Eating certain foods, like those high in protein, and engaging in healthy practices like exercise and sleeping the recommended amount can help increase your body’s dopamine levels without medication.
Dopamine is an important chemical messenger in your brain that has many functions.
It’s involved in reward, motivation, memory, attention, and even regulation of body movements (
When dopamine is released in large amounts, it creates feelings of pleasure and reward, which motivate you to repeat a specific behavior (
In contrast, low levels of dopamine are linked to reduced motivation and decreased enthusiasm for things that would excite most people (
Dopamine levels are typically well regulated within the nervous system, but there are some things you can do to naturally increase your levels.
Here are the top 10 ways to increase dopamine levels naturally.
Proteins are made up of smaller building blocks called amino acids.
About 20 different amino acids are needed to make all the proteins in your body. Your body can make some of these amino acids, and you must get the others from food (
One amino acid called tyrosine plays a critical role in the production of dopamine (
Enzymes within your body can turn tyrosine into dopamine, so having adequate tyrosine levels is important for dopamine production.
Tyrosine can also be made from another amino acid called phenylalanine (
Both tyrosine and phenylalanine are naturally found in protein-rich foods such as turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, and legumes (
Studies show that increasing the amount of tyrosine and phenylalanine in the diet can increase dopamine levels in the brain, which may promote deep thinking and improve memory (
Conversely, when phenylalanine and tyrosine are eliminated from the diet, dopamine levels can become depleted (
While these studies show that extremely high or extremely low intakes of these amino acids can impact dopamine levels, it’s unknown whether normal variations in protein intake would have much impact.
Dopamine is produced from the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine, both of which can be obtained from protein-rich foods. Very high intakes of these amino acids may boost dopamine levels.
Some animal research has found that saturated fats, such as those found in animal fat, butter, full-fat dairy, palm oil and coconut oil, may disrupt dopamine signaling in the brain when consumed in very large amounts (
So far, these studies have been conducted only in rats, but the results are intriguing.
One study found that rats that consumed 50% of their calories from saturated fat had reduced dopamine signaling in the reward areas of their brains compared with animals that received the same amount of calories from unsaturated fat (
Interestingly, these changes occurred even without differences in weight, body fat, hormones, or blood sugar levels.
Some researchers hypothesize that diets high in saturated fat may increase inflammation in the body, leading to changes in the dopamine system, but more research is needed (
Several older observational studies have found a link between high saturated fat intake and poor memory and thinking ability in humans, but it’s unknown whether these effects are related to dopamine levels (
Animal studies have found that diets high in saturated fat can reduce dopamine signaling in the brain, leading to a blunted reward response. However, it’s not clear whether the same is true in humans. More research is needed.
In recent years, scientists have discovered that the gut and brain are closely linked (
In fact, the gut is sometimes called the “second brain” because it contains a large number of nerve cells that produce many neurotransmitter signaling molecules, including dopamine (
It’s now clear that certain species of bacteria that live in your gut are also capable of producing dopamine, which may impact mood and behavior (
Research in this area is limited. However, several studies show that when consumed in large enough quantities, certain strains of bacteria can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in both animals and humans (
Although there is a clear link among mood, probiotics and gut health, it’s not yet well understood.
Dopamine production likely plays a role in the way probiotics improve mood, but more research is needed to determine how significant the effect is.
Probiotic supplements have been linked to improved mood in humans and animals, but more research is needed to determine the exact role dopamine plays.
Velvet beans, also known as Mucuna pruriens, naturally contain high levels of L-dopa, the precursor molecule to dopamine.
Studies show that eating these beans may help raise dopamine levels naturally, especially in people with Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder caused by low dopamine levels (
A 1992 study in people with Parkinson’s disease found that consuming 250 grams of cooked velvet beans significantly raised dopamine levels and reduced Parkinson’s disease symptoms 1–2 hours after the meal (
Similarly, several studies on Mucuna pruriens supplements found that they may be even more effective and longer lasting than traditional Parkinson’s disease medications and may have fewer side effects (
Keep in mind that velvet beans are toxic in high amounts. Make sure to follow the dosage recommendations on the product label.
Fava beans are another good source of L-dopa. For people with dopamine deficiency diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, eating natural food sources of L-dopa like fava beans or Mucuna pruriens may help restore dopamine levels (
Even though these foods are natural sources of L-dopa, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before making changes to your diet or supplement routine.
Velvet beans are natural sources of L-dopa, a precursor molecule to dopamine. Studies show that they may be as effective as Parkinson’s disease medications at boosting dopamine levels.
Exercise is recommended for boosting endorphin levels and improving mood.
Improvements in mood can be seen after as little as 10 minutes of aerobic activity but tend to be highest after at least 20 minutes (
While these effects are probably not entirely due to changes in dopamine levels, animal research suggests that exercise can boost dopamine levels in the brain.
In rats, treadmill running increases the release of dopamine and upregulates the number of dopamine receptors in the reward areas of the brain (
However, one 3-month study in humans found that performing 1 hour of yoga 6 days per week significantly increased dopamine levels (
Frequent aerobic exercise also benefits people with Parkinson’s disease, a condition in which low dopamine levels disrupt the brain’s ability to control body movements.
Several studies have shown that engaging in intense exercise several times per week significantly improves motor control in people with Parkinson’s disease, suggesting that there may be a beneficial effect on the dopamine system (
More research is needed to determine the intensity, type, and duration of exercise that is most effective at boosting dopamine in humans, but the current research is very promising.
Exercise can improve mood and may boost dopamine levels when performed regularly. More research is needed to determine specific recommendations for increasing dopamine levels.
When dopamine is released in the brain, it creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness.
Animal studies indicate that dopamine is released in large amounts in the morning when it’s time to wake up and that levels naturally fall in the evening when it’s time to go to sleep.
However, lack of sleep appears to disrupt these natural rhythms.
When people are forced to stay awake through the night, the availability of dopamine receptors in their brains is dramatically reduced by the next morning (
Because dopamine promotes wakefulness, reducing the sensitivity of the receptors should make it easier to fall asleep, especially after a night of insomnia.
However, having less dopamine typically comes with other unpleasant consequences, such as reduced concentration and poor coordination (
Getting regular, high quality sleep may help keep your dopamine levels balanced and help you feel more alert and high functioning during the day (
For optimal health, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7–9 hours of sleep every night and maintain proper sleep hygiene (
Sleep hygiene can be improved by sleeping and waking at the same time each day, reducing noise in your bedroom, avoiding caffeine in the evening, and using your bed only for sleeping (
Lack of sleep can reduce dopamine sensitivity in the brain, resulting in excessive feelings of sleepiness. Getting a good night’s rest may help regulate your body’s natural dopamine rhythms.
Listening to music can be a fun way to stimulate dopamine release in your brain.
Several brain imaging studies have found that listening to music increases activity in the reward and pleasure areas of the brain, which are rich with dopamine receptors (
A small 2011 study investigating the effects of music on dopamine found a 9% increase in brain dopamine levels when people listened to instrumental songs that gave them chills (
Because music can boost dopamine levels, listening to music has even been shown to help people with Parkinson’s disease improve their fine motor control (
Listening to your favorite instrumental and choral music may boost your dopamine levels.
Meditation is the practice of clearing your mind, focusing inward, and letting your thoughts float by without judgment or attachment.
You can do it while standing, sitting, or even walking, and regular practice is associated with improved mental and physical health (
New research has found that these benefits may be due to increased dopamine levels in the brain.
One study including 8 experienced meditation teachers found a 65% increase in dopamine production after meditating for 1 hour, compared with resting quietly (
These changes are thought to help meditators maintain a positive mood and stay motivated to remain in the meditative state for longer (
However, it’s unclear whether these dopamine-boosting effects happen only in experienced meditators or occur in people who are new to meditation as well.
Meditation increases dopamine levels in the brains of experienced meditators, but it’s unclear whether these effects also occur in those who are new to meditation.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition in which people feel sad or depressed during the winter when they are not exposed to enough sunlight.
It’s well known that periods of low sunshine exposure can lead to reduced levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, including dopamine, and that sunlight exposure can increase them (
One study in 68 healthy adults found that those who received the most sunlight exposure in the previous 30 days had the highest density of dopamine receptors in the reward and movement regions of their brains (
While sun exposure may boost dopamine levels and improve mood, it’s important to adhere to safety guidelines because getting too much sun can be harmful and possibly habit-forming.
One study in compulsive tanners who visited tanning beds at least twice per week for 1 year found that tanning sessions led to significant boosts in dopamine levels and a desire to repeat the behavior (
Additionally, too much sun exposure can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer, so moderation is important (
It’s generally recommended to limit sun exposure during peak hours, when ultraviolet radiation is the strongest — typically between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. — and to apply sunscreen whenever the UV index is above 3 (
Sunlight exposure can boost dopamine levels, but it’s important to be mindful of sun exposure guidelines to avoid skin damage.
Your body needs several vitamins and minerals to create dopamine, including iron, niacin, folate, and vitamin B6 (
If you have a deficiency in one or more of these nutrients, you may have trouble making enough dopamine to meet your body’s needs.
Blood work can determine whether you have a deficiency in any of these nutrients. If so, you can supplement as needed to bring your levels back up.
In addition to proper nutrition, several supplements have been linked to increased dopamine levels, but thus far, research is limited to animal studies.
These supplements include magnesium, vitamin D, curcumin, oregano extract, and green tea. However, more research is needed in humans (
Having adequate levels of iron, niacin, folate, and vitamin B6 is important for dopamine production. Preliminary animal studies suggest that some supplements may also help boost dopamine levels, but more human research is needed.
Dopamine is an important brain chemical that influences your mood and feelings of reward and motivation. It helps regulate body movements as well.
Levels are generally well regulated by the body, but you can boost your levels naturally by making a few diet and lifestyle changes.
A balanced diet that contains adequate protein, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics and a moderate amount of saturated fat can help your body produce the dopamine it needs.
Lifestyle factors are also important. Getting enough sleep, exercising, listening to music, meditating, and spending time in the sun can all boost dopamine levels.
Overall, a balanced diet and lifestyle can go a long way in increasing your body’s natural production of dopamine and helping your brain function at its best.