How to Increase Dopamine to Improve Mental Health
Updated: Feb 11
When you hear the word dopamine, you may vaguely recall a high school biology lesson on neurotransmitters. Or, you may think of a new supplement you saw at the local natural foods store boasting a positive influence on dopamine levels. Either way, you may know that dopamine has something to do with the reward and pleasure systems in the body, but do you know how to increase dopamine yourself? Or even why it would be beneficial to do so?
Increasing dopamine levels can help improve overall mental health. There are simply many ways you can adapt your everyday lifestyle that can help increase dopamine. At Native, we believe in looking at mental health from a client-centered holistic perspective, and we know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health. In this article, we’ll explain several strategies for increasing dopamine so that you have options to find which ones might work well in your life.
Here is Native’s introduction to dopamine and how to increase it, it can be used as a discussion starter guide with the care providers in your life to help enrich your treatment plan.
What is dopamine?
We believe in providing comprehensive care that puts you at the center of the process when it comes to mental health. The more you know about your mind and how it works, the better you can understand and be a part of your own mental health treatment process. Before describing how to increase dopamine, here’s an overview of what dopamine is.
Dopamine is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone in the body. Due to its role in the reward pathway, dopamine encourages reward-seeking, goal-directed behaviors and is motivated by curiosity or interest. Dopamine plays a role in thinking and planning as well.
Here are just a few of the processes dopamine is involved in:
Learning and Motivation
Sleep and Mood
Heart Rate and Pain Processing
What are the effects of low dopamine levels?
Dopamine is a part of many processes throughout the body and can impact both physical and mental health. As a result, when the body does not have enough dopamine, both the mind and body are affected. Some issues related to low dopamine levels include depression, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, loss of motivation, muscle cramps, and body aches.
Fortunately, there are several ways dopamine levels can be increased. At Native, we believe in an integrative model of care, which means we consider both traditional and alternative mental health strategies and are committed to finding the solutions that work best for your individual lifestyle. Here are some options for how to increase dopamine that you and your healthcare provider can consider for your own unique situation.
Adjust Your Diet
One simple way to learn how to increase dopamine is to think about the different ways you can adjust your diet to promote the production and release of dopamine. Native’s functional medicine model means that we offer patients individualized dietary consultations as a part of mental health treatment. Here are a few tips for increasing dopamine levels through your diet:
Eat more protein — Protein-rich foods such as eggs, beef, turkey, soy, and dairy provide the amino acid building blocks your body needs to produce dopamine. Adding more protein to your diet can be one solution for how to increase dopamine.
Consume less saturated fats — Some research suggests that a diet with high levels of added saturated fats may be linked to decreased levels of dopamine in the body. Eating less saturated fats makes for a healthier diet and may help prevent low dopamine levels.
Add a probiotic — Research is beginning to show that gut bacteria can produce neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which can positively influence mood. Adding a probiotic to your diet can promote this activity.
Incorporate tyrosine-rich foods — Tyrosine is a compound that the body uses to produce dopamine. Adding tyrosine-rich foods to your diet, such as yogurt, bananas, chicken, and avocados, ensures that your body has a healthy supply of tyrosine.
Aim for Quality Sleep
Maintaining a healthy sleep routine is a key tip on how to increase dopamine levels. Irregular sleep patterns have been linked to low dopamine levels, so it’s crucial to get quality sleep each night to have balanced dopamine levels. A stable sleep routine also promotes the production of dopamine, so having quality sleep regularly is essential.
Here are some sleep hygiene tips to help support restful and consistent nighttime routines:
Consistency — Try to go to bed and wake up at around the same time each day to create a reliable sleep schedule for your body.
Avoid sleep inhibitors — Steer clear of activities that make it difficult to fall asleep, such as taking long daytime naps, extended screen time before bed, and consuming alcohol or caffeine in the evening.
Create a relaxing space — A comfortable bedroom promotes quality sleep. Factors that can be adjusted to match your sleep preferences include the room temperature, light level, presence of a noise machine and the quality of the sheets, pillows, and mattress.
Plan an Exercise Routine
Exercise is often touted as being helpful in both physical and mental health. A regular fitness routine can result in improved strength, endurance, and overall mood. It’s possible that exercise can improve mental health because working out leads to an increase of the chemicals dopamine and serotonin (another neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood and many other processes in the body).
Some studies using animal models have shown that dopamine is increased after exercise. This suggests that a regular exercise routine can be one strategy for how to increase dopamine.
Adopt Helpful Hobbies
An integrative approach for how to increase dopamine involves considering possible adaptations in all areas of your life. While diet and exercise can be adapted, there are also simple hobbies that can be adopted to help increase dopamine levels.
A few of these activity options for how to increase dopamine include:
Listening to Music
Listening to Music
Research has shown that listening to music you enjoy results in dopamine being released in the brain. Dopamine plays a role in the reward-seeking behavior involved in returning to a favorite song and finding pleasure from listening to music. When considering how to increase dopamine, listening to your favorite songs can be beneficial.
One study found that dopamine levels increased when participants were actively engaged in mediation. Meditation could be added to your daily routine as a solution for how to increase dopamine. Yoga combined with meditation could also be a good option for an activity that involves exercise and stress relief as well to promote both your physical and mental health. At Native, we believe in the beneficial practice of meditation. As one of our services, we offer different forms of meditation tailored to our clients' specific goals.
Enjoying Outdoor Activities
Participating in outdoor hobbies such as hiking, running, or gardening may be a useful option for how to increase dopamine. Exposure to sunlight promotes the release of dopamine and serotonin in the body. Performing outdoor activities that involve safe exposure to sunlight can be one way to increase dopamine.
Other Possible Solutions for Low Dopamine
If it’s suspected that an individual has low dopamine, there may be a root cause such as depression or schizophrenia that requires treatment. Once antidepressants or mood stabilizers are prescribed to treat such underlying mental health conditions, the low dopamine levels should resolve. Parkinson’s disease is another medical condition that can cause low dopamine levels, and that can be targeted with specific medications.
If a particular health condition is not found to be the cause of low dopamine levels, there are other options for increasing dopamine, such as taking supplements. However, relatively little research has been conducted into which supplements are most effective in increasing dopamine in humans. Some supplements that may promote dopamine production and increase dopamine levels include vitamin D, magnesium, curcumin, and green tea.
Consult With Your Mental Health Provider
When it comes to thinking about how to increase dopamine, the most critical consideration is making sure you find the solution that is best for your individual situation. If you’re hoping to try any of these ways to increase dopamine, make sure you develop a treatment plan in consultation with your primary doctor, therapist, or another care provider.
Need a Care Provider in Pennsylvania?
It’s essential to find a care provider that will listen to your concerns and adapt treatment practices based on your unique needs and your own input. At Native, we help each patient find personalized mental health solutions that work for their individual needs and lifestyle.
If you’re in Pennsylvania, Native would be happy to be a part of your mental health care team and help you decide which solutions to increase dopamine are best for you based on your individual needs and goals. To learn more about all of the mental health services we provide, click here.