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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