Dopamine makes you feel happy and rewarded.
Supplying adequate levels of dopamine is crucial for optimal brain health.
However, many people are dopamine deficient which can cause many problems in life.
For some people, dopamine deficiency is barely noticeable, while others go to extremes for hits of dopamine.
No other neurotransmitter affects human behavior quite like dopamine, which is why it’s imperative to get enough of it without having to resort to any high-risk activities.
Fortunately, there are nootropics and supplements that can boost dopamine.
This article discusses which nootropics are best for boosting and why they are so effective.
What Is Dopamine
Dopamine is the body’s reward neurotransmitter.
When the brain perceives a reward, it seeks the same experience to receive another. This reward system is the dynamics of learning and habit formation.1James Sonne; Amandeep Goyal; Pankaj Bansal; Wilfredo Lopez-Ojeda., Dopamine, StatPearls Publishing; 2020
High levels of dopamine result in a feeling of pleasure, ease of movement, and motivation. Low levels of dopamine, on the other hand, results in low motivation and mood disorders.
Where Is Dopamine Made
Dopamine is made mostly in the hypothalamus, substantia nigra, and ventral tegmental area of the brain.2Hugo Juárez Olguín, David Calderón Guzmán, Ernestina Hernández García, Gerardo Barragán Mejía, The Role of Dopamine and Its Dysfunction as a Consequence of Oxidative Stress, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity,. 2016
However, recent research is discovering that up to 50% of dopamine comes from the gut! 3Rufeng Xue1, Huimin Zhang, Jun Pan, Zhiwei Du, Wenjie Zhou, Zhi Zhang, Zhigang Tian, Rongbin Zhou, and Li Bai1,, Peripheral Dopamine Controlled by Gut Microbes Inhibits Invariant Natural Killer T Cell-Mediated Hepatitis, Front. Immunol. 2018
How Dopamine Works in the Brain
Healthy dopamine levels in the brain promote behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation, punishment and reward, inhibition of prolactin production, sleep, dreaming, mood, attention, working memory, and learning.4Hugo Juárez Olguín, David Calderón Guzmán, Ernestina Hernández García, and Gerardo Barragán Mejía, The Role of Dopamine and Its Dysfunction as a Consequence of Oxidative Stress, Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016
However, dopamine dysfunction due to oxidative stress causes depression, cognitive impairment, and other dopamine-related issues.
Brain plasticity is an important mechanism to adapt to sudden changes and stresses.5Patrice Voss, Maryse E. Thomas, J. Miguel Cisneros-Franco, and Étienne de Villers-Sidani, Dynamic Brains and the Changing Rules of Neuroplasticity: Implications for Learning and Recovery, Front Psychol. 2017 6Teresa E Foley, Monika Fleshner, Neuroplasticity of dopamine circuits after exercise: implications for central fatigue, Neuromolecular Med. 2008
This mechanism affects the brain’s ability to develop, learn, and respond to various stimuli.7Pedro Mateos-Aparicio and Antonio Rodríguez-Moreno, The Impact of Studying Brain Plasticity, Front Cell Neurosci. 2019
How Nootropics Help Boost Dopamine
The future of nootropics to enhance brain function, learning and memory is bright. The use of natural nootropics has long-term effects on synaptic transmission and behavior as well.
Some nootropics promote the sprouting of neurites from a cell to improve synaptic communication in the brain.8Caitlyn C. Gertz, Michelle K. Leach, Lisa K. Birrell, David C. Martin, Eva L. Feldman, and Joseph M. Corey1, Accelerated neuritogenesis and maturation of primary spinal motor neurons in response to nanofibers, Dev Neurobiol. 2011 Nootropics protect the dopaminergic neurons to maintain a healthy level of dopamine.9Noor Azuin Suliman, Che Norma Mat Taib, Mohamad Aris Mohd Moklas, Mohd Ilham Adenan, Mohamad Taufik Hidayat Baharuldin, and Rusliza Basir , Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016
Nutrition is vital in boosting dopamine levels and achieving its desired outcome. Foods high in antioxidants and rich in nootropic agents is an effective way to manage age-related cognitive decline.10Adejoke Yetunde Onaolapo, Adebimpe Yemisi Obelawo, and Olakunle James Onaolapo, Brain Ageing, Cognition and Diet: A Review of the Emerging Roles of Food-Based Nootropics in Mitigating Age-Related Memory Decline, Curr Aging Sci. 2019
Boosting dopamine and other neurotransmitters with nootropics can enhance brain function.
However, overstimulation of dopaminergic neurons can result in symptoms similar to low dopamine levels.11Kimberly R. Urban1 and Wen-Jun Gao, Performance enhancement at the cost of potential brain plasticity: neural ramifications of nootropic drugs in the healthy developing brain, Front Syst Neurosci. 2014
It’s wise to weigh the risks vs. rewards in your scenario when choosing to boost dopamine with nootropics.
Dopamine and Other Neurotransmitters
Dopamine also works with other neurotransmitters, especially acetylcholine, to boost learning and memory 12Luisa Colucci, Massimiliano Bosco, Antonio Rosario Ziello, Raffaele Rea, Francesco Amenta, and Angiola Maria Fasanaro, Effectiveness of nootropic drugs with cholinergic activity in treatment of cognitive deficit: a review, J Exp Pharmacol. 2012 and improve Parkinson’s disease symptoms.13Giorgio Rizzi and Kelly R. Tan, Dopamine and Acetylcholine, a Circuit Point of View in Parkinson’s Disease, Front Neural Circuits. 2017
It also balances the effects of GABA, 14James E. Crandall,1 Deirdre M. McCarthy, Kiyomi Y. Araki, John R. Sims, Jia-Qian Ren, and Pradeep G. Bhide, Dopamine Receptor Activation Modulates GABA Neuron Migration from the Basal Forebrain to the Cerebral Cortex, J Neurosci. 2007 norepinephrine, 15Bo Xing, Yan-Chun Li, and Wen-Jun Gao, Norepinephrine versus Dopamine and their Interaction in Modulating Synaptic Function in the Prefrontal Cortex, Brain Res. 2017 and serotonin.16Adrian G. Fischer, and Markus Ullsperger, An Update on the Role of Serotonin and its Interplay with Dopamine for Reward, Front Hum Neurosci. 2017
Overall, dopamine is essential in maintaining mental health and learning-related functions.
Low dopamine symptoms
Cases of low dopamine are most recognizable through several easy-to-spot symptoms including
- Mood Disorders: Depression/Anxiety
- Low Motivation
Low levels of dopamine manifest as a reversal of feelings of pleasure, resulting in depressive mood and major depressive disorders.17Pauline Belujon, PhDcorresponding author and Anthony A Grace, PhD, Dopamine System Dysregulation in Major Depressive Disorders, Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2017
The feel-good sensation from a specific activity or substance induces the brain to release dopamine, which leads you to continue doing the action.
You feel the reward as pleasure, which keeps you coming back for more.
However, many factors can slow the flow of dopamine, leaving you in a lower mood.
Substance abuse, for example, causes low dopamine levels that show depressive symptoms and other behavioral changes.18Stephen M. Stahl, Drugs for psychosis and mood: unique actions at D3, D2, and D1 dopamine receptor subtypes, Cambridge University Press. 2017
Seasonal changes also alter dopamine levels resulting in seasonal affective disorder (SAD).19Elizabeth I. Cawley, MSc, Sarah Park, MSc, Marije aan het Rot, PhD, Kimberley Sancton, BSc, Chawki Benkelfat, MD, DERBH, Simon N. Young, PhD, Diane B. Boivin, MD, PhD, and Marco Leyton, PhD, Dopamine and light: dissecting effects on mood and motivational states in women with subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder, J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2013
Patients diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) exhibit low dopamine levels. The main symptoms are learning impairment, social dysfunction, a poor outlook in life, and substance abuse in adults.20Mark S. Gold, MD, Kenneth Blum, PhD, Marlene Oscar-Berman, PhD, and Eric R. Braverman, MD, Low Dopamine Function in Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Should Genotyping Signify Early Diagnosis in Children?, Postgrad Med. 2014 21Scott H. Kollins, Ph.D. and R. Alison Adcock, M.D., Ph.D, ADHD, Altered Dopamine Neurotransmission, and Disrupted Reinforcement Processes: Implications for Smoking and Nicotine Dependence, Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2015
Other symptoms are low tolerance to stress, feelings of frustration, anger, and irritability. As a result, adults with ADHD tend to alienate themselves from friends, are rebellious, and have difficulty completing tasks.22Kenneth Blum, Amanda Lih-Chuan Chen, Eric R Braverman, David E Comings, Thomas JH Chen, Vanessa Arcuri, Seth H Blum, Bernard W Downs, Roger L Waite, Alison Notaro, Joel Lubar, Lonna Williams, Thomas J Prihoda, Tomas Palomo, and Marlene Oscar-Berman, Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome, Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2008
Children with ADHD cannot sit still, are impatient, forget things and tasks, are talkative, impulsive, and easily distracted.
The job of many ADHD medications is to boost dopamine as a means of improving focus.
Healthy dopamine levels arouse motivation to achieve a reward or incentive after an activity or eating a specific food item.23Andrew Westbrook, M.S., M.A. and Todd S. Braver, Ph.D., Dopamine does double duty in motivating cognitive effort, Neuron. 2017
Motivation spurs a person into action, whether for sports, school, or work. It involves starting an activity, planning the necessary steps, consistency, and completing the task.24Rachel B. Sheehan, Matthew P. Herring, and Mark J. Campbell, Associations Between Motivation and Mental Health in Sport: A Test of the Hierarchical Model of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, Front Psychol. 2018
There’s also the factor of recognizing the reward, either external or internal.
Oxidative stress, manifested by inflammation, is one of the mechanisms that affect motivation.25Jennifer C Felger, and Michael T Treadway, Inflammation Effects on Motivation and Motor Activity: Role of Dopamine, Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017
Low motivation also affects decision-making, especially when you have to do a cost-benefit analysis of the decision you’re about to make.26Andrew Westbrook, M.S., M.A. and Todd S. Braver, Ph.D, Dopamine does double duty in motivating cognitive effort, Neuron. 2017
Mind Lab Pro
Mind Lab Pro is a nootropics stack with 11 ingredients known to boost brain function. Read more about Mind Lab Pro and its many benefits.
Citicoline, one of the main ingredients of Mind Lab Pro, influences neurotransmitter systems, including dopamine. It helps manage withdrawal symptoms from substance abuse 27Andrew Westbrook, M.S., M.A. and Todd S. Braver, Ph.D, Dopamine does double duty in motivating cognitive effort, Neuron. 2017 28Nicholas D. Wignall, M.A. and E. Sherwood Brown, M.D., PhD, Citicoline in Addictive Disorders: A Review of the Literature, Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2014and to improve overall cognitive function.29Mario Fioravanti and Ann E Buckley, Citicoline (Cognizin) in the treatment of cognitive impairment, Clin Interv Aging. 2006
Phosphatidylserine helps to cope with stress, 30P Monteleone , L Beinat, C Tanzillo, M Maj, D Kemali, Effects of phosphatidylserine on the neuroendocrine response to physical stress in humans, Neuroendocrinology. 1990 manage depression, 31Teruhisa Komori, The Effects of Phosphatidylserine and Omega-3 Fatty Acid-Containing Supplement on Late Life Depression, Ment Illn. 2015 and improve memory functions.32Akito Kato-Kataoka , Masashi Sakai, Rika Ebina, Chiaki Nonaka, Tsuguyoshi Asano, Takashi Miyamori, Soybean-derived phosphatidylserine improves memory function of the elderly Japanese subjects with memory complaints, J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2010
Pycnogenol, an extract from maritime pine bark, one of the ingredients of Mind Lab Pro works to improve brain function by protecting it from oxidative stress that causes inflammation and other disorders.33Tamara Simpson, Christina Kure, and Con Stough, Assessing the Efficacy and Mechanisms of Pycnogenol® on Cognitive Aging From In Vitro Animal and Human Studies, Front Pharmacol. 2019
The powerful combination of close to 30 high-potency nootropics found in Qualia Mind all work together to improve dopamine levels to manage depression 34Kaileigh A. Byrne, Dominique D. Norris, and Darrell A. Worthy, Dopamine, Depressive Symptoms and Decision-Making: The Relationship between Spontaneous Eyeblink Rate and Depressive Symptoms Predicts Iowa Gambling Task Performance, Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2016 and ADHD.35Dr. Nora D. Volkow, MD, Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, MD, Dr. Scott H. Kollins, PhD, Dr. Tim L. Wigal, PhD, Dr. Jeffrey H. Newcorn, MD, Dr. Frank Telang, MD, Dr. Joanna S. Fowler, PhD, Dr. Wei Zhu, PhD, Dr. Jean Logan, PhD, Dr. Yeming Ma, PhD, Dr. Kith Pradhan, MS, Dr. Christopher Wong, MS, and Dr. James M. Swanson, PhD, Evaluating Dopamine Reward Pathway in ADHD, JAMA. 2010 . This stack includes dopamine-enhancing nootropics like DHA, uridine monophosphate, Mucuna pruriens, DLPA, and NALT in Qualia Mind
It also contains Rhodiola Rosea, Bacopa monnieri, ALCAR, and L-theanine that modulates cortisol response 36Eric J. Lenze, M.D., Rose C. Mantella, Ph.D., Peichang Shi, M.S., Alison M. Goate, Ph.D., Petra Nowotny, Ph.D., Meryl A. Butters, Ph.D., Carmen Andreescu, M.D., Paul A. Thompson, Ph.D., and Bruce L. Rollman, M.D., M.P.H., Elevated cortisol in older adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is reduced by treatment: a placebo-controlled evaluation of escitalopram, Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2012, minimizing anxiety and stress.37Mohammad-Reza Zarrindast , Fatemeh Khakpai, The Modulatory Role of Dopamine in Anxiety-like Behavior, Arch Iran Med. 2015
Several other ingredients also help improve cognitive functions. Phosphatidylserine and Celastrus paniculatus (the intellect plant) also help protect dopaminergic cells from damage due to chronic stress.38V. Bhagya, Thomas Christofer, and B. S. Shankaranarayana Rao, Neuroprotective effect of Celastrus paniculatus on chronic stress-induced cognitive impairment, Indian J Pharmacol. 2016 39Hee-Yong Kim, Bill X. Huang, and Arthur A. Spector, Phosphatidylserine in the Brain: Metabolism and Function, Prog Lipid Res. 2015
Read more to learn about how Qualia Mind targets significant brain pathways to enhance your mental health and learning.
The amino acid tyrosine is the precursor to dopamine, which means dopamine levels are dependent on tyrosine levels.40Author links open overlay panelCandace J.GibsonRichard J.Wurtman, Physiological control of brain catechol synthesis by brain tyrosine concentration,Biochemical Pharmacology. 1977 Chronic stress affects dopamine levels, but L-tyrosine supplementation effectively raises dopamine levels.41Zhihua Wang, Jinghua Li, Zhiming Wang, Lingyan Xue, Yi Zhang, Yingjie Chen, Jun Su, and Zhongming Li, L-tyrosine improves neuroendocrine function in a mouse model of chronic stress, Neural Regen Res. 2012
Studies show that tyrosine enhances dopamine release and other neurotransmitters when the subject is under stress. On its own, tyrosine prevents cognitive function decline, promotes wakefulness, and lowers body negative pressure stress.42Simon N. Young, L-Tyrosine to alleviate the effects of stress?, J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007
Conversely, tyrosine inhibitors’ administration decreases dopamine neurotransmission, which results in sleep deprivation and mood changes.43U D McCann , D M Penetar, Y Shaham, D R Thorne, H C Sing, M L Thomas, J C Gillin, G Belenky, Effects of catecholamine depletion on alertness and mood in rested and sleep deprived normal volunteers, Neuropsychopharmacology. 1993
However, higher L-tyrosine levels show antidepressant effects concerning healthy dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline levels.44Abdelrahman Alabsi, Adel Charbel Khoudary, and Wassim Abdelwahedb, The Antidepressant Effect of L-Tyrosine-Loaded Nanoparticles: Behavioral Aspects, Ann Neurosci. 2016 Not only that, dopamine-related tasks such as multitasking, updating of working memory, and inhibitory control improve with increased tyrosine levels in healthy humans.45Bryant J. Jongkees, Bernhard Hommel, and Lorenza S. Colzato, People are different: tyrosine’s modulating effect on cognitive control in healthy humans may depend on individual differences related to dopamine function, Front Psychol. 2014
Seed extracts from Mucuna pruriens, more commonly known as velvet bean, have high levodopa (L-dopa) levels, one of the dopamine precursors. It shows an antidepressant effect similar to the dopamine action.46Digvijay G. Rana and Varsha J. Galani1, Dopamine mediated antidepressant effect of Mucuna pruriens seeds in various experimental models of depression, Ayu. 2014 47Dipanwita Pati, Radhakrishnan Mahesh,Vadiraj Kurdeka, Anti-Depressant-Like Activity of Mucuna Pruriens; A Traditional Indian Herb in Rodent Models of Depression, Pharmacologyonline. 2010
Mucuna also shows antioxidant effects, which lowers inflammation as a result of high dopamine levels. Administration of dopamine-boosting medications lessens fatigue and related symptoms in patients with inflammation-associated diseases.48Jennifer C Felger, and Michael T Treadway, Inflammation Effects on Motivation and Motor Activity: Role of Dopamine, Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017
High levels of L-dopa from Mucuna seed extracts restore neurotransmission and protect dopaminergic cells.49Lucia Raffaella Lampariello, Alessio Cortelazzo, Roberto Guerranti, Claudia Sticozzi,3 and Giuseppe Valacch, The Magic Velvet Bean of Mucuna pruriens, J Tradit Complement Med. 2012 Low levels of dopamine is closely related to parkinsonism and lessen symptoms like muscular rigidity.50Lazaros C. Triarhou, Dopamine and Parkinson’s Disease, Landes Bioscience; 2000-2013
L-dopa from Mucuna enhances dopamine production and relieves psychological stress.51Cristina Miguelez, Abdelhamid Benazzouz, Luisa Ugedo1 and Philippe De Deurwaerdère, Impairment of Serotonergic Transmission by the Antiparkinsonian Drug L-DOPA: Mechanisms and Clinical Implications, Front. Cell. Neurosci., 2017 The resulting increase in dopamine levels also affects testosterone levels positively. Healthy testosterone levels, in turn, leads to improved sexual behavior, drive, and performance, which is also good for boosting mood.
Investigation on the effectiveness of Rhodiola Rosea against stress, anxiety, and depression shows that Rhodiola increases dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline levels.52Federica Titomanlio, Carmen Manzanedo, Marta Rodríguez-Arias, Laura Mattioli, Marina Perfumi, José Miñarro, and María A. Aguilar, Rhodiola rosea Impairs Acquisition and Expression of Conditioned Place Preference Induced by Cocaine, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013 53Ruru Li, Songhai Wang, Tao Li, Leitao Wu, Yan Fang, Yang Feng, Lingling Zhang, Jianzong Chen,Xin Wang, Salidroside Protects Dopaminergic Neurons by Preserving Complex I Activity via DJ-1/Nrf2-Mediated Antioxidant Pathway, Parkinsons Dis. 2019
Several studies documented the effects of oral administration of Rhodiola extracts in anxiety, stress, cognition, and other mood symptoms. Subjects report reduction in symptoms from depression, anger, anxiety, and confusion and improvement in cognitive functions due to improved dopamine levels.54Mark Cropley , Adrian P Banks , Julia Boyle , The Effects of Rhodiola rosea L. Extract on Anxiety, Stress, Cognition and Other Mood Symptoms, Phytother Res. 2015 55Jun J Mao, Qing S. Li, Irene Soeller, Sharon X Xie, and Jay D. Amsterdam4, Rhodiola rosea therapy for major depressive disorder: a study protocol for a randomized, double-blind, placebo- controlled trial, J Clin Trials. 2015
Rhodiola extract also shows potential in countering the ill effects of illicit drugs by balancing dopamine levels. Cocaine users show intense depression due to altered dopamine activity.56Federica Titomanlio, Carmen Manzanedo, Marta Rodríguez-Arias, Laura Mattioli, Marina Perfumi, José Miñarro, and María A. Aguilar , Rhodiola rosea Impairs Acquisition and Expression of Conditioned Place Preference Induced by Cocaine, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013 Another illegal drug, MPTP, kills dopaminergic neurons leading to low dopamine levels and an increase in free radicals in the brain.57Reenu Jacob, M Pharm,* G. Nalini, and N. Chidambaranathan, Neuroprotective effect of Rhodiola rosea Linn against MPTP induced cognitive impairment and oxidative stress, Ann Neurosci. 2013
It is also useful in improving depression from physical and mental fatigue, 58Sana Ishaque, Larissa Shamseer, Cecilia Bukutu, and Sunita Vohra, Rhodiola rosea for physical and mental fatigue: a systematic review, BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 in stimulating the immune system impaired by oxidative stress, 59Yonghong Li, Victor Pham, Michelle Bui, Liankun Song, Chunli Wu, Arman Walia, Edward Uchio, Feng Smith-Liu, and Xiaolin Zi, Rhodiola rosea L.: an herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention,Curr Pharmacol Rep. 2018 and enhancing learning and memory functions.60Gou-ping Ma,Qun Zheng, Meng-bei Xu,Xiao-li Zhou,Lin Lu, Zuo-xiao Li,and Guo-Qing Zheng, Rhodiola rosea L. Improves Learning and Memory Function: Preclinical Evidence and Possible Mechanisms , Front Pharmacol. 2018
L-theanine, a calming amino acid found in green tea, contains many neuroprotective properties, useful for recovering from dopamine toxicity.
Substance abuse, for example, can result in altered dopamine activity and toxicity, which leads to serotonin degeneration,61M I Colado, E O’Shea,1 R Granados, B Esteban, A B Martín, and A R Green, Studies on the role of dopamine in the degeneration of 5-HT nerve endings in the brain of Dark Agouti rats following 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ‘ecstasy’) administration, Br J Pharmacol. 1999 death of dopaminergic cells,62Mika Takeshima,Ikuko Miyazaki, Shinki Murakami, Taizo Kita, and Masato Asanuma, l-Theanine protects against excess dopamine-induced neurotoxicity in the presence of astrocytes, J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2016 and impaired mitochondrial action 63D Ben-Shachar , R Zuk, Y Glinka, Dopamine neurotoxicity: inhibition of mitochondrial respiration, J Neurochem. 1995 .
These cognitive impairments eventually manifest as depression, parkinsonism, and impaired cognitive functions.
L-theanine reverses dopamine neurotoxicity damage by activating astrocytes, 64Fan Yang, Yunhui Liu, Jie Tu, Jun Wan, Jie Zhang, Bifeng Wu, Shanping Chen, Jiawei Zhou, Yangling Mu, and Liping Wang, Activated astrocytes enhance the dopaminergic differentiation of stem cells and promote brain repair through bFGF, Nat Commun. 2014 65Mika Takeshima, Ikuko Miyazaki, Shinki Murakami, Taizo Kita, and Masato Asanuma, l-Theanine protects against excess dopamine-induced neurotoxicity in the presence of astrocytes, J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2016 specialized cells responsible for regulating neurotransmitter release and control synapse formation.66Jacques De Keyser, Jop P Mostert, Marcus W Koch, Dysfunctional astrocytes as key players in the pathogenesis of central nervous system disorders, J Neurol Sci. 2008
The use of L-theanine supplements also improves symptoms of clinical depression, along with sleep disorders and cognitive impairment.67Shinsuke Hidese, Shintaro Ogawa, Miho Ota, Ikki Ishida, Zenta Yasukawa, Makoto Ozeki, and Hiroshi Kunugi, Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Nutrients. 2019 68Pradeep J Nathan , Kristy Lu, M Gray, C Oliver, The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent, J Herb Pharmacother. 2006
The effects of L-theanine on dopamine is dose-dependent.69F. L. Dodd, D. O. Kennedy, L. M. Riby, and C. F. Haskell-Ramsay, A double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the effects of caffeine and L-theanine both alone and in combination on cerebral blood flow, cognition and mood, Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 70David J. White, Suzanne de Klerk, William Woods, Shakuntla Gondalia, Chris Noonan, and Andrew B. Scholey, Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an l-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial, Nutrients. 2016 A dose of 200mg enhances the brain’s alpha wave activity to induce relaxation without drowsiness.71Lekh RajJuneja,Djong-ChiChu,TsutomuOkubo,YukikoNagato,HidehikoYokogoshi, L-theanine—a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans, Trends in Food Science & Technology. 1999
L-theanine’s long-term use also enhances GABA concentrations and brain-derived eurotrophic factor (BDNF), supporting its neuroprotective action concerning dopamine.72David J. White,1 Suzanne de Klerk, William Woods, Shakuntla Gondalia, Chris Noonan, and Andrew B. Scholey, Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an l-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial, Nutrients. 2016
Probiotics can help boost dopamine and mood via the gut-brain axis. Since the gut produces around 50% of the dopamine that ends up in your brain, optimizing this vital link between the gut microbiome and your mind is crucial to producing dopamine and other neurotransmitters.73Marilia Carabotti, Annunziata Scirocco, Maria Antonietta Maselli, and Carola Severi, The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems, Ann Gastroenterol. 2015
Alteration in the gut-brain axis affects the different pathways found along this axis.74Luis G. Bermúdez-Humarán, Eva Salinas, Genaro G. Ortiz, Luis J. Ramirez-Jirano, J. Alejandro Morales, and Oscar K. Bitzer-Quintero, From Probiotics to Psychobiotics: Live Beneficial Bacteria Which Act on the Brain-Gut Axis, Nutrients. 2019 Blocked neurological, metabolic, hormonal, and immunological pathways result in altered behavior, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, along with intestinal inflammation and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Clinical studies highlight the effects of a diseased gut and dopamine production.75Rahul Mittal, Luca H. Debs,1 Amit P. Patel,1 Desiree Nguyen,1 Kunal Patel,1 Gregory O’Connor,2 M’hamed Grati,1 Jeenu Mittal, Denise Yan, Adrien A. Eshraghi, Sapna K. Deo, Sylvia Daunert, and Xue Zhong Liu, Neurotransmitters: The critical modulators regulating gut-brain axis, J Cell Physiol. 2018 76Premysl Bercik , Emmanuel Denou, Josh Collins, Wendy Jackson, Jun Lu, Jennifer Jury, Yikang Deng, Patricia Blennerhassett, Joseph Macri, Kathy D McCoy, Elena F Verdu, Stephen M Collins, The intestinal microbiota affect central levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor and behavior in mice, Gastroenterology. 2011 Results include mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and Parkinson’s disease.
In another study, probiotics influence mood and cognitive functions 77Emeran A. Mayer, Rob Knight, Sarkis K. Mazmanian, John F. Cryan and Kirsten Tillisch, Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience, Journal of Neuroscience. 2014 78Shinsuke Hidese, Shintaro Ogawa, Miho Ota, Ikki Ishida, Zenta Yasukawa, Makoto Ozeki, and Hiroshi Kunugi, Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Nutrients. 2019 by improving sleep quality, 79M Takada , K Nishida , Y Gondo , H Kikuchi-Hayakawa , H Ishikawa , K Suda , M Kawai , R Hoshi , Y Kuwano , K Miyazaki , K Rokutan, Beneficial effects of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota on academic stress-induced sleep disturbance in healthy adults: a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial, Benef Microbes. 2017 reducing anxiety, and enhancing mental response.80Angela Marotta, Eleonora Sarno, Antonio Del Casale, Marco Pane, Luca Mogna, Angela Amoruso, Giovanna E. Felis, and Mirta Fiorio, Effects of Probiotics on Cognitive Reactivity, Mood, and Sleep Quality, Front Psychiatry. 2019
Omega 3 Supplements
Having adequate omega 3 stores are crucial to optimal dopamine levels.
In both human and animal studies, omega-3 fatty acids demonstrate increased dopamine levels, consequently improving depressive symptoms and dopaminergic function in the brain cortex.81S Chalon 1, S Delion-Vancassel, C Belzung, D Guilloteau, A M Leguisquet, J C Besnard, G Durand, Dietary fish oil affects monoaminergic neurotransmission and behavior in rats, J Nutr. 1998
82L Zimmer , S Hembert, G Durand, P Breton, D Guilloteau, J C Besnard, S Chalon
, Chronic n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid diet-deficiency acts on dopamine metabolism in the rat frontal cortex: a microdialysis study, Neurosci Lett. 1998 83S de la Presa Owens , S M Innis, Docosahexaenoic and arachidonic acid prevent a decrease in dopaminergic and serotoninergic neurotransmitters in frontal cortex caused by a linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid deficient diet in formula-fed piglets, J Nutr. 1999 84M. Elizabeth Sublette, Hanga C. Galfalvy, Joseph R. Hibbeln, John G. Keilp, Kevin M. Malone, Maria A. Oquendo, J. John Mann, Polyunsaturated fatty acid associations with dopaminergic indices in major depressive disorder, International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 2014
Like other dopamine-enhancing supplements, omega-3 fatty acids show potential in managing substance abuse. It can influence dopamine and other neurotransmitters to control impulsive behavior related to alcoholism.85A P Simopoulos , The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids, Biomed Pharmacother. 2002
Omega-3 fatty acids from krill 86Food Funct. 2017, Dietary krill oil enhances neurocognitive functions and modulates proteomic changes in brain tissues of d-galactose induced aging mice, Ling-Zhi Cheong , Tingting Sun, Yanyan Li, Jun Zhou, Chenyang Lu, Ye Li, Zhongbai Huang, Xiurong Su also enhance dopamine levels to modulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to attenuate depressive symptoms.87Beth Levant, Ph.D., N-3 (Omega-3) Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Pathophysiology and Treatment of Depression: Pre-clinical Evidence, CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. 2014
Fish oil omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, restores dopamine release in the striatum after a traumatic brain injury by effectively reducing inflammation.88Samuel S. Shina, and C. Edward Dixon, Oral Fish Oil Restores Striatal Dopamine Release After Traumatic Brain Injury, Neurosci Lett. 2017
Dopamine is one of the more prominent causes of various neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Aside from low dopamine levels in these conditions, magnesium concentrations are also deficient.89Anna E. Kirkland, Gabrielle L. Sarlo, and Kathleen F. Holton, The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders, Nutrients. 2018
Magnesium supplementation slows down dopamine neuron loss and improves motor skills in Parkinson’s disease models, showing magnesium’s potential as a therapeutic alternative.90Yanling Shen, Ling Dai, Haibo Tian, Runnan Xu, Fuying Li, Zhuohang Li, Jeremy Zhou, Liping Wang, Jianghui Dong, and Liyuan Sun, Treatment Of Magnesium-L-Threonate Elevates The Magnesium Level In The Cerebrospinal Fluid And Attenuates Motor Deficits And Dopamine Neuron Loss In A Mouse Model Of Parkinson’s disease, Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2019 91Kiyomitsu Oyanagi and Tomoyo Hashimoto, Magnesium in Parkinson’s disease: an update in clinical and basic aspects, University of Adelaide Press. 2011.
By inhibiting glutamate action 92Erdman J, Oria M, Pillsbury L, Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel., National Academies Press (US). 2011 that causes dopaminergic cell death, 93Anna E. Kirkland, Gabrielle L. Sarlo, and Kathleen F. Holton, The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders, Nutrients. 2018 magnesium helps increase dopamine to manage depression better.
Substance abuse promotes the release of dopamine in the body until it reaches toxic levels. Magnesium helps by regulating dopamine levels, the body’s primary reward neurotransmitter, and inhibits excitation caused by glutamates.94Vink R, Nechifor M, Magnesium in drug abuse and addiction, University of Adelaide Press; 2011
95Mihai Nechifor , Dan Chelarescu, Diana Ciubotaru, The influence of magnesium on morphine-induced stimulation of the reward system, Magnes Res
Taurine and dopamine have a two-way effect on each other as both can inhibit the other’s release under certain conditions.96P Kontro, Interactions of taurine and dopamine in the striatum, Adv Exp Med Biol. 1987
However, it did show to influence dopamine action in easing symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases.97Md. Jakaria, Shofiul Azam, Md. Ezazul Haque, Song-Hee Jo, Md. Sahab Uddin, In-Su Kim, and Dong-Kug Choi, Taurine and its analogs in neurological disorders: Focus on therapeutic potential and molecular mechanisms, Redox Biol. 2019 It also protects the dopaminergic neural cells by preventing inflammation in the central nervous system.
The effects of taurine are dose-dependent. A high dose of taurine showed improved dopamine uptake and potential as a treatment for ADHD.98Vincent Chin-Hung Chen , Chun-Ching Chiu , Li-Jeng Chen , Tsai-Ching Hsu , Bor-Show Tzang , Effects of taurine on striatal dopamine transporter expression and dopamine uptake in SHR rats, Behav Brain Res. 2018
Taurine administration also effectively increases BDNF levels, which help in effective communication between the spine and the brain.99E Küppers , C Beyer, Dopamine regulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression in cultured embryonic mouse striatal cells, Neuroreport. 2001
Green Tea Extract
Green tea has many components, each acting to either improve or inhibit dopamine action. For example, glycine induces dopamine release 100G Yadid , K Pacak, E Golomb, J D Harvey-White, D M Lieberman, I J Kopin, D S Goldstein, Glycine stimulates striatal dopamine release in conscious rats, Br J Pharmacol. 1993 , while L-theanine helps improve mood by enhancing dopamine action.101Shinsuke Hidese, Shintaro Ogawa, Miho Ota, Ikki Ishida, Zenta Yasukawa, Makoto Ozeki, and Hiroshi Kunugi, Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Nutrients. 2019
Tea is a time-honored tradition of the Japanese people, and scientific findings show that they were right about it. Regular green tea consumption leads to low depressive symptoms among the elderly.102Kaijun Niu, Atsushi Hozawa, Shinichi Kuriyama, Satoru Ebihara, Hui Guo, Naoki Nakaya, Kaori Ohmori-Matsuda, Hideko Takahashi, Yayoi Masamune, Masanori Asada, Satoshi Sasaki, Hiroyuki Arai, Shuichi Awata, Ryoichi Nagatomi, Ichiro Tsuji, Green tea consumption is associated with depressive symptoms in the elderly, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009
Drinking green tea regularly exhibits less stress, inflammation, and depressive symptoms. It also improves the brain’s ability to form new neural connections to adapt to changes and situations (neuroplasticity).103Dylan O’Neill Rothenberg and Lingyun Zhang, Mechanisms Underlying the Anti-Depressive Effects of Regular Tea Consumption, Nutrients. 2019
ALCAR Acetyl L-Carnitine
Acetyl L-carnitine, also known as ALCAR or L-carnitine, preserves taurine in the brain, increasing dopamine levels, especially in the aging brain.104H Sershen , L G Harsing Jr, M Banay-Schwartz, A Hashim, M T Ramacci, A Lajtha, Effect of acetyl-L-carnitine on the dopaminergic system in aging brain, J Neurosci Res. 1991
L-carnitine increases dopamine receptors to prevent neuronal cell death and improve subjects’ cognitive function.105Sonu Singh , Akanksha Mishra , Neha Srivastava , Rakesh Shukla , Shubha Shukla, Acetyl-L-Carnitine via Upegulating Dopamine D1 Receptor and Attenuating Microglial Activation Prevents Neuronal Loss and Improves Memory Functions in Parkinsonian Rats, Mol Neurobiol. 2018
It also augments dopamine output to protect the brain from acute stress exposure. To sustain its neuroprotective effects, maintain L-carnitine use.106Pierluigi Tolu , Flavio Masi, Benedetta Leggio, Simona Scheggi, Alessandro Tagliamonte, M Graziella De Montis, Carla Gambarana, Effects of long-term acetyl-L-carnitine administration in rats: I. increased dopamine output in mesocorticolimbic areas and protection toward acute stress exposure, Neuropsychopharmacology. 2002
Aside from dopamine, L-carnitine also influences other neurotransmitters that either attenuate or ameliorate dopamine release. Imbalance in these neurotransmitters results in major depressive disorder and other neurodegenerative illnesses.
DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) is an amino acid supplement (synthetic phenylalanine) known for its benefits in pain management, mood regulation, and cognitive functions.107Simon N. Young, Facts and Myths Related to the Use and Regulation of Phenylalanine and Other Amino Acids, Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function. 1988
As a dopamine precursor, phenylalanine influences the reward/punishment processing of recovering depressed patients.108Jonathan P Roiser, Andrew McLean, Alan D Ogilvie, Andrew D Blackwell, Diane J Bamber, Ian Goodyer, Peter B Jones, and Barbara J Sahakian, The Subjective and Cognitive Effects of Acute Phenylalanine and Tyrosine Depletion in Patients Recovered from Depression, Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 109Tatiana A. Shnitko, Sarah C. Taylor, Sierra J. Stringfield, Shannon L. Zandy, Roberto U. Cofresí, James M. Doherty, William B. Lynch, Charlotte A. Boettiger, Rueben A. Gonzales, and Donita L. Robinson, Acute Phenylalanine/Tyrosine Depletion of Phasic Dopamine in the Rat Brain, Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2017
Imbalance in phenylalanine levels, especially in the case of phenylketonuria, induces depression because overly high phenylalanine in the blood depletes dopamine levels.110Shelley R Winn, Tanja Scherer, Beat Thöny, Ming Ying, Aurora Martinez, Sydney Weber, Jacob Raber, and Cary O Harding, Blood phenylalanine reduction corrects CNS dopamine and serotonin deficiencies and partially improves behavioral performance in adult phenylketonuric mice, Mol Genet Metab. 2019
However, phenylalanine also balances dopamine levels in people suffering from withdrawal symptoms from substance abuse.
Administration of tyrosine/phenylalanine-depleted drinks for people suffering from withdrawal symptoms reduces aggression, hallucinations, nausea, and depression.111Marco Leyton , Alain Dagher, Isabelle Boileau, Kevin Casey, Glen B Baker, Mirko Diksic, Roger Gunn, Simon N Young, Chawki Benkelfat, Decreasing amphetamine-induced dopamine release by acute phenylalanine/tyrosine depletion: A PET/[11C]raclopride study in healthy men, Neuropsychopharmacology. 2004
Uridine monophosphate enhances dopamine production and induces neurite growth.112Lei Wang , Amy M Pooler, Meredith A Albrecht, Richard J Wurtman, Dietary uridine-5′-monophosphate supplementation increases potassium-evoked dopamine release and promotes neurite outgrowth in aged rats, J Mol Neurosci. 2005 Neurite growth and branching helps in achieving an adequately wired neuronal network to improve communication in the brain.113Sabrina Paganoni and Adriana Ferreira, Neurite extension in central neurons: a novel role for the receptor tyrosine kinases Ror1 and Ror2, J Cell Sci. 2006
Dopamine, in turn, helps in proper neurite branching, targeting specific neurons, and synapse formation 114G E Spencer , J Klumperman, N I Syed, Neurotransmitters and neurodevelopment. Role of dopamine in neurite outgrowth, target selection and specific synapse formation, Perspect Dev Neurobiol. 1998, which predicts mental health status.115Xinyuan Wang, Kimberly M. Christian, Hongjun Song, and Guo-li Ming, Synaptic dysfunction in complex psychiatric disorders: from genetics to mechanisms, Genome Med. 2018
Uridine, in combination with DHA, restores and releases dopamine in the striatum.116Mehmet Cansev, Ismail H. Ulus, Lei Wang, Timothy J. Maher, and Richard J. Wurtman, Restorative Effects of Uridine Plus Docosahexaenoic Acid in a Rat Model of Parkinson’s Disease, Neurosci Res. 2009
Uridine monophosphate administration (500mg twice daily) can also effectively reduce suicidal ideation in bipolar patients.117Douglas G. Kondo, M.D., Young-Hoon Sung, M.D.,Tracy L. Hellem, B.S., Kristen K. Delmastro, B.S., Eun-Kee Jeong, Ph.D., Namkug Kim, Ph.D., Xianfeng Shi, Ph.D., and Perry F. Renshaw, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A, Open-Label Uridine for Treatment of Depressed Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder, J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2011
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a known traditional Chinese medicine used to prevent inflammation, leading to the death of dopaminergic cells.118Ruiping Zhang, Shengli Xu, Yanning Cai, Ming Zhou, Xiaohong Zuo, and Piu Chan, Ganoderma lucidum Protects Dopaminergic Neuron Degeneration through Inhibition of Microglial Activation, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011
Reishi contains antidepressant properties by regulating the central nervous system and acting as a sedative.119Hirokazu Matsuzaki, Yuta Shimizu, Naohiro Iwata, Shinya Kamiuchi, Fumiko Suzuki, Hiroshi Iizuka, Yasuhide Hibino, and Mari Okazaki, Antidepressant-like effects of a water-soluble extract from the culture medium of Ganoderma lucidum mycelia in rats, BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013
Dopamine from Reishi mushroom plays a role in epilepsy through its D2 receptors 120M S Starr, The role of dopamine in epilepsy, Synapse. 1996 and inhibiting calcium overload.121Shu-Qiu Wang, Xiao-Jie Li, Hong-Bin Qiu, Zhi-Mei Jiang, Maria Simon, Xiao-Ru Ma, Lei Liu, Jun-Xing Liu, Fang-Fang Wang, Yan-Feng Liang, Jia-Mei Wu, Wei-Hua Di, and Shaobo Zhou, Anti-Epileptic Effect of Ganoderma Lucidum Polysaccharides by Inhibition of Intracellular Calcium Accumulation and Stimulation of Expression of CaMKII α in Epileptic Hippocampal Neurons, PLoS One. 2014 122Katarzyna Socala , Dorota Nieoczym , Krzysztof Grzywnowicz , Dawid Stefaniuk , Piotr Wlaz , Evaluation of Anticonvulsant, Antidepressant-, and Anxiolytic-like Effects of an Aqueous Extract from Cultured Mycelia of the Lingzhi or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (Higher Basidiomycetes) in Mice, Int J Med Mushrooms. 2015
By protecting the dopaminergic neurons from degeneration, Reishi mushroom also reduces symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Wrapping It Up
Dopamine is essential in maintaining optimal mental health.
Fortunately, there are plenty of nootropics and supplements that can help boost your dopamine if you’re low.
It’s important to remember that both low and excessive dopamine levels display identical symptoms.
So, before taking dopamine-boosting supplements, take caution that the symptoms you experience points to low dopamine levels.
While some supplements work for some people, not all work the same for all people.
Be your own study subject and experiment to find which nootropic works best for you.