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Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s an essential part of how we feel, our moods, and our overall mental health. There are various situations where someone might have a dopamine deficiency. As such, we review our top 8 picks for the best dopamine supplements of 2020.
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters transmit signals between the neurons of our brain. Few neurons make dopamine, and some of those are located in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. That is where the dopamine cells die during Parkinson’s disease.
When there is an activation of dopamine neurons, they release dopamine.
Dopamine’s critical to how we feel pleasure. Dopamine is relevant as far as how we find things interesting, how we focus, and how we think and plan.
There are four pathways in the brain, through which your body spreads dopamine. Too much or too little can be very problematic.
How Dopamine Works
Your dopamine is made during two steps in the brain. First, the amino acid tyrosine is changed to something called dopa. Dopa then becomes dopamine.
The functions affected by dopamine include:
- Heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
- How you process pain
- Kidney function
- Blood vessel function
Dopamine is often linked to mood disorders, and mood disorders may stem from having either too much or too little in the brain.
- ADHD is thought to be linked to not having enough dopamine in the brain. Some ADHD medicines like Ritalin work by boosting the amount of dopamine present in your brain.
- Schizophrenia may be due to having too much dopamine in certain areas of your brain.
- Addiction to drugs and alcohol is thought to be linked to dopamine. When you take a psychoactive substance, it causes a big, unnatural spike in dopamine. That triggers your brain’s natural reward system, and then you’re compelled to continue to seek that trigger out. Eventually your body responds to substance exposure by producing less dopamine naturally, which is why when you aren’t using drugs or alcohol you may experience depression or a low mood.
- With Parkinson’s disease, your body makes less dopamine, and that imbalance in your brain chemicals can create the symptoms of the disease. These can include problems with balance and coordination, tremors, and stiffness.
- Many people don’t realize obesity may be linked to dopamine. This could be because people with obesity may have problems with their natural reward system in the brain, impacting when they feel satisfied from eating. There have been imaging studies of people with obesity that have found there may not be enough dopamine released by the body or enough serotonin which is also considered a feel-good brain chemical.
- Sometimes dopamine supplementation is even used to treat medical conditions like low blood pressure and certain instances of septic shock.
If you’re considering a supplement to increase dopamine, you may believe that you have a deficiency.
Low dopamine is most frequently associated with mental health disorders such as depression and psychosis. Drug abuse can also deplete dopamine.
There is a growing body of evidence that having a diet high in saturated fats and sugar can suppress dopamine. Additionally, if you don’t consume enough protein, you might not have an adequate amount of l-tyrosine. L-tyrosine is an amino acid required by your body to create dopamine.
There are many wide-ranging symptoms of dopamine deficiency, some of which can include:
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Aches and pains
- Stiff muscles
- Coordination and balance problems
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Trouble sleeping
- Low energy levels
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Problems focusing and concentrating
- Loss of motivation
- Feeling sad for no reason
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling anxious
- Low sex drive
- Feelings of guilt
- Lack of self-awareness
If someone has low dopamine levels because of a medical condition and an underlying diagnosable condition, then they may be prescribed medications. Medications can include mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. Medications like ropinirole and pramipexole are also often used to increase dopamine levels and they’re frequently prescribed as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, as is something called levodopa.
If you don’t have a medical condition but still feel that you have low dopamine levels, or you’d like to give yourself a general boost to feel more focused and energetic, there are things you can do naturally, including changes in your diet and adding certain supplements.
The following are our picks for the best supplements to increase dopamine, although you should always speak with your doctor before taking any supplements.
What Are the Best Supplements to Increase Dopamine?
The following are our picks for the best dopamine supplements that may help rebalance your brain chemicals.
Dopamine Supplement #1: L-Tyrosine
L-tyrosine, also known just as tyrosine, is helpful for the improvement of focus, attention, and alertness. This is considered a dopamine supplement for these reasons, and it can help your brain create the chemicals needed for nerve cell communication. There’s also research suggesting l-tyrosine can help with mood regulation.
Tyrosine is an amino acid, and it’s found in some foods like cheese and foods with high protein. Tyrosine helps your body make dopamine, but it also helps you make adrenaline and thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones help regulate your metabolism.
When tyrosine is used as a dietary supplement, sometimes people take it alone, or they might blend it as part of their pre-workout supplement. It may also be included in some pre-workout supplements.
Animal studies have shown that when rats were given a tyrosine supplement it helped reduce a decline in their brain neurotransmitters caused by stress, and it also helped improve their memory during stressful times.
There was a study of 22 women that found working memory was significantly improved by tyrosine, and tyrosine has also been shown to boost cognitive flexibility over a placebo. Cognitive flexibility is your ability to switch between tasks quickly.
If you don’t get a lot of sleep for one reason or another, tyrosine can help reverse the effects of this deprivation, and tyrosine may help reverse declines in cognition.
As far as helping with symptoms of depression, the evidence on this is mixed. Some studies have found that tyrosine does help with depression, while others have shown less significant effects.
Mucuna pruriens is often referred to as natural Adderall, and it’s one of the top dopamine supplements.
Mucuna pruriens has the ability to boost your mood and productivity naturally. It’s known as the dopa bean and it’s long been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a way to reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration and focus, give libido a boost and elevate mood.
Mucuna pruriens is an adaptogen, which are plants that help regulate your hormones so you’re better able to handle stress.
Mucuna pruriens has a high level of L-dopa, which is a dopamine precursor. L-dopa is an amino acid, and because it helps increase brain levels of dopamine, some Ayurvedic practitioners use it to treat Parkinson’s.
In 2014, there was research done to look at the effects of mucuna pruriens on reducing anxiety in animal studies. The results showed that mucuna pruriens had a significant anti-anxiety effect.
If you struggle with depression, on the other hand, you should be cautious when supplementing with mucuna pruriens. It can make your depression worse because it may interfere with the production of serotonin.
There have been several studies showing that mucuna pruriens helps boost learning and reaction time too.
L-theanine is a wonderful dopamine supplement, and it’s a great supplement if you struggle with anxiety.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves, and you can take it as a pill or tablet. It’s been shown to help promote a sense of relaxation without causing you to feel drowsy.
L-theanine may also help increase attention and focus, and that’s been demonstrated in several studies. For example, a 2013 study in which young people were given moderate doses along with caffeine were better able to focus when doing challenging tasks. The study participants also reported feeling less tired and more alert.
Research has shown L-theanine can help you get a better night’s sleep in terms of quality, and it’s sometimes used to help children with ADHD. For example, there was a 2011 study of boys between the ages of 8 and 12. A randomized group was given L-theanine tablets twice a day, and the other group received a placebo.
After six weeks, the group taking L-theanine had longer and more restful sleep.
Unlike some supplements, L-theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier, and there it has a modulating effect on not only dopamine but also selective serotonin. It also can bind to certain glutamate receptors, so that may have positive neuro effects too.
Rhodiola Rosea is an herbal way to reduce stress and fight brain fog that can stem from feeling stressed. Rhodiola is also considered an adaptogen, and it was long used in Arctic and Russian cultures to help people deal with the physical stress of being in a cold climate.
Rhodiola has been shown to have a tremendous effect on balancing brain neurotransmitters. For example, lab studies have found it can increase neuron sensitivity to dopamine and serotonin.
As a result, Rhodiola is sometimes used as an alternative to anti-depressants in Europe.
Rhodiola is also thought to help increase the ability of our red blood cells to transport oxygen, so it may help with endurance, strength, and fatigue reduction. Rhodiola can reduce cortisol in the blood too, which is a hormone we release when we’re experiencing stress. Excess cortisol levels can have detrimental effects on our overall health and may lead to weight gain, especially around the mid-section.
Another potential use of Rhodiola, aside from being a general dopamine supplement may be that it can help with symptoms of social anxiety.
Bacopa monnieri, also known as Brahmi, is an herbal adaptogen used in Ayurvedic medicine that’s been getting a lot of attention in recent years.
In Ayurveda, Brahmi is used for reducing anxiety and improving memory. It’s also thought to improve overall brain function.
Brahmi is thought to be able to regulate levels of neurotransmitters. It’s a master regulator, meaning it can bring production up or down depending on what your brain and body need. The neurotransmitters affected by Brahmi include dopamine as well as serotonin and GABA.
There are many other benefits of Brahmi, aside from being a powerful dopamine supplement.
For example, it increases blood flow to the brain. Blood brings oxygen, neurotransmitters, hormones, and nutrients to the brain.
It’s an antioxidant, so it can combat free radical damage to the brain and body, and it encourages the growth of new nerve cells.
Brahmi is also an anti-inflammatory. Inflammation in the brain is associated with anxiety, depression, stroke, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s.
There have been a few studies that have looked at the potential of Brahmi to help with ADHD symptoms. For example, there was a study with 31 children between the ages of 6 and 12. Taking 225 mg of Brahmi extract daily for six months showed a reduction in ADHD symptoms including restlessness and impulsivity in 85% of participants.
Berberine is an amazing supplement in so many ways, in addition to being a berberine supplement. Berberine may be one of the most effective supplements you can find, in fact.
Berberine is bioactive, and it’s characterized as an alkaloid. This dopamine supplement has long been used in Chinese medicine.
When you take berberine, it can bind to molecular targets to alter their function, similar to what happens when you take a pharmaceutical drug.
One of the ways berberine has an effect is that it activates something called AMPK inside your cells. It’s an enzyme that’s known as the metabolic master switch. It’s in cells throughout your body including your brain and your liver, muscles, kidneys and heart.
As far as being a dopamine supplement, there have been studies that have shown it can help with anxiety in animals, and it has antidepressant effects as well.
Berberine is frequently used to lower blood sugar levels by people with type 2 diabetes and the effectiveness is on par with that of metformin, which is a commonly used diabetes medication.
Berberine may also help people lose weight. Studies have shown impressive benefits, particularly on people with metabolic syndrome. It’s likely because berberine helps boost the function of fat-regulating hormones like insulin and leptin. It may also reduce the growth of fat cells.
Studies have found berberine may help reduce the growth and spread of certain types of cancers, and it may also help fight infections from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.
Fish oil is a great all-around supplement with many benefits, including the fact that it’s also a dopamine supplement. You can’t make serotonin or dopamine without having omega-3 fatty acids, which are in fish oil. There’s a certain component called EPA, which reduces inflammation in your brain and facilitates the release of serotonin and dopamine.
Fish oils have anti-inflammatory functions throughout the body, including the brain as well.
Studies have found that taking a fish oil supplement can reduce symptoms of depression in some cases as much as anti-depressant drugs. They are also beneficial when used along with anti-depressants.
Finally, vitamin D3 is critical for all-around brain health, physical health, and immune function. It’s one of the supplements we most often recommend.
Micronutrients like D3 have an impressive effect on the dopamine system. There are thought to be dopamine neurons in the midbrain that express vitamin D3 receptor protein.
Research finds that dopamine circuits are modulated by D3 signaling.
Generally, vitamin D helps regulate mood, and having low levels or being deficient is linked to an increased prevalence of anxiety and depression.
Summing Up—The Best Dopamine Supplements of 2020
Dopamine is a critical neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in our mental health as well as our physical health. When you have low levels of dopamine, you may experience a loss of motivation, symptoms of depression, and an inability to focus. It can also lead to low libido.
By considering the above dopamine supplements, you may be able to increase your levels naturally.
As with any supplement, speak to your doctor before you try any dopamine supplements listed above.