and dairy.

#1: Cut Back On Saturated Fat

Diets high in saturated fat are often considered problematic because of the potential increased risk of heart disease, but evidence suggests that consuming too much saturated fat may also impede dopamine signaling in the brain.

This is theorized to occur because saturated fat can increase inflammation.

Foods to avoid include full-fat dairy, animal fats, palm oil, lard, and vegetable shortening.

#2: Eat More Protein

Certain amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, can increase dopamine levels in the body.

There are enzymes in the body that can convert the amino acid called tyrosine into dopamine. The amino acid tyrosine can also be produced from another amino acid known as phenylalanine.

Therefore, one of the best strategies for how to increase dopamine levels naturally is to consume protein-rich foods that contain the amino acids tyrosine and/or phenylalanine.

This will help provide your body with the raw materials necessary to generate dopamine.

Foods high in tyrosine and phenylalanine include turkey, eggs, beef, chicken, dairy products, soy, and legumes such as lentils and beans.

Studies have indeed found that one of the effective strategies for how to generate dopamine in the body is to consume protein-rich foods with these amino acids. 

In fact, evidence suggests that boosting your intake of foods containing these amino acids not only increases dopamine production in the body but consequently improves memory and deep thinking ability.

Furthermore, research suggests that a dopamine deficiency can occur when the diet is low in tyrosine and phenylalanine.

A person exercising outside and smiling.

#3: Exercise Consistently

One of the best tips for how to increase dopamine instantly is to exercise.

Physical activity improves mood and can increase the release of dopamine quickly. Consistent exercise may also help improve the function of the dopamine system in the brain.

#4: Get Enough Sleep

Dopamine follows a circadian rhythm in terms of its production and release.

Large amounts of dopamine are released in the morning upon waking, increasing feelings of wakefulness, energy, and alertness.

Levels drop towards bedtime.

However, when you don’t get enough sleep, dopamine production is compromised, and dopamine receptors are less functionally active, impacting mood, energy, and coordination.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get 7–9 hours of sleep every night for optimal health.

A notebook with the word goals at the top.

#5: Set Short- and Long-Term Goals

Setting your sights on new and exciting goals and taking clear, consistent, small steps towards achieving your goals daily is a great tip for how to get dopamine levels up.

Most importantly, the dopamine production pathway will become strengthened through the repetition of habitually achieving small goals en route to a big achievement. 

Try to set short-, medium-, and long-term goals so that there is some amount of reward and achievement taking place at all times as well as the continual drive toward something big and exciting as the ultimate “end prize.“

You can think creatively about your goals. You can set fitness goals, weight loss goals, career goals, financial goals, relationship goals, goals in your hobby, etc. 

#6: Try Probiotics

Although more research is necessary, scientists have found that there is a strong link between gut health and brain health and function.

Certain bacteria in the gut have been shown to help produce dopamine, so nurturing the beneficial bacteria with probiotics may help increase dopamine levels.

One potential strategy for how to increase dopamine levels naturally is to consume foods high in probiotics or take a probiotic supplement.

Foods high in probiotics include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, miso, and buttermilk.

A person meditating on the bank of a river.

#7: Meditate

Meditation has many benefits, including significantly raising dopamine levels.

One study found that dopamine levels increased by an impressive 65% for one hour after meditating, meaning that this is a great strategy to increase dopamine levels quickly.

#8: Eat Velvet Beans

One of the more direct strategies for how to increase dopamine instantly is to consume velvet beans.

Velvet beans (Mucuna pruriens) are rich in a molecule that serves as the precursor to dopamine, known as L-dopa. Fava beans are another source, though slightly less concentrated.

Research has found that eating these legumes is an effective way to generate dopamine naturally, particularly in those with a dopamine deficiency, such as the case with Parkinson’s disease.

However, particularly if you have a clinically-diagnosed dopamine deficiency or low dopamine symptoms that are concerning, you should speak with your healthcare provider before consuming these beans or supplements containing extracts from these beans in order to ensure safety and discuss the appropriate dosage.

A person listening to music and smiling.

#9: Turn On Some Tunes

Another tip for how to generate dopamine instantly is to listen to music.

Brain imaging studies have found that the reward and pleasure centers of the brain—where dopamine receptors are—become more active when listening to music.

Another study found that instrumental music that is emotionally evocative increased dopamine levels by 9 percent.

Now that you know how to get more dopamine into your system, what about learning more about naturally boosting neurotransmitters that promote happiness? Check out our guide about increasing serotonin and other “happy hormones” here.

A person smiling and typing on their computer.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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