Your Brain’s Natural Wingman: Dopamine

dopamine-happy-man

When you think of a reliable wingman, chances are you’re not thinking you have one of the best ones right inside you. Lost? No surprise, but don’t worry, by the end of this post you’ll understand everything just fine. The “guy” in focus in this article is one of your brain’s crucial messengers. This guy is known as dopamine.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is part of the friendly, and important brigade of substances in our body known as neurotransmitters.

Putting it simply, a neurotransmitter is a substance which helps transmit stimuli across nerve gaps, either eliciting inhibitory or excitatory effects. However, in reality its effects aren’t as boring as it sounds, as dopamine is one of the “feel good hormones” released in high amounts when doing pleasurable things, think of stuffing cupcakes and having sex. But the buck doesn’t stop there. Dopamine has a myriad of other functions in our body, some more important than pleasure. These include:

  • Drive: ever wonder how you get motivated? Yep, you guessed it, because of Dopamine. There are various pathways these neurotransmitters can take, and depending on which, the effect varies. In terms of motivation, it takes what is known as the mesolimbic pathway. One of these places along this pathway is known as the nucleus acumbens; when dopamine levels accumulate here, it signals to the brain that something is likely to occur, good or bad, and thus you are triggered or motivated to do something about it.
  • Focus And Concentration: ever found that your concentration wanes when doing boring, repetitive tasks? Well you can thank dopamine for this as well. Concentration is enhanced when an area known as the brain’s prefrontal cortex is saturated with the right mix of hormones and neurotransmitters, of which dopamine is critically important. When dopamine levels are high, it indicates you enjoy what you are doing. Knowing this, does it come as any surprise that you most often focus on the things you enjoy the most?

Effects Of Low Dopamine On Your Health

After seeing the numerous beneficial effects that dopamine has on your health, you can see the serious negative effects that would occur when levels drop too low, or are unbalanced. Low dopamine symptoms such as the following may manifest:

  • Inability To Get Motivated
  • Memory loss
  • Procrastination
  • Inability to experience joy or pleasure
  • Low desire for sex
  • Fatigue/ lethargy.
  • Parkinson’s Disease: may exacerbate symptoms of low dopamine levels, or be caused to an extent by an already low level. Parkinson’s disease is progressively degenerative, meaning it will continuously lead to degradation of the dopamine transported system, even following the use of dopamine receptor agonists. A large part of the decline in response to medical treatment had to do with downregulation of the dopamine receptor, making doses of administered treatment progressively weaker. It is thought to be caused primarily by genetic factors, coupled with poor lifestyle and nutrition choices.

Luckily, these effects need not linger indefinitely, as there are simple steps you can take to remedy, or at least alleviate them. Let’s explore some ways you can improve your dopamine experience.

How to Increase Dopamine: Best Dopamine Boosters

If it’s found that your dopamine levels are below where they should be, before opting to jump on prescription meds, try the safer natural route first. Not only is it cheaper like that, but you could save yourself from experiencing serious side effects as well.

However, one important thing to note is; It is not often that low dopamine is diagnosed and neurotransmitter tests are pretty new and not something your doctor will commonly order. Sometimes, you may be better off with prescription medication that treat other aspects of the low dopamine levels, such as antidepressants.

Sometimes, a particular diet type can cause a lack of dopamine or an imbalance in neurotransmitters. Many strict diets such as low carb, vegan or paleo, can often end up not working for some people simply because their natural neurotransmitter balance does not work well with it. Some people are able to retain more dopamine than others naturally, due in part to the low density of an enzyme known as COMT, which is responsible for the breakdown of dopamine and the other catecholamines. Persons with a high COMT enzyme density can benefit greatly from following a diet high in tyrosine rich foods to complement their fast breakdown of dopamine.

Tyrosine Rich Foods

Tyrosine is an amino acid, which is a precursor of dopamine production (two steps before dopamine production). One of the simplest, and often effective ways to improve your dopamine levels is to either consume foods rich in the amino acid, or consume a supplement containing it. Tyrosine is converted to L-Dopa, which is then directly responsible for increasing dopamine levels. Whether you choose to use a tyrosine based product, or a supplement containing L-Dopa (such as the amazing Mucuna Pruriens we will talk about later) both will help to increase your dopamine levels. Consider upping your consumption of these tyrosine rich foods to help keep your dopamine levels at peak levels:

  • Almond Nuts
  • Avocadoes
  • Green Tea
  • Watermelon
  • Chocolate
  • Dark Leafy Vegetables
  • Animal Products (cheese, milk, meat)
  • Bananas
  • Apples

There are literally dozens more for you to choose from, but those referenced are widely available and are relatively inexpensive.

Probiotics

Though not directly increasing tyrosine or dopamine levels, probiotics help to regulate healthy bacterial intestinal colonies, which is an important step in keeping dopamine levels normal. If the “bad” bacteria over colonize the intestines, one of their metabolites, lipopolysaccharides, has been shown to cause a reduction in dopamine levels according to findings of a study.

Mucuna Pruriens

Sometimes known as the velvet bean, this supplement is amazing due to the fact that it contains L-Dopa, which is the direct precursor of Dopamine, and a few other neurotransmitters (collectively called catecholamines). Though much of the studies carried out on this bean extract has been relating to Parkinson’s disease (which is characterized by low brain dopamine levels), it is being studied as a possible treatment for other dopamine related disorders, such as depression or sexual dysfunction.

In addition, Mucuna Pruriens also stimulates the action of growth hormone releasing hormone from the hypothalamus, which as the name suggests, promotes the production of growth hormone. Not only that, but studies conducted on rodents showed that following prolonged treatment with L-Dopa (as found in mucuna pruriens), luteinizing hormone release from the pituitary is induced, translating to increased production of testosterone.

Yes! Dopamine Stimulates Both Growth Hormone And Testosterone Synthesis

Studies carried out on the effects of both testosterone and growth hormone indicate that dopamine favorably boosts secretion of both hormones, via different pathways. According to the study on testosterone, the increase came about as a result of increased expression of GnRH mRNA (gonadotropin releasing hormone messenger RNA). GnRH directly signals for the testes to make more testosterone. This increase in testosterone helps explain why mucuna pruriens is so effective at increasing libido.

Porn: The Enjoyable Kill Joy

It’s not surprising to know that many men through their lifetime visually consume a good deal of porn. It is right there, on your computer literally a click away. But what many people are not aware of, is the significant impact viewing porn can have on dopamine receptor sensitivity, as well as changing the “plasticity” of the brain.

The brain is an ever evolving organ, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to know that one can acquire new sexual tastes as well. As you get deeper and deeper into the web of porn, changes in your brain and its pleasure centers may make it so you are no longer turned on by real people of the opposite sex, but only by a particular niche that fills your desire. And, over time, it becomes harder and harder to feel “rewarded” after a viewing session. Your brain no longer responds pleasurably to the stimuli, and you keep looking for more new and intense videos.

Porn addiction is a real thing, but luckily can be reversed. You can regain your sexuality and desire your partner once more, but it takes retraining of your reward centers and re-sensitization of dopamine receptors. Like with most things in life, Porn proves that nothing is good in excess.

The Cold Is Your Friend

Have you ever taken a really cold shower and noticed the “buzz” that lingers afterwards? It may resemble the amped up feeling you used to get when you had a cup of coffee, but no longer experience (tolerance, most likely). Better yet if you are a winter or cold water swimmer. In fact, studies have shown that cold showers have great potential in treating depression, via stimulation of dopaminergic transmission in pathways of the brain known as the mesocorticolimbic and nigrostriatal pathways.

These dopamine pathways are closely linked to emotions and problems such as depression, explaining why cold showers may be good for your overall health. But that’s not all cold water therapy is good for. It can also boost immune function and decrease pain and swelling. Other benefits include improved blood flow, as circulation shifts from closer to the skin to deeper vascularity (in an effort to retain heat) and in the process may expedite removal of toxins from organs and improve blood return to the heart. The belief that a sudden exposure to cold water therapy may induce increases to metabolic rate may also be true, as a study on rodents demonstrated an increase in plasma thyroid hormone and thyrotropin releasing hormone when the rats were moved from a “normal” temperature of 30 degrees c to 4 degrees c.

Using Stimulant Beverages To Boost Dopamine Levels

Have you ever wondered why a cup of coffee or tea makes you feel so good? A large part of the reason could be due to its dopamine boosting effects. Coffee, and many other stimulant beverages (tea, Yerba Mate) contains decent amounts of caffeine, a potent psychoactive compound. Known as an adenosine antagonist, which prevents adenosine from interacting with its namesake receptor and inducing sleepiness. At the same time, the increases brain activity leads to increased production of the catecholamines, norepinephrine and dopamine. Elevation of these neurotransmitters, in turn boost alertness, motivation and drive to work.

Theanine + Coffee: A Perfect Match for Increased Focus and Productivity

Although the benefits of coffee on mood and concentration are established and previously mentioned, its effects are amplified exponentially when combined with the amino acid known as L-Theanine (derived from tea). The combination is widely consumed as a nootropic supplement, which is something that improves cognition, mental function and concentration. Also frequently used by  college students trying to gain a mental edge. Studies conducted on theanine in rodents, with and without caffeine have demonstrated that it stimulates dopamine release, in a dose dependent manner but does not result in seeking behavior (demonstrated in addicts). The combination of coffee and theanine also resulted in improved reaction times and mental acuity.

Sulbutiamine: Promising Nootropic

Sulbutiamine is a thiamine derivative (vitamin B1), developed in Japan while searching for more effective forms of the vitamin. It is highly fat soluble, able to cross the blood brain barrier easily and was found to be able to improve dopaminergic and glutaminergic transmission in the brain. In addition, Arcalion (branded Sulbutiamine) also helps to reduce fatigue, improve mood and can boost wakefulness and memory. Among supplements, Sulbutiamine and Mucuna Pruriens are among the best options for optimizing dopamine transmission.

Read more about nootropics and cognitive enhancers.

Your Dopamine Disclaimer

Many people might think that the more dopamine you have the better, and just start overdoing stimulants and other things that increase your dopamine and feeling of wellbeing. However, when you stimulate your dopamine production with things such as caffeine all the time, you will build tolerance. Your receptors will lose sensitivity to the stimulation. The same is true with watching porn all the time, or any other activity that releases large amounts of dopamine.
Remember your body is always seeking balance (or homeostasis), overdoing one thing will make it adapt and compensate. Your body is not meant to be in a state of constant 24/7 bliss even though you might want it to be. Depression from lack of dopamine can also simply be from overdoing it previously, such as in the case of drug addiction to things like methamphetamine, known for it’s  horrible withdrawal effects. Tolerance from drugs like this also work in the same way, because you lose sensitivity and break down the sensitivity of the receptors over time (downregulation).

The key is instead to make your receptors more sensitive to the dopamine you already have. This can be done in many ways such as through exercise, cold exposure and abstaining from excessive stimulation from TV/porn/video games etc. Your primate brain is not made for the high tech entertainment of the 21st century; in life less is sometimes more.

About the author Alex Eriksson

Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals. Check out www.anabolichealth.com to learn more about Alex and his work. You can also find him on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.