Motivation, focus, relaxed energy, confidence, drive and smarts are all easily obtainable with dopamine optimizing foods.
We all want to feel great right? Live life at full capacity?
Living life in a low dopamine state is like looking deflated while wearing an oversized shirt. Boosting dopamine inflates you, making you able to fit perfectly in your shirt.
Being able to fit perfectly in your shirt is a representation of living your life to the best of your ability.
Who doesn’t want that? I sure do!
Just a quick note before we get started; I purposefully don’t include dopamine rich foods such as bananas because the dopamine doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier and won’t have an effect in the brain. This doesn’t mean that bananas cant make you feel great, it sure can, but its not due to the dopamine.
#1 Cocoa powder
Cocoa powder can boost dopamine on all kinds of mechanisms.
- Cocoa contains caffeine which increases dopamine.
- Cocoa increases cognitive performance and decreases free dopamine urinary excretion (R).
- Epicatechin (a flavonoid in cocoa) consumption increases tyrosine hydroxylase (the enzyme that synthesis L-dopa from tyrosine) levels in both hippocampus (1.51-fold) and cortex (1.79-fold) (R).
- Cocoa is also one of the richest sources of magnesium, which can increase the sensitivity of dopamine receptors (R, R). Magnesium inhibits the NMDA receptor, thus exerting a calming effect (R). Acute NMDA activation releases dopamine, but chronic activation (by glutamate, endotoxins, quinolinic acid, etc.) leads to a significant reduction in dopamine levels.
- Cocoa can help reduce stress and chronic stress lowers dopamine levels.
I like to mix a tbsp raw cocoa in a glass of raw milk with some monk fruit sweetener/honey… tastes very wow. Cocoa can really lift up your mood, calm you down, make you feel happy and induce a pain-killing effect.
Honey has been used since the dawn of time and it has a multitude of benefits. Research shows that honey has a mood uplifting and calming effect which is possibly mediated via dopaminergic activation and the GABAergic system (R).
Gelatin is the richest source of the amino acid glycine. Glycine binds to its receptors (glycine receptors) and increases dopamine in the nucleus accumbens in the brain (R). Glycine also increases GABA and induce relaxation and calmness, yet is not being sedative. Use 5g on a daily basis.
The brain of an animal is abundant in phospholipids, such as phosphatidylserine (PS). PS is part of the lipid membrane and it stabilizes dopamine binding sites allowing it to exert a powerful stable action. Dopamine forms hydrogen bonds with each of the phospholipids in the lipid membranes, namely PS, phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine, with the greatest affinity to PS (R).
So dopamine requires PS to exert its actions.
Brain happens to be the second richest source of phosphatidylserine (after soy; but soy is for soy boys and doesn’t deserve a mention) at a whopping 713mg per 100g. PS supplements usually contain 100-300mg per cap and the price can burn a hole in your pocket after a few months on it.
A close second and in descending order is Atlantic mackerel, chicken heart, Atlantic herring, eel and other offal.
The brain isn’t that hard to obtain and you can add it in a stew or fry it briefly in a pan with butter. I prefer lamb brain as sheep is always grass & herb fed and finished, making it the safest source of brains.
CDP (cytidine diphosphate)-choline has been shown to increase dopamine and improve fluidity of the brain neuronal membrane (R).
CDP-choline treatment seems to improve the dopamine receptor and also the muscarinic cholinoceptor function through increasing the receptor number; possibly by increasing
the membrane levels of phosphatidylcholine (R).
Eggs are a great source of choline, in the form of phosphatidylcholine, and can have a very positive effect on cellular function and dopamine levels.
Additionally, choline can activate the α7 nAChR, which can increase dopamine levels.
I prefer to eat only the yolk as the proteins in the white can be immunological and it’s also very high in tryptophan, which can lead to an increase in serotonin.
Coffee-holics unite! Caffeine enhances dopamine signalling in the brain, predominantly by antagonizing adenosine A2A receptors (A2AR). A dose of 300mg caffeine significantly increases the availability of D2/D3 receptors in putamen and ventral striatum areas of the brain and is associated with increased alertness (R). Caffeine doesn’t directly increase dopamine but increases dopamine sensitivity by increasing dopamine receptors.
Capsaicin, the compound found in chillies, causes an increase in catecholamines, namely epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain (R). Capsaicin is neuroprotective and prevents dopamine neural degeneration as it is anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant.
Capsaicin also reduces the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and interleukin-1β (IL-1β)) and lowers the production of excess reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS & RNS) (R).
Animal protein, in general, is very high in the dopamine precursor amino acids namely phenylalanine and tyrosine. More phenylalanine and tyrosine, the more dopamine can be synthesized.
Creatine, found most abundantly in red meat, activates the adenosine and dopamine D1 and D2 receptors, which are known to have anti-depressant and pro-energizing effects (R). Creatine is also a potent natural survival and neuroprotective factor for developing nigral dopaminergic neurons (R).
Zinc, also found in high amounts in red meat, is required for the modulation of melatonin and dopamine (R, R). A deficiency in zinc results in low affinity and decreased uptake of dopamine to dopamine transporter protein.
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#8 Beef liver
If you thought red meat is a good source of vitamins and minerals, organ meat such as liver is an even better source. Beef & lamb liver is especially rich in the cofactors necessary for the synthesis of dopamine, such as vitamin B3, B6 and iron.
Additionally, beef liver is the richest food source of copper on this plant. Dietary copper-deficient animals show a reduction in noradrenaline and dopamine concentrations. In a copper deficient state, tyrosine 3-monooxygenase activity is reduced, possibly by neural loss due to depressed cytochrome c oxidase (copper is essential for electron flow in the electron transport chain) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) (R). SOD is part of the body’s oxidative defence system which protects neurons and catecholamine (dopamine & noradrenaline) from damage and oxidative stress.
Lastly, the active form of vitamin A (retinoic acid), when bound to its receptors, increases the expression of the dopamine receptor D2R. The liganded retinoic acid receptors are specific transcription factors that are essential for the full expression of D2R (R). Beef liver also happened to be very rich of retinol, the animal form of vitamin A.
Oranges are a great source of folate, which is another cofactor for the synthesis of dopamine. Folate is needed for the folate cycle, which supports the BH4 cycle.
The reason I put oranges as a source of folate and not leafy greens is because most leafy greens are also a significant source of oxalates, phytic acid, digestive inhibitors and other food toxins that can negatively affect us.
#10 Beef kidney
As mentioned above, the folate cycle supports the BH4 cycle, which creates BH4 as a cofactor for the synthesis of tyrosine from phenylalanine.
A lot of people have a methylation hiccup due to an MTHFR gene mutation. Research shows that vitamin B2 is a cofactor for this enzyme and can speed it up. Carnivores, who consume more B2, have normal homocysteine levels, despite consuming low amounts of folate.
Organ meat such as liver and kidney are the richest sources of vitamin B2, but if you want to eat them consistently, kidney might be the better option is it’s not nearly as rich in copper and vitamin A as liver.
Beef kidney is also a very rich source of cholesterol, 411mg per 100g, and the cholesterol can be used to create pregnenolone, which have been shown to increase dopamine.
Octopus is surprisingly a good source of the amino acid taurine. Taurine can increase dopamine by activating the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChRs) (R).
In addition, taurine is extremely effective in the treatment of the mitochondrial disease, mitochondrial encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes (MELAS), and offers a new approach for the treatment of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, and inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis (R).
Oysters, clams and scallops are also good sources of taurine.
#12 Bamboo shoots
As you know, there is a gut-brain axis and what happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut.
Gut microbes can create neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, GABA, etc.
Overstimulation of the innate immune system due to stimuli like gut dysbiosis, along with “leaky gut” may provoke local and systemic inflammation, leading to enteric neuroglial activation and triggering of α-synuclein pathology. α-synuclein is considered to act as a “brake” in dopaminergic neurotransmission in humans (R).
This study concludes (R):
“It seems quite likely that gut dysbiosis associated with dietary changes may lead to the activation of various inflammatory cascades in the ENS, CNS, and vagus nerve, resulting in an accumulation of α-synuclein with subsequent dopaminergic degeneration in the substantia nigra.”
So what do bamboo shoots have to do with anything? Bamboo shoots can act as a mild natural anti-biotic and reduce gut inflammation, which would increase dopamine levels and transmission.
Additional things that can be beneficial to the gut include activated charcoal, coconut oil, MCT oil, monolaurin, garlic, EOs (such as oregano oil, thyme oil, cinnamon oil, clove oil, etc.), bentonite clay, flowers of sulfur, etc.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, or as new research states it: Many apples a day can keep the doctor away.
Apple peel contains large amounts of ursolic acid. Ursolic acid boosts tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) in a neuro-inflammatory mice model (R). Most people do have some sort of inflammation that is contributing to mood disorders, so adding a few apples to your diet can only do you good…as long as they don’t give you digestive orders of course.
Other good sources of ursolic acid are basil, bilberries, cranberries, elder flower, peppermint, rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme, hawthorn, and prunes.
Can’t help but think of Johnny English when I hear/read the word basil, lol.
Butter is a great source of saturated fat and steroids.
Additionally, I’d like to point out myristic acid, a C14 saturated fat. Myristic acid has been found to reduce anxiety and is positively correlated with mood and well-being (R).
Nutmeg butter turns out to be a phenomenal source of myristic acid. If you didn’t know, nutmeg is actually a fruit and nutmeg butter is 90% saturated fat!! Of which 75% of that fat is trimyristin, the triglyceride form of myristic acid (3 myristic acids on 1 glycerol). Potent stuff! If any of you have used nutmeg butter before, please let me know how it tastes and how it makes you feel.
Furthermore, butter also happens to be a very rich source of pregnenolone, DHEA, androstenedione and progesterone and also a fair bit of testosterone with a minuscule amount of estrogen (R).
Pregnenolone is a neurosteroid and the precursor to all other steroids such as DHEA, testosterone, progesterone, etc. It increases dopamine in the brain as well as amplifies the dopamine response of other dopamine increasing agents such as morphine (R).
#15 Acerola cherry
Vitamin C upregulates tyrosine hydroxylase and this can increase dopamine production (R). Vitamin C also protects dopamine neurons from oxidative stress and therefore their survival during toxic or harmful situations.
Acerola cherry is the best source of vitamin C and is a great addition to a smoothie. Additional vitamin C rich food includes amla, oranges, kiwis, mangoes, etc. Meat is also actually a decent source of vitamin C but in the form of dehydroascorbic acid.
Blackcurrants are delicious berries choke-full of super healthy polyphenols. Eating the berries or supplementing blackcurrant extract inhibits dopamine degeneration via the enzyme MOA-B (R).
Blackcurrants would also be a good addition to a smoothie.
#17 Brewers yeast
Brewer’s yeast contains a compound called uridine. Uridine is used in the body for the synthesis of cellular membranes, nerve growth by stimulating nerve growth factor (NGF) and DNA/RNA formation. Uridine significantly increases potassium-evoked dopamine release in striatal cells of the brain. It also increases dopamine receptor D2 turnover, which helps to increase dopamine receptors (R, R, R).
Uridine is found in high concentrations in beer, brewers yeast and meat.
Other things that can increase dopamine, which I would not include as they can be anti-androgenic in high amounts are green tea, turmeric and DHA (omega 3).