The Best Ways to Increase Dopamine
If something has ever made you smile, then you’ve experienced dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical made by your brain and it rewards you for being on the right track. This sensation feels like the smell of cookies being baked while you pet a dog and complete a mildly difficult task.
Every element of your life is influenced by dopamine: an amino acid generated by neurons (nerve cells) that serves as a chemical messenger for other neurons. Dopamine, like other neurotransmitters, moves between cells and attaches to receptors.
According to popular culture, dopamine has long been regarded as the primary neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure. However, dopamine actually has a greater impact on desire and motivation than pleasure. We call this the “motivation molecule.” Reward, motivation, memory, and attention are all aided by the brain’s many dopamine pathways.
The Science of Dopamine
Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University and host of the Huberman Lab, explains how the science of dopamine in this long-form youtube video.
9 Dopamine Benefits
The following are some of the advantages of naturally boosting dopamine levels:
- Motivation to get things done and achieve goals with more energy and passion.
- Decreased use of drugs and dependence on them.
- Improved learning, long-term memory, and working memory capabilities.
- The ability to focus and concentrate is improved.
- An increase in linguistic and visual inventiveness.
- A more positive frame of mind
- A decrease in anxiety and an increase in self-assurance
- Social connection and stronger relationships have been enhanced (oxytocin plays a role too)
- Pain tolerance is increased.
How to Increase Dopamine
Behaviors like laughter, smiling, human contact, and achieving small cooperative goals are a few examples of ways to increase dopamine levels.
Humans evolved to have far more dopamine in their bodies than any other similar species (about 4.4 million years ago). Why would evolution favor higher levels of dopamine? The jury is still out on that one, but many reputable scientists believe that higher dopamine levels in our brains makes us easier to get along with one another. People work together better when there is dopamine present.
Building relationships, along with laughter, seems to be a formula for civilization and community building. People help people achieve small tasks and goals. As a species, dopamine allows us to tolerate each other long enough to get big things done by getting small things done first. It is our philosophy that any mental health program should focus on these realities.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
One of the most interesting ways to increase dopamine is to stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body. It connects your brain to several internal organs throughout the body, including the intestines, stomach, heart and lungs.
In fact, the word “vagus” means “wanderer” in Latin, which accurately represents how the nerve wanders all over the body reaching various places. The vagus nerve is also a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function, and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health.
How to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
These are some popular acupuncture points for vagus nerve stimulation, and thus dopamine stimulation:
- Stomach 36 (which is actually in the lower leg)
- Governing Vessel 26 (between the upper lip and the nose)
- Gallbladder 34 (just above the ankle)
- Kidney 1 (in the middle of the sole of the foot)
- Pericardium 7 (the underside of the arm where the hand meets the wrist)
- Shen Men ear point (top of the inner earlobe)
- Yin Tang (between the eyebrows)
Here’s a helpful video on how you can do this at home:
Dopamine and Vitamin D
It is no big surprise that the sun is a source of wellness and health. The bummer is that when you are experiencing depression or agoraphobia you may avoid the daylight. You may stay in bed all day, struggling. Nonetheless, drag yourself into the backyard to be depressed outside with your bare feet on the ground and the sun on your face. This alone can boost dopamine levels into a range where depression dissolves away.
Rhodiola is a gem of an herb traditionally found in Chinese and Scandinavian medicine. In fact, Vikings would consume large amounts before they went on raids and long journeys. We call Rhodiola the Golden Root or Arctic Root.
Researchers have found that Rhodiola stimulates dopamine receptors and inhibits the enzymes that break down dopamine in the brain. In other words, this herb helps encourage dopamine production and keeps it in the bloodstream longer.
Rhodiola also increases mental and physical stamina. Athletes use this herb for tissue oxygenation which helps fight fatigue and stress. Russian athletes and cosmonauts are known to have used Rhodiola regularly to deal with stress, anxiety and physical strain. Rhodiola, an immortality herb in traditional Chinese medicine, treats anxiety and depression via the dopamine connection.
Do Cold Showers Increase Dopamine?
Cold showers can help with dopamine as cold exposure can increase dopamine levels by 250%. Likewise, jumping into the ocean or a lake works too. Have a friend hose you down in the backyard while you absorb precious vitamin D sunlight! You may find your depression fading away while you jump barefoot through an icy cold sprinkler in the backyard sunshine.
Ginseng increases dopamine levels. It comes in several varieties based on the location where it grows and its basic properties. For dopamine levels to increase, American Ginseng (Xi Yang Shen) is your best bet. It is much cooler than regular ginseng and much less expensive as well.
Studies have shown the massive effects ginseng can have on brain health and dopamine stimulation (and no, the ginseng in your energy drink does not count!)
Dopamine and Mental Health
By adjusting a few small daily behaviors, adding a few herbal supplements and taking cold showers we can get a firm handle on our mental health symptoms without pharmaceuticals (if we so choose) and the painful side effects that go with them. Dopamine is a gift we can give ourselves. Your brain will thank you and your mental health will flourish.
Barn Life Recovery can help you permanently increase your dopamine levels and fight off depression and anxiety through our mental health services. Check out our slate of events to find out how you can join our growing community.