How To Tell If You Have Low Dopamine & What To Do About It, From A Psychiatrist
Your mood is affected by a variety of factors, but perhaps one of the most significant is the neurotransmitters within your brain. Of these, dopamine and serotonin are some of the most critical—they work in tandem to support a number of functions including memory, mood, and even your ability to pay attention.
While serotonin often gets the spotlight, it's important to give dopamine some much-deserved attention, too, according to neuroscientist psychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D. (who just released a series of Instagram reels on this very topic).
Here's how Amen says you can tell if you have low dopamine, how it may manifest in the body, and what you can do to naturally increase levels within the brain.
Signs you have low dopamine.
According to Amen, signs of low dopamine levels are not irritation and worry—that's generally an indicator of low serotonin. Instead, the primary flags to look out for if you think you may have low dopamine levels are:
- Lack of motivation
- Brain fog
- Low energy
- Difficulty thinking
Causes of low dopamine.
Sunlight triggers the release of dopamine, so you may find that your level of the hormone naturally drops (and along with it, your mood) when the days get shorter and the nights longer. Using a lightbox or sun lamp can help offset some of the effects.
Certain foods can trigger the release of dopamine, while diets high in added sugars and saturatefats1 can disrupt it.
A lack of activity (physical exercise) and rest (sleep) can also impact dopamine levels for the worse.
Natural ways to boost dopamine levels.
Thankfully there are strategies for addressing low levels of dopamine naturally at home, and it may come as no surprise that maintaining a healthy and balanced routine is one of the best ways to regulate this neurotransmitter, according to Amen:
As always, diet is key to supporting both your mental and physical health.
Amen explains that foods rich in tyrosine are going to be your best bet for improving dopamine production. "Tyrosine is the amino acid building block for dopamine. Things like chicken and eggs are loaded with tyrosine," he explains.
Other foods that contain tyrosine are avocado and dark chocolate. "If you eat a higher protein, lower simple carbohydrate diet you're going to have more tyrosine and dopamine available on the brain."
Exercise is also effective at improving your mood, increasing dopamine levels as well. Sufficient dopamine levels are also essential for movement and coordination2, resulting in a positive feedback loop.
Amen specifically recommends high-intensity interval training (HIIT) styles when seeking this particular mood-boosting effect. As an example, he suggests going for a brisk walk and then doing four spurts where you run or walk as fast as you can for one minute to help boost dopamine.
Whether you're on a stationary bike, taking a hot girl walk or even going for a run, incorporating these challenging bursts into your daily activity can help elevate both your heart rate and your mood.
Take a supplement.
While diet and exercise can have a profound effect on the body and brain, so, too, can certain supplements such as L-tyrosine, which Amen notes is an amino acid building block. L-theanine, curcumin, and EPA omega-3 fatty acids are also great options for enhancing dopamine production, but remember that the effects take time to show, so sticking to a supplement routine over an extended period of time will net the best results.
Getting pleasant physical touch from cuddling, hugging, intimacy, etc. triggers the release of dopamine, as well as other happy hormones like serotonin.
Read a great book.
Dopamine is also involved in learning and memory,3 and doing focused activities like reading an engaging book can activate the neurotransmitter. Not to mention, it's good for brain health overall.
What causes lack of dopamine?
A lack of sunlight, an unhealthy diet with excess fat and added sugar, and physical inactivity can all mess with dopamine levels.
How do you fix low dopamine?
Begin to get dopamine levels back on track by exercising regularly (particularly with HIIT training), getting plenty of sun, and eating a healthy diet that's high in protein but low in simple carbs.
How can you increase dopamine with supplements?
Some supplements that have been associated with healthy dopamine levels include L-tyrosine, L-theanine, curcumin, and EPA omega-3 fatty acids.
Maintaining adequate dopamine levels within the brain is essential for supporting your mood, maintaining motivation, and keeping you focused. While you may simply be having an off day, noting patterns over time can help you determine if you're low on dopamine so you can be proactive about improving your mental health.
Through a combination of a healthy diet and exercise (no surprise there) and supplements, you can boost your brain health and begin to take your mood into your own hands.
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.