Your Brain on Food and Supplements – Dopamine

by Stephen Mills on May 16, 2009

Burned Out

The absolutely best book on overall health ever! Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat

Some excellent sources for the material contained herein:

The UltraMind Solution: The Simple Way to Defeat Depression, Overcome Anxiety, and Sharpen Your Mind

The Edge Effect: Achieve Total Health and Longevity with the Balanced Brain Advantage

The Mood Cure: The 4-Step Program to Take Charge of Your Emotions–Today

Dr. Braverman has an excellent new book out on brain health and I recommend you take a look at it:

Younger Brain, Sharper Mind: A 6-Step Plan for Preserving and Improving Memory and Attention at Any Age from America’s Brain Doctor

This is the first in a series of articles on how you can balance your brain chemistry with food and supplements.  I include supplements because I am a strong believer in them, but I know some people don’t like to take them.  When they are natural occurring substances I don’t see how they can hurt, but that is something for each person to decide for themselves.

One point to keep in mind is that supplements work faster than foods because more concentrated amounts can be delivered without the baggage of a complex of additional nutrients that may have offsetting effects.  Adding the proper supplements to your diet can produce effects in hours or more normally days instead of weeks.  Taking natural supplements is a safe and effective alternative to man-made drugs.  Use a quality brand.  I think Twinlab is excellent and I am also very satisfied with Source Naturals.  Do not use Wal-Mart or supermarket brands.

Eating the right foods in the right amounts is a powerful long-term strategy.  Keep in mind when you eat you are essentially drugging your brain.

Dopamine

Most people have some kind of dominate nature that centers around one of the four major neurotransmitter types.  Dopamine is the thinking neurotransmitter.  It creates energy and allows you to focus and concentrate.  Dopamine driven natures are interested in activities related to their intellect.  Chess players, crossword puzzle players, doctors, scientists, and engineers are probably mostly dopamine dominant individuals.  Dopamine natures are dominated more by rational thought than by feelings and they tend to dominate others around them.  Dopamine makes you alert and quick witted.

I am very much a dopamine dominated personality.  Tests designed to uncover these natures show me as very dopamine dominant.  Since I also suffer deficiencies in dopamine chemistry, I have a difficult time being myself.  Being deficient in a neurotransmitter that is critical to your natural personality is a not a good thing.  I have lived my whole life being dopamine dominate and it was killing me to slowly lose the ability to act upon my nature.

ADD is a symptom of a dopamine deficiency.  Becoming quickly bored with the routine and having a hard time focusing are classic symptoms of ADD.  Dopamine deficiency can also be the cause of depression.  People with dopamine deficiencies tend to start a lot of things and then don’t finish them.  They work on a lot of different things at once.  Forgetfulness, a sluggish mind, and fatigue are signs you need more dopamine. This paragraph is a description of my recent self.

Your brain must produce dopamine from other amino acids since dopamine will not cross the blood brain barrier.  This means you can’t process it directly from food or supplements.  However, the amino acids that are precursors to dopamine readily cross this barrier.  In case you are interested the sequence goes like this:

Phenylalanine to Tyrosine to L-Dopa to Dopamine to Norepinephrine to Epinephrine

How to Increase Your Dopamine Levels

The key to increasing your dopamine levels without taking drugs, is to increase your brain’s supply of Phenylalanine and Tyrosine.  These amino acids can be turned into L-Dopa and then into Dopamine.  Here is a list of the best food sources for Phenylalanine and Tyrosine.  The list is basically in descending order of how much you get from a typical portion.

Note: Phenylalanine is a component of aspartame but I strongly advise you avoid it.  Aspartame is toxic to your brain.

  • Wild game
  • Cottage cheese
  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Ricotta
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Wheat germ
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Dark chocolate
  • Granola
  • Milk
  • Egg
  • Yogurt
  • Oats
  • Sausage meat
  • Low-fat cheese

Supplements

Take L-Tyrosine and/or DL-Phenylalanine.  These are natural amino acids.   I recommend from 1.5 grams to 6 grams daily of each divided into three doses taken between meals.  My favorite is Twinlab, but if it is quality it is all the same.

Experiment with doses that are right for you.  The more symptoms you have of less-than-optimal dopamine levels, the more you should take.  You can take less than I recommend.  Do whatever feels right to you.

Relax

If you are dopamine dominant, give your brain a break once in a while.  Just relax and do nothing.  Check out Jeff’s article on just being still and quiet: Overcoming Busyness: Five Strategies For Keeping Life Simple.   Listen to music, do some yoga, or meditate.  Roger at A Content Life has a great series going on beginning meditation: Meditation for Beginners (Week 1) – Introduction

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What do you think?  Leave a comment below.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills May 16, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Stephen, should we be concerned?

It appears that most personal development bloggers might have dopamine dominated personalities (thinking, analyzing, problem solving). Now I am wondering if using social media is a symptom of a dopamine deficiency. I mean look at the similarities. With social media we tend to start a lot of things and then don’t finish them (conversations).  We also work on a lot of different things at once (blog posts, twitter, facebook, stumbleUpon, friendfeed). Could this be the beginning signs of an epidemic? LOL.

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Henway October 29, 2010 at 8:54 pm

You make a great point. I have the same observation sometimes as well. It seems a lot of ppl use Twitter and Facebook to get a certain high because something in their life is missing.
Henway´s last [type] ..My Colon Cleanse Story

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Roger | A Content Life May 16, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Stephen,

Thank you for the link!

Based on your description, I would say I’m dopamine dominant as well – I’m a software engineer by trade.

“Since I also suffer deficiencies in dopamine chemistry, I have a difficult time being myself. Being deficient in a neurotransmitter that is critical to your natural personality is a not a good thing.”

Have you noticed a difference since you started taking supplements (L-Tyrosine and DL-Phenylalanine) and altering you diet?

I look forward to the rest of the series! As usual, I appreciate the science behind your posts.

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Nadia - Happy Lotus May 16, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Hi Stephen!

One area of science that absolutely fascinates me is neuroscience. The human brain is absolutely amazing. I love to read how the brain functions and all of that stuff. So it was a sheer joy to read your post about dopamine. You did an excellent job! I look forward to the rest of the series on the brain and food. Very cool, my friend. :)

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Carl December 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm

I agree! this is a very helpful information. Just need as much information I can get regarding neurotrasmiters. Your comment seems to come from educated person. I will go with that. Thanks!

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Lance May 17, 2009 at 7:49 am

Hi Stephen,

Very interesting. This is such good information, and something that is new to me. Looking forward to the rest of this, as well. And…looks like I should keep eating that dark chocolate!!!

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Dragos Roua May 17, 2009 at 8:18 am

That is interesting. And I mean, really interesting.

I was raw foodist for 7 months and only recently I switched to a more relaxed diet, after traveling a lot and realizing raw foodism might be a little early for this world. I just starting to include some supplements in my diet and this article is spot on. Just keep doing it and, by all means, eat whatever you like as long as you would be able to post here. Just share it with us. :-)

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Andrew Blanda May 23, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Hi Stephen,

As I read this article I had a similar thought to Jonathan, but then thought: Is technology accelerating this type of behaviour (not completing things, doing many things at once)? There seems to be something new to read/StumbleUpon/get involved in every day…

Lance, my wife has always told me dark chocolate was medicinal, now I can see why! :-)

Some of what you mention hit a chord with me, but my question is: how do you know if you’re Dopamine deficient? Is there a test that can be done or do we just self-assess?

Thanks,
Andrew

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Daphne @ Joyful Days May 24, 2009 at 6:48 am

Hey Stephen,

This is one of the best articles I’ve read so far, and the best of the series for me. Good job explaining neuroscience in a way that’s easy to understand.

Your post is the first one I’ve ever taken notes for, as in I took out pen and paper to jot down the key points. The learning was that worthwhile!

Thanks for this.

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Charlie Badenhop January 23, 2010 at 1:17 am

Hi Stephen,
I appreciate what you write, and it matches a good deal of what I believe in/know.

I would like to ask you to possibly further elucidate “where” this info comes from, as there is a LOT of territory covered.

For instance, when you write:
I am very much a dopamine dominated personality.  Tests designed to uncover these natures show me as very dopamine dominant. 
///
Can you say more about these tests please? And the general belief system you are espousing?

Warmly,
Charlie

Reply

Stephen Mills January 26, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Charlie, I think the best way to answer is to copy in a reply I made in another article in this series to Roger. I hope this answers your question. If not let me know.

@Roger, there are sometimes medical tests that will do this but you have to have a doctor that knows exactly what to look for. So many blood tests are worthless. For example, doctors test your blood for potassium deficiency. That’s a pretty worthless test. Your tissue cells can be depleted of potassium and yet your blood levels are fine because your tissue cells are depleted first. Many people have deficiencies that are not detected on blood tests because they have plenty of the substance in their blood. Their problem is that that have a genetic variation that prevents them from absorbing or utilizing the substance.

I’ve had Neuropsychiatric tests which are mostly just bunch of mental tests. I think I spent 5 hours of testing during one appointment. Based on this I know a great deal about my mental function. Specifically though on brain chemicals I use two primary sources although I have also done much other research. I have read many books on the brain and read web articles, etc. When I find something interesting I usually read extensively on it.

Dr. Mark Hyman has a book and program called the UltraMind solution. His tests are questionnaires. I think his tests have approximately 500 questions plus another 100+ rating scale questions. I also took a pretty extensive memory test from his program.

Another primary source I use is Dr. Eric Braverman and his The Edge Effect solution. I think his questions number around 400 and he also has an an addition memory test that is pretty good. I get the four natures directly from him although Hyman breaks things up similarly but more granular.

All of these test have very consistent results for me. For example both Braverman and Hyman have a GABA scale and on both of them I rated severe which means seek medical help. I have no intention of doing that because I have bad experiences with doctors.

Here’s an small sample of GABA questions:

I remember facts people tell me.
I focus very well on tasks and people stories.
I have low blood pressure.
I have little muscle tension.
I believe in meeting deadlines.
I fell shaky.
I tend to have cold hands.
I crave bitter foods.

And on and on it goes for about 100 questions just on GABA.

Next I experiment on myself. I change supplements or change diets and watch the differences in how I feel. I become very conscious of it.

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Charlie Badenhop February 5, 2010 at 1:13 am

Hi Stephen,
Thanks for your reply!
I meant to get back to you sooner, but life got in the way.
I checked out Braverman’s site and took his online test. I did not show particularly deficient in anything, even though I am quite sure I am deficient in at least one area.

Dr. Hyman’s stuff-
I know some people who have had very good results with him and at the same time I do not at all care for his style of presentation. I got his newsletter for a while but found that it was often the same stuff over and over again.

I am very interested in finding out more about “brain food”.

In the past, whatever I took in the form of supplements….
Nothing worked for more than a week. Or to be clearer, I have taken a few supplements that worked well for a week or two, and then afterward I got very little in the way of results.

Magnesium is also important for emotional health, and supposedly almost everyone is deficient in magnesium.

Since reading your articles I have been taking a couple of supplements relating to dopamine deficiency, that you recommended, and I seem definitely calmer. Thanks for this. AND I am into my third week now, so getting better results than usual!

For a while now, I have a good deal of trouble staying focused, I tend to feel very nervous in the morning, I have a fast heartbeat, and fairly high blood pressure. Along with a definite weight gain, almost exclusively in my belly. I am 61 yrs. old.

Hoping to get continuing benefit from the supplements you suggested, and I am open to any other advice you might have.

Thank you,
Charlie

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cocaine August 23, 2010 at 8:16 pm

lol one word for increasing dopamine COCAINE.

anyway the rest is just imitation

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Bob M April 20, 2011 at 11:53 pm

one word fort decreasing dopamine long term and creating mild to severe depression: COCAINE

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Green Palmer January 10, 2011 at 8:09 am

Here I get lots of info about dopamine. It refresh brain. Thanks :)

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Shellie Glanville May 22, 2011 at 9:59 am

I’d should check with you here. Which is not something I usually do! I take pleasure in studying a post that may make individuals think. Additionally, thanks for permitting me to remark!

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Nicole May 23, 2011 at 12:59 am

I know this is an old post but I think I need to take supplements for Dopamine but after reading this quote I am unsure…
“However, a dopamine increase can lead to side effects to including the propensity to have an addictive behavior. People with high levels of the hormone dopamine in the brain, and low sensitivity to it, tend to be greater risk takers and may be more prone to addictive behavior, drug abuse and gambling. “

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Nicole May 23, 2011 at 1:29 am

After doing a google search, DL-Phenylalanine does not seem safe to take; I am a little worried.

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Laurie August 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Perhaps this is why I gobble up dark chocolate by the mitt full. I was placed on an antipscyhotic of which I fought against for some time and am now off. Some doctor thought I was psychotic. I’m sure it messed me up royally. I believe I had a combination of anxiety, depression, and ADD as a kid, and feel as a 45 year old, like I did as a kid. Hurump or however the word goes. But I sure was relaxed and still sort of hyper at the same time. Any explanations?

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Donna August 27, 2011 at 6:44 am

Thanks for the info. I have Restless Leg Syndrome and I have to take Mirapex for Dopamine. I hate taking it, but I can’t sit down or sleep without it. I have had to take it for about 12 yrs. I wish I could get enough dopamine for supplements. I am gonna try the L-Tyrosine and Phenylalanine.

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josey wales November 26, 2011 at 8:55 am

Donna… have the dopamine supplements helped your restless leg at all? I, too, have restless leg syndrome and take requip. I hate the drug because once I take it my evening is pretty much over. Thanks—joe

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SHANMUGARAJA November 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Hey guys wait for a minute & think for a while, do all of us really wants some long term cure which have some long lasting effect or a temporary relief at the moment. I assume that we are all suffering from this deficiency for a long time, which is atleast one or two years, in which we can’t notice about the gradual depletion of dopamine because of our dietary behaviour in our busy days, it had made some changes in our brain.Hence it cant be set right in a moment and also attempting for that is dangerous for our system. if this is clear fact, we should understand that we should wait for some time to get the results, which is more stable in the long run. Taking natural or synthetic supplements is your choice, but you should consistent in the fact that we are aiming for a long term results and it will not show a big results in very short period. here important points are you should not overload , but taking a mild dosage , which will not disturb or alters your brain’s homeostasis, if it affects it purely gives addiction on that supplement. so, please bear in mind that 1, too much of anything is good for nothing. 2,slow and steady will surely wins the race,. so, be patient & consistent in achieving your goal.

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Ryan July 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Omega-3 deficiency can lead to a 50% reduction in Dopamine. What this means is, for the majority of us, you can achieve an astronomical boost in dopamine by increasing your omega-3 levels.

Either eat more fish high in omega-3 fatty acids or take fish oil supplements. You will notice the difference immediately.

Here is a starting point if you’re interested:
Zimmer L, Vancassel S, Cantagrel S, Breton, et al. The dopamine mesocorticolimbic pathway is affected by deficiency in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr 2002; 75: 662-7.

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Sarah July 27, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Thanks for pointing that out! I was concerned about trying the supplements suggested as I am still breastfeeding my son. I feel much more comfortable starting with Omega 3.

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Elisabeth August 12, 2012 at 4:49 am

Thank you! I will treasure this and save it in my now not so small library of adhd and dopamine-documents. The article gave me some insights on dopamine-driven personalities and dopamine deficiency that I can relate to big time.

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robin September 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Is there a drink/ shake you can recommend that will help with these suppliments needed for creating dopamine? Life is so busy it’s nice to take a shake to work, and taking a handful of pills once or twice daily for all the sups needed, vit c , ED3, l-tryptophan for sleep, biotin , etc etc etc… is no fun — hate it.

Anyway, I also recommend the Documentary , Happy, that tells how to naturally raise your brain chemistry for happy. and explores what seems o matter in the creation of a happy life. 50 % depends on genetics, money, health, job account for only 10%, and 40% is dependent on choice–intentional behavior.

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mg December 10, 2012 at 11:46 am

Check out Life Extension supplements website

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mg December 10, 2012 at 11:51 am

Oops. Life Enhancement Products supplements website.

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Misty January 22, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Will this help with Parkinson’s disease?

Once some years ago when trying to quit smoking I took L-Phenalanine and it made my feet swell, so I had to quit using it. I know it was this product because I quit using it and my feet quit swelling, so I tried again and got the same result.

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Yvonne November 9, 2013 at 7:11 am

Hi Stephen,

Thank you for the above article. It seems to me that you have insight into neurotransmitters and I was hoping that you could shed some light on a problem I have please? I am trying to find the body’s substance for the nicotinic receptor, any clue?

Thanks!
Yvonne

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