We’re a society that also consumes too much of the addictive stimulants: chocolate, caffeine (coffee, tea), sugar and cigarettes. Consequently, and not surprisingly, almost all abusive drugs and addictive substances influence dopamine production. Alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, amphetamines and even sugar can also mess with our dopamine balance. Many smokers eat more when they are trying to quit because both food and nicotine share similar dopamine reward pathways. When less dopamine is stimulated as nicotine is reduced, food and sugar cravings naturally kick in to compensate.
The natural tendency when experiencing a state of “feel good” is to seek out more of it and work to sustain it. But, chronic dopamine surges over a long period of time (especially from overeating) will eventually cause a loss of dopamine activity in the brain and decrease the receptors in charge of satiety, as well as the activity of those receptors. And so begins the cycle driving us to sustain our feelings of pleasure through the intake of food.
The bottom line seems to be that over-eating eventually causes loss of dopamine in the brain and a decrease in receptors in charge of satiety – so ultimately you crave more and more and never feel satisfied.
If you pay close attention, your body will give you specific clues that let you know you’re low. If you make a late-night trip to the fridge or pantry at least twice weekly, find yourself eating even when you are really full, or feel irritable and tired when you try to cut down on your favorite foods, you might be low dopamine. But, the best way to know if your dopamine levels are imbalanced is to have your neurotransmitters tested. The way to do this is easy and uses cutting edge science. Urinary neurotransmitter testing – a simple pee-in-a-cup test – is reflective of total-body neurotransmitter activity. It has been observed that urinary neurotransmitter measurements are correlated with neurotransmitter activity in the central nervous system.
Since higher levels of dopamine may reduce your impulse to eat, the good news is that by eating healthy micronutrient-rich foods high in tyrosine – the natural building block of dopamine – and supplementing with the amino acid L-tyrosine, the temptation to overeat will diminish and slowly cause more of the dopamine receptors in the brain to reactivate, making it easier and easier as time goes on for that person to derive increased pleasure from smaller amounts of food.
Foods highest in L-tyrosine include:
- Fava beans
- Ricotta cheese
- Mustard greens
- Dark chocolate
- Wheat germ
Eating more of them may help boost your dopamine in the brain. What you should do is make each of these foods the base of every meal you have throughout the day. Try these recipe suggestions.
But if you really want to see results, adding L-tyrosine as a supplement can be the crucial step in the dopamine diet. As an amino acid and the building block of dopamine, taking L-tyrosine as a supplement boosts your dopamine levels.
What I normally recommend is to take 500 to 1,000 mg when you wake up in the morning (on an empty stomach) and then again between lunch and dinner. Be careful because it’s a stimulating supplement. It is always advisable to get tested as well as discuss this with your health care provider before starting to supplement with it. People who have an abnormal heartbeat or those using agents that may treat heart disorders, who have hypertension, or those taking monoamine oxidase inhibitor drugs (MAOIs) should use L-tyrosine only under the guidance of their doctor.