You know that little jolt of excitement when you check our email and have a new message? Or how about that satisfying sensation that comes with biting into a delicious piece of chocolate? These little parties in your head are brought to you by dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s a key contributor to our motivation, productivity and focus. Also known as our “motivation molecule”, it boosts our attention, our concentration, and our drive.
Because it’s so tightly connected to what gets us going, it’s no wonder dopamine is implicated in our addictions. When we are addicted to something—say gambling or junk food—we are actually addicted to the dopamine that floods our system in reward for our getting what we want.
A number of studies have implicated low dopamine levels with compulsion. The reason for this is that those who are prone to addictive behaviors are struggling at every moment to increase their dopamine levels to baseline. Every time they put a quarter into a slot machine or check their email, they are hoping for the tiny explosion they feel when they win some money or have a new message.
Addictive behaviors aren’t the only symptom of low dopamine levels. Those who are lacking in the neurotransmitter may experience any number of symptoms:
- lack of motivation
- inability to feel pleasure
- low libido
- sleep problems
- mood swings
- memory loss
- inability to concentrate
Deana Alban, over at Be Brain Fit has a number of suggestions for naturally improving dopamine. She suggests you start with nutrition:
Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine. Eating a diet high in tyrosine will ensure you’ve got the basic building blocks needed for dopamine production.
Here’s a list of foods that increase dopamine:
- all animal products
- fava beans
- green leafy vegetables
- green tea
- lima beans
- sea vegetables
- sesame and pumpkin seeds
- wheat germ
Foods high in natural probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut can also increase natural dopamine production.