Dopamine supplements to boost your mood
If you expected products marketed as dopamine supplements to actually contain dopamine – a naturally occurring chemical produced in the brain that improves mood – you might be disappointed. These supplements are touted for their ability to relieve depression and improve mood. But if you look at the label, you’ll see that dopamine supplements actually contain ingredients like vitamins, minerals, food extracts, and herbal powders, which can cause your body to increase its levels of. dopamine.
Nutrition and brain function experts break down the ingredients in dopamine supplements and suggest specific whole foods and other healthy alternatives to improve your mood.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine acts as a chemical messenger, carrying information between brain cells. Dopamine, which interacts with the pleasure and reward center in the brain, makes you feel good. It is also linked to brain functions like cognition and attention, and motor functions like muscle movement. In some cases, dopamine deficiency has been linked to depression.
Many antidepressants work by affecting the levels of serotonin – another mood-related neurotransmitter – in the brain. These drugs are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. However, norepinheprin and dopamine reuptake inhibitors, or NDRIs, have a direct effect on dopamine, increasing its levels. Wellbutrin is an NDRI.
Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter, says Dr. Uma Naidoo, nutritional psychiatrist, Boston-based professional chef and nutrition specialist and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food.” Because dopamine is affected by multiple nutrients, she says, food can have a significant impact on the availability of dopamine in the brain.
Some medical conditions are linked to low levels of dopamine. Parkinson’s disease, in particular, can occur when the brain is unable to make enough dopamine. Prescription medicine containing levodopa, which is converted into dopamine in the brain, sometimes combined with carbidopa, which helps more levodopa reach the brain, to stimulate dopamine production in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Rather than actually containing dopamine, some supplements “may contain ingredients that promote an increase in dopamine in the brain – nutrients that would help stimulate reuptake or release, or reduce dopamine inhibition,” explains KC Wright, dietitian-researcher and consultant. in private practice based in New London, New Hampshire.
However, says Wright, “I would be wary of supplements marketed specifically for dopamine. It’s a neurotransmitter. You can’t bottle it. The only way to get it is to get a prescription.”
Dopamine supplement ingredients
Here are some of the various supplements that can potentially play a role in supporting dopamine, reducing depression, and improving mood:
Mucuna pruriens, a tropical and subtropical plant, is also known as “velvet bean”. Mucuna plants contain a small amount of levodopa, the precursor, or early form, of dopamine.
Among the 18 patients with Parkinson’s disease, those who received mucuna or synthetic levodopa showed improvement in movement-related symptoms, compared to patients who received a placebo, according to the small study published in the issue. August 2017 from the journal Neurology. While most research on mucuna focuses on Parkinson’s disease, a few animal studies examine its effects on general health and mood.
As a cofactor, vitamin C helps in the formation and conversion of dopamine in the brain, making it a vital nutrient, explains Naidoo. “Vitamin C deficiency is often manifested by fatigue and indeed a bad mood,” she says. Adequate levels of vitamin C are linked to making you feel happier.
Fish oil provides omega-3s, which have important antioxidant effects and improve symptoms of depression. In particular, the long-chain omega-3s DHA and EPA may play a role in increasing dopamine levels in the brain.
An amino acid made in the body, tyrosine is an essential building block for the production of brain chemicals like dopamine.
“When magnesium is deficient, it can be linked to depression, as well as decreased dopamine levels,” says Naidoo. Although the mechanism for this effect of magnesium is unclear, she adds, “We know that if you take a magnesium supplement, you can increase dopamine levels.”
The spice turmeric, thanks to the active ingredient curcumin, can help the body to release dopamine and confer antidepressant effects. In a small study of patients with major depression, receiving curcumin in combination with a prescription antidepressant was safe, although similar or slightly more effective than taking the prescription drug alone, according to data published in July 2013 in the journal Phytotherapy Research.
An antioxidant, carvacrol is found in the oregano spice and in oregano oil and carvacrol supplements. It has been shown to increase dopamine levels in animal studies. “It promotes the production of dopamine and prevents the breakdown or deterioration of dopamine,” explains Naidoo.
Green tea powder is an antioxidant that contains the amino acid L-theanine. “It actually helps increase the regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine,” says Naidoo.
The sunshine vitamin is involved in the brain’s management of neurotransmitters, including dopamine.
Probiotics improve gut health. An unhealthy gut, like when you have a poor diet, has been shown to decrease dopamine production, says Naidoo.
Saffron, a spice with anti-inflammatory effects, may also prevent the reabsorption of the neurochemicals dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, making them more available to perform their functions. In a study out of 56 healthy participants, taking saffron extract supplements (but not a placebo) appeared to improve symptoms of mild depression, according to results published in the February 2021 issue of the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
Foods to support dopamine
Food naturally provides the full set of nutrients your body needs. The nutrients that help the body perform its many functions are the most bioavailable (accessible for the body to use) from whole foods, Wright says. “It is the synergistic effect of these nutrients in whole foods that are best absorbed and used the most for good health.” For example, she says, the vitamin C in dried apricots improves the absorption of iron in the fruit.
Food first is also at the center of Naidoo’s concerns. When developing nutritional plans for patients with mood issues, she says, “I tend to try to lead with food and then find out where the gaps are.” So far, she adds, “I wouldn’t say my patients are breaking down the door on dopamine supplements.”
Healthy foods containing these dopamine-friendly nutrients include:
- Citrus fruits, kiwis and red peppers are among the foods rich in vitamin C.
- Cheese, dairy products, soy products, meats, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils all contain tyrosine.
- Oily fish like salmon and plant sources like oils, nuts and chia seeds increase omega-3 levels.
- An Indian staple, turmeric can also spice up drinks like smoothies. “We’re still talking about adding a pinch of black pepper to increase its bioavailability in the brain and body,” notes Naidoo.
- Oregano is available as a dried spice, in oregano infused oil, and even in oregano tea.
- Avocados, almonds, black beans and quinoa are among the foods rich in magnesium.
- Regularly sipping green tea can increase dopamine levels to relieve depression and help with cognition.
- Salmon, egg yolks and mushrooms are rich in vitamin D.
- Fermented foods such as kimchee, plain milk yogurt, or coconut yogurt may be associated with improved dopamine levels, Naidoo explains.
- Bright orange-red saffron, one of the more expensive spices, is used in a variety of foods like saffron rice.
Before moving on to supplements, suggests Naidoo, why not try foods that can impact dopamine levels first? “When you eat something, it allows for a smoother build-up of this nutrient,” she says.
Eating an overall healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, is good for your mood.
“The Mediterranean diet has been proven to work for so many things: (preventing) cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases,” Wright said. “But we also know from other research that it helps prevent depression and promote a positive mood.”
Precautions Regarding Dompamine Supplement
Supplements are not a substitute for prescription drugs. They don’t go through the same regulation or the same scrutiny. So, what is stated on the label may not even be contained in the supplement. Additionally, the active ingredients in supplements may not be enough to help treat some deficiencies, despite apparently positive study results.
Before resorting to dopamine supportive supplements, discuss them with your health care provider. A routine blood test can show if your dopamine levels are already in the normal range. And before taking a supplement, ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects or interactions with medications you are already taking.
Because dopamine is a neurotransmitter that interacts with the brain, any attempt to adjust dopamine levels should be carefully considered, Naidoo says. Supplements “can change your mood or create mood states that aren’t natural or dangerous,” she says. “So I wouldn’t necessarily say to someone: just go grab something off the counter.” Instead, she says, “talk to your doctor. Check if you have a deficiency. Ask the right questions.”
Habits that improve mood
These healthy habits also promote brain chemicals related to good mood:
- Go outside. “Ten minutes of time outdoors can provide the body with the vitamin D you need,” says Naidoo. Being exposed to nature, in and of itself, is known to improve mood.
- To sleep. Regular, high-quality sleep can help keep your dopamine levels balanced, explains Naidoo, who suggests using sleep hygiene techniques.
- Exercise. Cardio exercise gives you energy and may have a positive effect on dopamine receptors in the brain, according to a March 2016 study.
- Meditation. Being in a meditative state was associated with a 65% increase in dopamine levels in a brain study conducted by researchers in Denmark. The practice of yoga can have similar effects.