8 Natural Dopamine Boosters to Overcome Depression

If you have depression, you need to address the underlying "root problem” in your brain. And one of those underlying root problems just might be a dopamine deficiency.

natural dopamine boosters

Motivation, concentration, pleasure, euphoria, focus, and other positive feelings stem from our dopamine levels.

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Natural dopamine boosters can help you take back your health! How? First, you need to understand that depression is a disease. In many cases, it is caused by actual physiologic changes in your brain. Therefore, when you feel depressed, don’t think of it as a defect in your personality; rather, think of depression as you would any other illness.

If you have a broken bone, you need to wear a cast to stabilize the bone while it heals. Likewise, if you have depression, you need to address the underlying “root problem” in your brain. And one of those underlying root problems just might be a dopamine deficiency. 

If so, the good news is that you are not powerless to overcome depression caused by insufficient levels of dopamine. You can use natural remedies to increase dopamine levels in your brain.

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What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine is the brain chemical that allows us to have feelings of bliss, pleasure, euphoria, drive, motivation, focus, and concentration. But let’s start at the beginning: Your brain actually communicates with itself. That is, you have an intricately linked system of nerve cells called neurons that “communicate” with each other via specialized receptor sites.

Dopamine is a chemical (neurotransmitter) that is used by the nerves to send “messages.” When a nerve releases dopamine, it crosses a very small gap called a synapse and then attaches to a dopamine receptor on the next nerve. Therefore, when dopamine levels are depleted in the brain, the nerve impulses, or “messages,” cannot be transmitted properly and can impair brain functions: behavior, mood, cognition, attention, learning, movement, and sleep.

How Do I Know Whether I Have Dopamine Deficiency?

When there is too little dopamine, emotions cannot be correctly regulated. Mental impulses that mitigate intense feelings of sadness are inhibited; therefore, the most common signs of a dopamine deficiency are the same signs associated with clinical depression (and more specifically, major depressive disorder):

14 Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms

    1. Lack of interest in life
    2. Decreased motivation
    3. Procrastination
    4. Inability to feel pleasure
    5. Altered sleep patterns
    6. Restless leg syndrome
    7. Fatigue
    8. Mood swings
    9. Excessive feelings of hopelessness or guilt
    10. Poor memory
    11. Inability to focus/impaired concentration
    12. Impulsive or self-destructive behaviors
    13. Addictions to caffeine or other stimulants
    14. Weight gain

Extreme dopamine deficiency, as in the case of Parkinson’s disease, causes a permanent and degenerative diminishing of motor skills, including muscle rigidity and tremors.

8 Natural Dopamine Boosting Strategies

With that background in mind, consider the following dopamine-boosting tactics you can take.

1. Decrease your sugar intake. Sugar alters brain chemistry by disrupting dopamine levels, which is one reason why people often experience a “sugar high” shortly after eating sweets. Just as alcohol and drugs can deplete dopamine levels, sugar does the same. In fact, sugar stimulates the exact same euphoric pathway targeted by alcohol and drug use–that is, the decreased dopamine levels lead to actual sugar addictions.

Whether initiated by alcohol, cocaine, or sugar, the compulsive behavior addiction is the same—an undeniable desire for dopamine. Limiting sugar intake will help fight this addictive dopamine depletion-sugar craving cycle. If you struggle with a sweet tooth, you can take chromium picolinate supplements to help decrease your sugar cravings.[1,2]

2. Take tyrosine. When your brain cells need to “manufacture” neurotransmitters for proper mood regulation, they use amino acids as the essential raw material. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein; there are 20 different amino acids that make up the protein our body needs.

The brain uses the amino acid l-phenylalanine as the source (precursor) for the production of dopamine. Phenylalanine is one of the “essential” amino acids; that is, the body cannot make it on its own so we have to get it from the foods we eat or from supplements. Once the body receives phenylalanine, it can convert it to tyrosine, which in turn is used to synthesize dopamine. So the way to increase central nervous system neurotransmitter levels is to provide proper amounts of the amino acid precursor.

Bananas, especially ripe bananas, are an exceptional food for regulating dopamine because they have a high concentration of tyrosine. Other food sources of tyrosine include almonds, apples, watermelons, cherries, yogurt, beans, eggs and meats.

It is important to note that foods alone generally do not have the therapeutic amino acid levels necessary to boost dopamine levels for someone experiencing major depressive disorder. To boost your dopamine levels adequately, tyrosine supplementation may help.

3. Decrease caffeine intake. Even though coffee gives you the energy boost you need, just like sugar, it only offers temporary relief and may actually be doing more harm than good. After experiencing the initial kick caffeine offers, dopamine levels in the body decrease. So, go for a cup of decaf or at least minimize consumption of coffee to counter dopamine deficiency.[5]

4. Set a routine schedule. One easy way to boost dopamine is to get in a healthy routine and stick to it. Your routine should include adequate time for work and rest. Ideally, your 24-hour day should include seven to eight hours of sleep per night in combination with periods of physical activity.

Under-sleeping and/or over-sleeping combined with lack of regular exercise can drain the brain of dopamine. Why? Proper sleep gives the brain time to recuperate from the day and recharge its stores of neurotransmitters.

5. Get consistent exercise. Regular physical activity increases blood circulation to influence the presence of many different hormones within the brain, affecting dopamine levels.

6. Decrease stress levels. High stress levels are also strongly correlated with dopamine deficiency. Stress can be caused by two sources: poor adrenal function and chronic daily life stressors. While we can’t always control our circumstances, there are “stress safeguards” you can utilize to help you deal with the day-in and day-out anxieties.

Remember, if stress is not handled properly, it can be devastating to your health. So, establish an ongoing plan that enables you to deal with stress effectively.

7. Correct a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiency can cause decreased levels of dopamine, and natural health experts estimate over half of the US population to be deficient in this relaxation mineral. If you’ve been eating a diet heavy in junk foods or processed foods, you probably have a magnesium deficiency! Common symptoms include food cravings (salt or carbs), constipation, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat or palpitations, muscle pains and spasms, fatigue, headaches, and depression symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety and irritability.

There are blood and urine tests that your doctor can perform to see if you have a magnesium deficiency. However, these tests may not always be accurate since most of the body’s magnesium stays in the cells, rather than in the bloodstream or the urine.

There is one lab test called a sublingual epithelial test that is more effective because it checks for magnesium in the cells, where most of it is present. To perform this test, your doctor will scrape under your tongue with a tongue depressor to obtain epithelial cells, which are then sent to a lab for analysis. Schedule this test with your doctor or start increasing your intake of magnesium.[6]

8. Take vitamins for depression. Dopamine is easily oxidized. So, the antioxidants contained in vitamins (such as vitamins C and E) protect the health of brain neurons that use dopamine. For this reason, many integrative physicians recommend daily multi-vitamins to their patients to help protect neurons from free-radical damage. Some believe that taking vitamins is a good way to make sure you’re getting an ample daily supply of the key nutrients you need to be healthy both physically and mentally.[7]

Your Turn

Give us your experience with boosting dopamine levels. What has worked for you to increase drive, motivation, and focus? Share with other readers your experience in the Comments section below. Your remarks can always be anonymous.

PS: Another major neurotransmitter related to depression is serotonin. Read more about serotonin deficiency symptoms here and how to boost levels here.


[1] “A Real Sugar High?” Psychology Today, January 1, 2003.

[2] “Sugar Can Be Addictive.” Princeton University Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Institute, December 10, 2008.

[3] University of Maryland Medical Center.

[4] “Tyrosine Depletion Lowers Dopamine Synthesis.” Brain Research, 2008 Jan.

[5] “Differential Effects of Caffeine on Dopamine and Acetylcholine Transmission in Brain Areas of Drug-naive and Caffeine-pretreated Rats.” Neuropsychopharmacology. 2002 Aug; 27(2).

[6] “Evidence for the involvement of the monoaminergic system in the antidepressant-like effect of magnesium.” Progress in Neuro-psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 2009 Mar 17;33(2):235-42. Epub 2008 Nov 27.

[7] Harvard School of Public Health.


This article was originally published in 2012 and has been updated.

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Comments
  • The best way to stabilize dopamine is to decrease sexual activity.

  • Elina

    Thanks for sharing the list dopamine boosters. What about green tea ?

  • Kevin J.

    I am using dha, epa , tryosine and phenylalaline, and this works!

  • The most destructive habit that will lead to a dopamine deficiency is masturbation, especially if it involves pornography. If you have an addiction to either, it will act as a drug and your brain will alter dramatically and deplete you of dopamine. I suffer from dysthymia along with bouts of major double depression. Eliminating sexually addictions has helped me immensely after battling years of depression.

  • low d.

    Shouldn’t it say “which is represented as +/+”?

  • already doing the 8 steps above. Still have low dopamine because constant hunger esp after eat.

  • Already doing the 8 steps. Still have low dopamine levels.

  • These articles never mention which doctors or clinics will address or test for deficiencies. Even at UCLA, my psychiatrists (I’ve had a few different ones) showed no interest in addressing root causes,, preferring only to prescribe the common drugs. Where are the doctors who apply this research?

  • Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve really loved browsing your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing for your rss feed and I am hoping you write once more soon!

  • This is helpful. I went to my doctor with depression, I believe low dopamine, he just wanted me to take a pill. I am going to try all of the above. Thanks again

  • 2-3 cups of coffee at work give me a buzz that makes me feel positive, sociable, and productive. Pre-workout drinks on an empty stomach also give me sustained energy and focus. I’ll have to try multi-vitamins to see if they work on my anxiety.

  • Sajid M.

    I used l- tyrosine for about 50 days on empty stomach but nothing positive

  • I have found taking magnesium to be an excellent boost for all brain chemicals.

  • I was so depressive that I was unable to sleep, quarrelled and even thought of suicide. Then one Christian leader told me that the root cause of depression is not praising the GOD. I got up early in the morning around 6 am and read 1 Chapter from Psalms and 1 Chapter from Bible Gospels everyday in low voice. Then I do praise and worship of God Jesus for some 7 minutes . Believe me my depression vanished over a period of three months. This is the most suitainable natural remedy and I’m the proof. Praise the Lord Jesus.
    :

  • I was so depressive that I was unable to sleep, quarrelled and ate like an elephant. Then one Christian leader told me that the root cause of depression is not praising the GOD. I got up early in the morning around 6 am and read 1 Chapter from Psalms and 1 Chapter from Bible Gospels everyday in low voice. Then I do praise and worship of God Jesus for some 7 minutes . Believe me my depression vanished over a period of three months. This is the most suitainable natural remedy and I’m the proof. I’ve prescribed the same to a man with suicide tendencies and it worked for him too. Praise the Lord Jesus!

  • Thank you. will follow the advice on exercise, 7 hr sleep and following a routine. Fully agree with Mike( June 23, 2016) The most destructive habit that will lead to a dopamine deficiency is masturbation, especially if it involves pornography.

  • With all this technology it seems there would be a way to test for low dopamine, serotonin, etc. instead of trial and error with endless anti depresants over months and years. No wonder the suicide rate is so high.

  • Sorry, I wrote a second longer more detailed comment because I didn’t think my first one was long enough to be accepted

  • I was prescribed hydrocodone-acetaminophen for pain. I felt wonderful, happy, relaxed, peaceful and energetic. However, I grew resistant, needing higher and higher doses. I am off medication now and trying to find healthy alternatives. If anyone else has had success, I would appreciate input.

  • Jim, I couldn’t agree with you more. This is the frustrating part about having this illness. The doctor’s only seem to want to push pills instead of doing actual tests to find the root of the problem. I recently started taking some anti-depressants, as well as anxiety meds, which work for a month or two, but then after taking them everyday, the high tolerance to the pills makes them ineffective.. Then what? Try something else that may or may not work. It’s an endless wild goose chase for happiness. I’ve been smoking marijuana for many years, and honestly, it’s the only thing that makes this “monster” that I feel like I am, finally subside for awhile, and I can live a normal life. From experience, I can tell you that this does work, maybe not for everyone.. but if you’ve reached your breaking point, and you feel there is no hope for you… let your pre-conceived notions go, do some research on it, and find out if it could help you too. I’d be 6 feet deep right now if I hadn’t discovered marijuana, and that’s just the harsh truth.

  • I find taking phenylalanine, tyrosine and magnesium very helpful. Also, exercise, decrease stress and DEFINITELY decrease sugar intake. I’m pretty sure this bout of depression was brought on by my high sugar intake over the holidays. I also do have an autoimmune thyroid condition and gene mutation which affects my liver’s ability to break down stress hormones so, this is an ongoing struggle for me between intense anxiety and complete apathy. Highs and lows. It’s much better when I am on a strict diet but I get lulled into feeling like I can handle it and, before you know it, I’m like Will Ferrel’s Elf pouring maple syrup on spaghetti. (Not literally…I don’t eat spaghetti)

  • Great article thank you. I have really low dopamine levels. I was taking dr cabots liver tone and was wondering why I was lot more motivated and feeling better. It’s the turmeric in it.
    I’m also very low on magnesium. Every damn night I have cramps. I get sick of popping pills. But. I need to get my magnesium insurplus I guess and then I can down the dosage. I’ll target my magnesium levels and get them up. See how I go. Thanks to all those that commented. Helped a lot 👍

  • Beth: I have Bipolar & major depressive disorder. As I have not had the mania in several (7) years & been very depressed my psychiatrist switch me back to Prozac. A month ago I began taking magnesium separate from my bipolar meds as well as taking my other vitamins hours before or after taking my prescription meds (depakote, xanax). How do the supplements work w/ prescribed meds? Doctors just blow me off when I ask about vitamins.

  • I have found that vitamin B injections twice a month help. Also eating protein at each meal, small
    meals thru the day. Magnesium helps relax so can sleep. 30 minutes of whatever exercise one is able to do daily. Doing whatever makes you happy every day also. Also massage, reflexology are good too. Best of luck

  • From a young age I realized that I was always a lot “lower” than everyone else. I was always tired, got sick easily, and generally unhappy. In my teens I discovered alcohol and drugs and felt better than I ever did…. for about a decade. Then that came crashing down on me as alcoholism and addiction will. So I quit it all, went to meetings, “found God”, etc. but my health went on me. It was like I was pickled all those years and when I stopped my body fell apart. Like you see in the movies where a car takes beating after beating as its driving and then when it finally stops the whole thing falls apart, doors, wheels, and all. That was me in a nutshell. Here I am 17 years later at 45 years old wanting to just die and get it done with. I won’t commit suicide but I have so many problems now I cannot work and am a useless piece of meat.
    I just got a DNA test done through my Dr.s office. They went thru the company Proove Biosciences, Inc. · Proove Medical Laboratories, Inc in California and I am not shocked at much. It shows I have low serotonin, dopamine, etc. which makes perfect sense as the only time I felt how people normally did was when I was starting to catch a buzz.
    So what am I supposed to do? I am in too much pain to work never mind exercise and I cannot do anything at all anymore before I am pale, shaking, out of breath, and feeling like I am going to pass out. I have all types of issues wrong with me so things won’t get better soon but at the same time I don’t want to die because there is too much I want to learn and see but at the same time I cannot deal with going on like this either.
    I guess there isn’t any answer and I’m not really expecting anyone to have one… but sometimes we’re just behind the rest of the pack “right out of the gate” (as in a dog race)… it sucks that I can only feel normal when high and I cannot even go that route anymore either as I am married to one unfortunate woman and seeing as she already married a lemon I don’t want to make her life worst by me returning to that life. I don’t want to return to it either though as too many bad things happened at the end and all of the good times were long gone but one can’t help but wonder if it is my only way of having a life.. as what I have now is no life at all.

  • Hi Joe S.
    I just happened upon your comment today. You are a valuable life and worth so much more than just a piece of meat. You will recover but you will have to rebuild yourself bit by bit over time, don’t expect to fix it all at once. Begin with what the tests revealed – the serotonin and dopamine levels. Get your Dr to recommend good anti-depressants that will begin to redress the imbalance in these. Once things are improving there, maybe you can start to work on one aspect of your health – e.g. diet, exercise etc, but again, don’t set yourself impossible goals. And keep loving your wife. She saw good in you to make a life covenant with you, you do have it within you to lovingingly serve her, as she does you.
    You’ve “done God” but He hasn’t done with you. You are worth something; you are special and unique. Be well!
    David
    (Scotland)

  • Stephanie C.

    Joe S:
    I think I know how you feel, and I’m so, so sorry. I sincerely hope you are doing better and have found some ways to improve your life. Reality can be harsh and it’s certainly far from fair. The only advice I can think of that might help is this: you have to keep trying. Not to have a life like someone else’s, but just to live as well as you can under your own circumstances.

    I hope this helps a little.

  • I have found Keto (no sugar, no grains, etc. ) helpful. Also for the person previously, pickle juice is great on muscle cramps. Am 60 and am ADHD. Started adderall for the first time (low dose). While it is working, I would like to go without and need to increase dopamine to do so. Good article. Thank you.

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