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Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine and Serotonin provides active ways to improve these neurotransmitters that affect our mood:
- so we can avoid unhealthy alternatives
- to lessen feelings of despair or depression
- and to help balance mood, energy and sleep.
What are dopamine and serotonin
Dopamine and serotonin are both neurotransmitters (NTs) that have been referred to as feel-good hormones.
Under the best circumstances, our bodies produce the right amount of both.
But many of life’s stressors can impede the body’s production, and then what happens is:
- we gravitate towards things that will make us feel better, even if they’re not good for us.
While even “bad choices” can produce these feel-good neurotransmitters, most of us who want to live healthy know there is a better way. We can choose foods and activities that will promote these NTs in a balanced way.
What is dopamine
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter the body produces which plays a role in the coordination of body movements, motivation and reward.
The latter two benefits of dopamine are what this NT is famous for … because without dopamine, we often see a lack of will to do, work or sometimes even live.
But when dopamine is produced, we may feel happiness and even feel euphoric pleasure.
Read on to find out the two foods highest in dopamine.
What is serotonin
In the nervous system, serotonin, also called 5-HT, affects our behaviors (emotional processing and mood), eating and sleep. In the gut, it is involved in the regulation of gastrointestinal motility.
When all feels right with the world, that’s serotonin.
Many foods have been found to be sources of serotonin, mostly fruits, veggies and seeds. I list these below. But the serotonin from foods doesn’t necessarily make it to the brain.
What causes low levels of dopamine or serotonin
While there are chronic causes of low dopamine and serotonin, there are also acute situations that leave us feeling badly all of a sudden. Here are both causes:
- imbalanced gut microbiome (missing certain probiotics in the gut), from birth or later in life
- an accident or injury
- getting sick, like even having a common cold or the flu
- personal struggles, painful relationships
- high levels of copper in the body, or taking too much zinc, which can free up excess copper (When copper levels go up, dopamine levels decrease. Copper also blocks serotonin.)
- a poor diet
- repeated use of substances
- certain health conditions, like Parkinson’s and ADHD
Low levels of dopamine and/or serotonin SYMPTOMS
Some people struggle with low levels of just one of these neurotransmitters, but oftentimes both.
When one or both NTs are low, we might see someone who:
- can’t sleep, so watches a movie to feel better
- has no motivation, so plays video games for hours (or vice versa)
- doesn’t work or works as little as possible and does drugs
- has sugar or carb cravings, so reaches for candy or unhealthy foods
- is depressed and drinks to “help”
- While drinking often times can even mean alcoholism, this also manifests as coffee addiction
- It also manifests as the socially acceptable “glass of wine” or beer at the end of the day.
- gets through life half-heartedly, without much or any joy, but lives to gamble or look at porn
- eats chocolate daily as a survival tool (often times thinking chocolate is good for them)
- uses CBD regularly to combat depression, anxiety or to sleep better (source)
- has GI symptoms: leaky gut, motility issues, constipation, ulcers
- suffers from copper toxicity symptoms, including craving sources of dopamine
In regard to chronic symptoms, low levels of dopamine and serotonin are often found in people with ADHD, and in the case of serotonin, those who struggle with anxiety. (source)
How are foods sources of dopamine and serotonin
As one study explains, “Foods are natural sources of substances that may exert crucial effects on the nervous system in humans. Some of these substances are the neurotransmitters …” that include dopamine and serotonin.
In various neuropsychiatry studies, different meats, fruits, edible plants, roots and herbs were reported to contain NTs. Ripening time, methods of preservation and cooking and the gut microbiome affect the amount of dopamine and serotonin produced by these natural sources.
KEY Nutrition tip: Avoid foods high in PUFAs, or vegetable oils! These foods high in omega-6 fatty acids reduce serotonin levels and can increase issues with mood and depression. We often think in terms of increasing omega-3s. But we need to be sure and decrease omega-6s. SO: Don’t overdo nuts and seeds. Be sure to eliminate ALL vegetable oils. Thus, specify at restaurants to be sure your food is cooked in a natural fat, or avoid restaurant food.
Healthy oils include olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil.
Foods highest in dopamine
The foods highest in dopamine themselves are:
- avocados (But don’t overdo this option, as avocados are high in copper. Most people are already copper toxic, and copper toxicity very much affects the nervous system. Copper overload causes a decrease in dopamine, a confusing loop.)
Bananas are great news. As a source of dopamine, they mean that almost everyone can access a very affordable food source of dopamine year round.
Foods that make the body produce dopamine: Meat!
The body relies on the building blocks of protein, amino acids, to create dopamine. Getting protein from meats, such as beef, chicken and turkey, can trigger a release of dopamine as the food is digested.
Specifically, both meat and beans are high in tyrosine. Dopamine is made from tyrosine, so getting more of this amino acid from food could potentially boost dopamine levels in the brain.
Meat is also a gentle and excellent source of zinc, which is a copper antagonist. Because too much copper creates a dopamine decrease, eating meat regularly, helps to keep the balance correct.
CONCLUSION: The best dopamine super foods are meat and bananas.
Plantains are great, too, but just less commonly eaten regularly in the States. Other food sources of dopamine (that aren’t as high) include apples, peas and beans.
(Foods high in vitamin A, nightshades and other allergens that we exclude from our diet, but that also have moderate amounts of dopamine are: oranges, eggplant, spinach and tomatoes.)
Foods highest in serotonin
While needed by the body and clearly endowing benefits, serotonin is also involved in many pathological conditions of the liver. For this reason, it’s safest to pursue serotonin from whole foods we’d eat otherwise and from lifestyle choices.
Best foods to eat to increase serotonin levels
Unlike dopamine, the foods highest in serotonin themselves may or may not affect serotonin levels in the brain.
The foods highest in serotonin are:
- bananas — However, scientific literature suggests that this serotonin may not cross the blood brain barrier, so it’s not established if these food items have a true benefit.
- green lettuce
More foods containing serotonin are: chicory, strawberries, hazelnuts, pineapple, pomegranates, velvet beans, wild rice and kiwi.
Foods with tryptophan
More importantly, foods containing serotonin’s precursor, tryptophan, increase brain serotonin in humans:
- α-Lactalbumin, a minor constituent of milk, is one protein that contains relatively more tryptophan than most proteins. (Not a practical food solution.)
- beef and other meats
- chickpeas and kidney beans (and as said, beans are also high in tyrosine, a precursor of dopamine)
- whole milk — Whether or not dairy products are healthy is worthy of debate, so listen to your body to see what’s right for you. Other sources for serotonin may be safer and better for you. (If you choose to try dairy as a source of serotonin, try to find A2A2 milk, like Alexandre brand, or the same, but raw and local in your area.)
- breast milk (for babies)
Turkey being high in tryptophan (that converts to serotonin synthesis in the brain) is now considered a myth. But either way, we are omnivores, and the amino acids in meat protein help to balance our hormones and our body’s nervous system.
Probiotics that increase dopamine and serotonin
If you want to experiment with taking one probiotic at a time, to see the possible benefits to how you feel or sleep, many studies have been done on how microorganisms help to produce these neurotransmitters:
- Both Bacillus and Serratia genera were seen to play a key role in generating the biologically active dopamine in the gut. (sources 1, 2)
- Serotonin-producing bacterial strains belong to Lactococcus lactis species, Lactobacillus plantarum, Streptococcus thermophiles, Escherichia species, Morganella morganii, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Hafnia alvei, Candida species, and Enterococcus species! (source)
Activities that increase dopamine and serotonin
Most pleasurable experiences involve the release of dopamine, from eating good food, winning a game, earning money to having sex.
Our goal in this article is to: Choose the healthiest activities when we crave dopamine!
First, avoid unhealthy activities that release dopamine
Because the brain quickly associates certain behaviors or substances (drugs) with a release of dopamine, certain activities have a higher potential for addiction, things like:
- drugs, including nicotine
- video games
- overeating combined with high fat intake
Over time, a person’s dopamine system may be less reactive to the activity or substance, which may require an increase is usage to create the old reward feeling.
We want to avoid these sources of dopamine release! Instead, we’re looking for healthy natural ways to release dopamine that help to restore a healthy balance in the body.
Is shopping always an addiction
Whether or not an activity is healthy is sometimes quite obvious, but other times it’s subjective.
The best example is shopping: If a shopper is inclined to buy on credit (to incur debt), in order to make a purchase, it’s not likely a good way to release neurotransmitters! Another pitfall is the shopper who loves buying tons of items on sale that they don’t need. Again, best to avoid shopping, and find a healthier activity: like, get outside, and try something new!
But if someone is a regulated occasional shopper, a good window shopper or can buy a gift for someone else that’s within their budget, shopping might actually be a healthy way to stimulate NTs.
Either way, shopping is not a long term solution for low levels of dopamine or serotonin. It’s a temporary solution. The following activities are better long term methods.
Best healthy Activities for dopamine and serotonin production
- Short-term and long term workouts boost dopamine and serotonin. Make a difference right away in your mood, as well as make lasting change, with exercise.
- Exposure to bright light
- Get outside in nature
- Even 5 minutes outside in nature begins this process. Try it several times a day! Even consider enjoying meals outside. Try getting barefoot while you eat. Let joy creep in. Smile more, and take deep breaths.
- Eat right
- Avoid a diet high in omega 6s — processed foods of every kind (packaged foods); make homemade instead — too much chicken, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Find a good source for grass-finished (not just grass-fed) beef, which is higher in omega-3s.
- Give up coffee: For as long as it’s consumed, coffee increases both serotonin and dopamine levels. Once stopped, the brain, used to the high levels of neurotransmitters, feels the deficiency. It takes almost 2 weeks for it to re-balance. (Find a better alternative, like this.)
- Consider a diet that truly helps your liver to detox, like the Low Vitamin A Diet or a general basic Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
- Pray, and breathe deeply
- Focused relaxed prayer, meditation and breathing increase dopamine production.
- Prayer also helps with the next activity.
- Create and achieve small and then bigger goals (One of my personal favorites that’s often forgotten!)
- Our brains release dopamine when we achieve a goal. The brain then seeks to achieve another goal to receive more dopamine.
- Start small by getting small things done, that will then make you feel good! Do small chores, and pat yourself on the back after each one.
- Pray about slightly bigger goals, and choose ones you know you can attain.
- Keep this strategy going each day. Create a routine that includes achieving small goals.
- Relive happy memories to produce serotonin
- Create an album to look through regularly.
- As part of a mindful time, sit, walk or exercise while you remember happy memories.
- Practice gratitude
- Gratitude correlates with both dopamine and serotonin production and is known to increase happiness.
- Start with: Every night for a week, write down three things for which you’re thankful.
- Try something new
- New experiences cause the body to release dopamine: road trips and travel, a new adventure, a new recipe, a new hobby, a new book genre even. The newer it is to your brain, the more likely your body will produce dopamine.
- Neurofeedback or other therapy
- Therapies that affect our mood affect serotonin production. Consider neurofeedback as one piece of the puzzle. If you find success, which is common, long term treatment can be important for success, so see if insurance will cover your visits.
Consider finding a lock box or drawer for your device, and find new delight in putting it away after limited usage.
This new activity of “locking away” your ipad or computer can create a giddy feeling of freedom.
After choosing to unplug, step out into nature, and explore the possibilities.
Conclusion: What to do “next time”
The next time you want to reach for that glass of wine, beer, video game, porn, fatty food — OR run out and shop beyond what’s wise, gamble or buy chocolate — OR feel depressed, lack motivation or can’t sleep … consider your new action items!
What can you do instead?
Maybe start with a banana. Consider your overall diet.
Then start at the top of the Activities list: Try one or more of the ten healthy suggestions listed.
- Do you need a nature prescription? (2013, June 19). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/nature-therapy-ecotherapy