Dopamine makes you happier, smarter, more productive, more creative, more focused, and more social.
Who doesn't want that?
There are many ways to increase dopamine naturally.
But what are the VERY BEST ways to do it?
This article gives you the answer.
It includes the 36 very best ways to increase dopamine levels in your brain.
It starts off with my 10 personal favourites.
And then offers 26 other great options.
Not only do they work, but many of them work very quickly.
Read on to learn more.
What Is Dopamine and What Does It Do in the Brain?
Dopamine influences almost every aspect of your life.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, meaning it’s a chemical messenger released by neurons (nerve cells) to “communicate” with other neurons (236).
Like all neurotransmitters, dopamine shuttles between cells and binds to receptors.
In the media and popular culture, dopamine is often promoted as the main pleasure neurotransmitter.
But dopamine actually appears to increase desire and motivation more than pleasure.
In fact, it’s often called the “motivation molecule”.
The brain includes several dopamine pathways, and they play a key role in reward, motivation, memory and attention (233-235).
So not surprisingly, dopamine significantly impacts human behaviour.
And research shows that naturally increasing dopamine levels can lead to numerous benefits, including:
Increased enthusiasm, motivation and drive to be productive, accomplish tasks and reach goals (165-179)
Reduced drug addiction and dependence (162-164)
Increased focus and concentration (186-190)
Increased creativity, both verbal and visual creativity (191-197)
Improved mood (198-200)
Reduced fear and improved confidence (201-204)
Increased social bonding and stronger relationships (oxytocin plays a role too) (205-208)
Increased tolerance to pain (209-211)
Conditions and Symptoms Associated with Low Levels of Dopamine in the Brain
Research shows that low dopamine levels are associated with a number of brain and mental health conditions and symptoms, including:
Depression, Apathy and Feelings of Hopelessness (225-226)
Parkinson’s Disease (213-215, 228)
Restless Leg Syndrome (229-230)
Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (218-220)
Social Anxiety (212)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (224)
Toxic Mold Illness (227)
Traumatic Brain Injury (231-232)
Moodiness and Irritability
Perhaps you struggle with one of these conditions or symptoms.
The good news is that you’re not powerless.
You can naturally increase your dopamine levels and recapture your zest for life.
All you need to do is implement some of the natural strategies below.
They can significantly improve your motivation, focus and mood.
They have helped me, and they can help you too.
Let’s jump into them.
My Top 10 Favourite Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain
1. Sunlight and Vitamin D
Exposing yourself to sunshine is one of the best natural ways to increase dopamine levels in your brain.
And it’s my personal favourite.
Research shows that sunlight increases dopamine release (4-5).
I personally get sunlight every single day during the spring and summer months to increase dopamine.
It’s important to get the sunlight in your eyes to trigger the release of dopamine.
So make sure you don’t wear contacts, glasses or sunglasses when you go outside. This way, you’ll get a bigger dopamine boost.
It’s especially important to do this in the morning because it sets your circadian rhythm (3).
During the winter months, when there isn't enough sun, I use this Vitamin D sunlamp.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun.
But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun.
Researchers believe that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (6).
Having a deficiency in Vitamin D leads to lower dopamine levels, but treatment with Vitamin D3 enhances dopamine release (1-2).
So at the very least, you should take a Vitamin D supplement if you’re deficient.
2. Vagus Nerve Stimulation
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body and part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.
Research shows that chronic impairment of vagus nerve function leads to the inhibition of dopamine in the brain (7).
But vagus nerve stimulation reverses a dysregulated dopamine system (8).
Read this article for 13 ways to stimulate your vagus nerve.
Deep breathing with the EmWave2 device is my favourite way.
3. Low-Level Laser Therapy
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that can improve your brain function and support your dopamine levels.
LLLT involves the use of low-power lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that emit red and infrared light.
You can shine this light on your head, it penetrates the skull and stimulates your brain cells.
This helps your brain function much better.
Research shows that LLLT significantly increases the secretion of dopamine in the brain (12).
Several studies also show that LLLT is neuroprotective and protects dopaminergic brain cells from degeneration (13-21).
Because of this, researchers say LLLT is a promising therapeutic strategy for dopamine-related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (12).
I previously wrote about my experience with low-level laser therapy here.
I use this device and shine the red and infrared light on my forehead.
I also use the Vielight 810, which is an intranasal device with 810 nm of near infrared light (If you decide to try any of the Vielight devices, you can use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount).
You can learn about how I use these devices in my LLLT article. I highly recommend reading it if you want to try this.
Rhodiola is one of the most popular herbs in the world used to increase physical and mental performance.
It’s a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb, and it’s also sometimes called golden root or arctic root.
I previously wrote about rhodiola here.
Researchers have found that rhodiola stimulates dopamine receptors and inhibits the enzymes that break down dopamine in the brain (22).
It also increases the amount of dopamine precursors that can pass the blood brain barrier (23).
I take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I want to boost my energy and cognitive function.
Drinking coffee is another great way to boost dopamine levels.
Research shows that caffeine increases the release of dopamine in the brain (26-27).
Other studies have found that it also enhances dopamine signaling and increases dopamine receptors (24-25).
Sometimes people find that coffee makes them feel terrible and jittery.
This might be due to the quality of the coffee.
I find that low-quality, non-organic coffee makes me feel terrible.
In fact, cheap coffee feels like it lowers my dopamine.
Most people can tolerate regular coffee just fine.
But if it makes you feel sick, consider trying Kicking Horse coffee, which I can tolerate just fine, or simply take pure caffeine, and see how you feel. You may feel better than if you consumed low-quality coffee.
Coffee and caffeine can disrupt sleep though, so make sure you don’t drink it in the evening close to bed. Some people like me are really sensitive and have to stop drinking it very early in the day so that it doesn’t disrupt their sleep.
I have my last cup sometime between 10 in the morning and noon. If I have it any later than that, it disrupts my sleep and don't feel great the next day.
Traditionally, the coffee bean is extracted from the coffee fruit for roasting. And the surrounding fruit is discarded.
But that’s a problem because the coffee fruit contains several healthy compounds not found in coffee beans themselves.
And researchers have found that consuming whole coffee fruit concentrate can significantly enhance cognitive functioning.
That’s why I included it in the Optimal Brain supplement.
Uridine is a natural compound commonly found in beer.
Research shows that uridine significantly increases the release of dopamine and elevates dopamine levels (29-32).
It’s important to note that uridine in food is not bioavailable, and there isn’t any foods that have been shown to increase plasma levels of uridine unfortunately (28).
7. Cold Exposure
Exposing yourself to cold can also increase your dopamine levels naturally.
Researchers have found that cold water immersion increases dopamine by 250% (43-44).
I take a cold shower every day.
During the winter, I’ll also go outside for short periods of time with hardly any clothes. It boosts my dopamine and increases my motivation.
You don’t have to be that extreme though.
You can start by finishing your next shower with one minutes of cold water.
See how it feels, and then over time, increase the amount of time you turn off the hot.
I can be a bit painful.
But the beneficial effects end up being worth it.
Another way is to stick your face, hand or foot in ice cold water.
Or you can try cold plunges, cold baths and even cryotherapy if you want!
Find what works best for you and do it regularly.
Meditation is my favourite daily activity.
And research shows that it's linked to increases in dopamine (46-48).
In one study, researchers used brain scan imaging to confirm that meditation naturally increases dopamine release by 65% (45).
It likely has these effects by stimulating the vagus nerve.
I use the Muse headband to meditate. It gives you real-time feedback while you meditate. It makes meditation a lot more fun and tolerable.
American Ginseng has been shown to improve attention and cognitive processing by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain (93-94).
Researchers have also found that Siberian Ginseng has antidepressant effects by significantly elevating dopamine levels in the brain (95).
10. Citicoline and Alpha GPC
Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is the best supplemental form of choline.
Choline is an essential nutrient for optimal brain health, but unfortunately that most people don’t consume enough of it.
Because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.
Citicoline has been shown to enhance the synthesis of dopamine, increase the release of dopamine, and increase the density of dopamine receptors in the brain (136-142).
It also protects brain cells that release dopamine, which then prevents a reduction in dopamine (143).
Alpha GPC is another excellent form of choline that has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain (144).
Citicoline and Alpha GPC significantly improve my focus and mental energy. That’s why they are both included in the Optimal Brain supplement.
Other Effective Ways to Naturally Increase Dopamine Levels in the Brain
11. Take Dopamine Precursors
You can also increase your dopamine levels by giving your body the raw materials to create dopamine.
It’s first important to understand that dopamine is created within the body from the amino acid Phenylalanine (149).
Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body cannot create it, and you must obtain it from your diet.
Here are some healthy sources:
These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.
Research shows that supplementing with these dopamine precursors can enhance cognitive performance by increasing dopamine levels in the brain (151-155).
Mucuna Pruriens, a tropical plant commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, is good source of L-DOPA and has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain (156-161).
Research suggests that certain probiotics can also increase dopamine.
One study found that the probiotic species Lactobacillus plantarum significantly increases dopamine.
Researchers concluded that daily intake of Lactobacillus plantarum may be able to help treat neuropsychiatric disorders (36).
Another study found that Lactobacillus rhamnosus increases dopamine in the frontal cortex (37).
I created and take the Optimal Biotics supplement to support my dopamine levels and mental health.
You can also read this older article for 4 other ways to increase your good gut bacteria.
And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 7 other probiotic strains that can help.
It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it provides support to brain cells, enhances cognition, and increases alertness.
It’s also been shown to help reduce chronic fatigue and improve mood.
It does a lot.
So not surprisingly, researchers have also found that it increases dopamine output in the brain (42).
I find that it gives me a big boost in mental energy and cognitive resilience.
ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.
Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain.
Researchers have found that acupuncture increases the production of dopamine in the brain by stimulating the vagus nerve (9).
Other studies show that acupuncture enhances the availability of dopamine in the brain and normalizes the release of dopamine during withdrawal (10-11).
I really like auricular acupuncture.
Auricular acupuncture is when needles are inserted into ear.
In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I don’t really know why, I’ve just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture.
I also use this acupuncture mat at home to relax before bed.
15. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems.
It’s one of the most popular natural supplements in the world, and it’s even prescribed by doctors in Germany.
It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it’s been shown to increase brain blood flow and improve memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It also improves mood and mental energy, and even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers have also discovered that it significantly increases dopamine levels in the brain (33-34).
It increases the number of dopaminergic neurons in the brain as well (35).
Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.
Pregnenolone is a hormone naturally produced by the body.
But it can also be taken as a supplement.
It helps form almost all other steroid hormones in the body, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, and cortisol.
So it’s very important.
Research shows that it also increases dopamine release in the brain (38).
Whenever I take pregnenolone, it gives me a big boost in energy and supports brain function. It definitely works. But if I take it everyday, it starts to make me angry and irritable for some reason. So I only take it every so often.
If you want to try it, you can get it here.
17. Intranasal Insulin
Insulin is a hormone that significantly affects brain function.
Unfortunately, many people today develop insulin resistance within the brain.
When this happens, there is a reduction in dopamine.
So in a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is being prepared and added to nasal spray bottles - like these ones - and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support the brain and mental health.
One possible mechanism is by increasing dopamine levels.
One study found that insulin enhances dopamine release in the brain (39).
Forskolin is a natural herb historically used in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s been used for hundreds of years to treat various conditions and diseases.
The herb comes from the roots of the Indian coleus, which is a tropical plant.
Other studies show that it can upregulate dopamine receptors (50, 52-56).
The one I took isn't available anymore but there are many options available on Amazon.
One of the best hacks for your brain is simply standing more often.
Researchers have found that prolonged, uninterrupted sitting leads to fatigue and lower dopamine levels (57).
I have this standing desk so that I’m not sitting all the time while working.
Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies.
It carries oxygen to all parts of your body, and low levels can leave you feeling tired, pale and irritable.
Research shows that iron plays a key role in the regulation of dopaminergic neurotransmission, and iron deficiency can lead to lower dopamine levels (58).
I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems (59).
It’s definitely much better to just get your iron from food.
I make sure I get enough iron simply by taking these grass-fed beef liver capsules.
Other good sources of iron include:
These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.
Salt is another tasty, natural way to boost your brain’s dopamine levels.
Researchers have found that dietary salt intake increases dopamine levels (60).
Keep in mind that processed salt should be avoided or limited.
I add this Celtic sea salt to most of my meals.
It’s a small alkaloid molecule found in certain fruits and plants. It’s most commonly found in a Chinese tea known as kucha.
Researchers have found that theacrine acts through the dopamine system to provide a stimulant effect (66).
It activates dopamine receptors, which increases motivation and wakefulness (67).
In my experience, theacrine is a good replacement for coffee. It works and feels similar to caffeine, but it has a longer half life and less of a tolerance. It’s also less likely to disrupt sleep (61-63).
You can also take them together for even better results. Research shows that theacrine and caffeine are more effective when taken together because caffeine increases the bioavailability and positive effects of theacrine (64-65).
Not surprisingly, exercise is another natural way to increase dopamine levels in your brain.
Plenty of research shows that daily exercise leads to increased dopamine neurotransmission, including increased dopamine release and increased dopamine receptor expression and binding (70-73).
Exercise also slows the break down of dopamine and prevents the loss of dopaminergic brain cells (71).
Many experts recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.
Exercise can be a big chore for a lot of people, so I recommend finding some sort of sport or aerobic activity that you enjoy. That way you won’t get sick of it and you’ll exercise regularly.
24. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain.
Eating more of them is one of the greatest steps you can take to promote optimal brain and nervous system functioning, and boost your dopamine levels.
In one study, researchers fed animals omega-3 fatty acids, and they found that the animals had 40 per cent higher levels of dopamine in the brain than animals that didn’t receive omega-3 fatty acids (69).
The researchers also noted a reduction in the enzyme that breaks down dopamine, and greater binding of dopamine to the dopamine receptors (69).
It’s important to eat enough omega-3 fatty acids through your diet because they are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including:
These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.
Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.
That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids.
I take this one.
I actually feel more depressed when I stop taking it. It makes a difference.
25. Touch and Massage
Interpersonal touch is another natural way to increase your dopamine levels.
Researchers have discovered that touch significantly increases dopamine release in the brain (74-76).
This can include kissing, cuddling, stroking, tickling, hugging and sex.
But it can also include massage therapy.
Studies have shown that massage therapy increases dopamine by 31% on average (77).
This is one reason why I regularly get a massage from a registered massage therapist.
26. Tea and Theanine
Tea has also been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain.
I take theanine alongside my morning coffee. It’s calming and cancels out the jitters of caffeine.
This anti-anxiety supplement contains theanine.
27. Intermittent Fasting
Fasting allows your digestive system to take a break and triggers the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, including dopamine.
Researchers have found that intermittent fasting leads to higher levels of dopamine by increasing dopamine release and enhancing dopamine action (86-89).
It also reduces age-related loss of dopamine receptors (90).
I often eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window, and then fast for the rest of the day.
The best way to start fasting is by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day. That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time.
It can cross the blood-brain barrier and elevate dopamine levels in the brain (91).
Taurine is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.
Magnesium is an essential mineral.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient.
This is a shame because it plays a role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body, and it’s absolutely necessary for optimal neurotransmitter activity.
Magnesium has antidepressant effects, and one reason for this is because it increases dopamine activity in the brain (92).
There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium.
First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:
These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.
You can also increase your body’s intake of magnesium by taking epsom salt baths.
Supplementation is also a good idea for most people. I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.
Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking.
Folate (Vitamin B9) is an essential B vitamin that plays a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.
One reason for this is because folate is absolutely necessary for the production and synthesis of dopamine in the brain (99-100).
Good dietary sources of natural folate include:
These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.
If you decide to supplement with folate, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you should take a biologically active form of folate (methylfolate or 5-MTHF).
Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (96-98).
On top of this, many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.
Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex.
Folate also lowers homocysteine levels.
31. St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is a natural medicinal herb with antidepressant effects.
A number of studies have also shown that it significantly increases the release of dopamine and increases dopamine levels in the brain (106-110).
One study shows that it increases dopamine in the prefrontal cortex by 40% after one hour (106).
In my experience, it’s best for people who are struggling with mild or moderate depression.
S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM-e) is a compound that naturally occurs in the body.
It’s also available as a supplement.
Research shows that SAM-e improves mood by producing dopamine and increasing dopamine levels in the brain (102-104).
Curcumin is the most heavily researched compound within turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour.
It’s one of my favourite natural compounds for the brain.
It’s been shown to help treat both depression and Parkinson’s disease (111-112).
Several researchers have found that curcumin increases dopamine levels by reducing the break down of dopamine in the brain (113-120).
There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. The “Longvida” form is my favourite. You can get it here.
34. Reduce Inflammation
Reducing inflammation throughout your entire body is a key step towards increasing your dopamine levels naturally.
But one of the most common causes – and the one you have the most control over – is your diet.
That’s why I recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding foods such as gluten and dairy that can trigger inflammation in the gut and brain.
Check out my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health for a full list of anti-inflammatory foods.
But it also increases dopamine.
Researchers have found that listening to your favourite music significantly increases the release of dopamine in your brain (125-126, 129-132).
Even the anticipation of good music leads to the release of dopamine (127).
And several brain imaging studies show that listening to music activates the reward and pleasure areas of the brain, which are rich with dopamine receptors (133-134).
Want to take it a step further?
Start making music.
Research shows that creating and performing music boosts dopamine levels, even more than simply listening to music (128).
Because of this, researchers believe music therapy may be an effective therapy for the treatment of disorders caused by low dopamine (130).
Music has even been shown to help people with Parkinson’s disease improve their fine motor control (135).
36. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is very important if you want to increase dopamine and naturally optimize your dopamine levels.
I used to have sleep problems and it was one of the main factors that contributed to my poor mental health.
Research shows that lack of sleep downregulates dopamine receptors, and reduces dopamine receptor availability and sensitivity in the brain (145, 147-148).
When people are forced to pull an “all-nighter”, the availability of dopamine receptors in their brain is significantly reduced the next morning (146).
So try your best to get at least 7 hours of high-quality, restorative sleep every night.
If you’re having trouble with sleep, try this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote deeper and more restful sleep.
Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health!
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About the Author
Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC