Dopamine: what is this “happiness hormone” used for?


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Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, that is to say a molecule that transmits information between neurons. Definition, function, link with sport, lack or excess… All about this “happiness hormone”.

Definition and role of dopamine

Dopamine is emitted by certain neurons in synapses, spaces located between neurons. It binds to receptors located on other neurons, thus allowing the transmission of information from one neuron to another. But there are different kinds of receptors, and the effect of dopamine varies according to the neuron that emits it, and the receptor that receives it – or does not receive it.

Dopamine plays a role in:

  • Attention
  • the functioning of the kidneys and the heart,
  • in the inhibition of prolactin synthesis (and therefore interrupting the production of breast milk).
  • in addictions, love and sexual pleasure.

Indeed, dopamine is released by our brain during experiences that it associates with pleasure, and in particular during drug use. That’s why it’s called the “happiness hormone”.

What is the difference between dopamine and serotonin?


Serotonin is a hormone that also contributes to feelings of fullness and contentment. It is used to treat depression, thanks to serotonergic antidepressants. Dopamine is rather the hormone of immediate pleasure, during an action that causes satisfaction such as the taste of a sweet food, a cigarette or sexual pleasure. “The serotonin / dopamine “ balance allows the stability of the mood and the capacity for initiative. The drugs which disturb this balance must be carefully dosed”, advises Dr. Anne-Christine Della Valle, general practitioner.

What are the effects of dopamine?

Dopamine has the effect of increasing initiative, sexual pleasure, but also aggression. Its effects are counterbalanced by those of serotonin. Drugs increase the activity of dopamine, which explains the addictive effect.

What are the risks of too much dopamine?

Excess dopamine in certain areas of the brain leads to symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Indeed, an excess of dopamine increases aggressiveness. In this case, the drugs used prevent dopamine from binding to its receptors.

What are the consequences of a lack of dopamine?

During Parkinson’s disease, there is a destruction of certain receptors in the so-called dopaminergic neurons, which control the movements of the body. This causes the characteristic tremors of Parkinson’s disease, as well as blockages and motor slowness. Drugs allowing the synthesis of dopamine can then be used to limit these symptoms.

Physical symptoms of a lack of dopamine

A lack results in various disorders:

  • persistent fatigue: you may feel weak and often tired, with difficulty getting up in the morning;
  • strong need for sugar and the urge to snack all the time;
  • slowing of the activity of the digestive system, causing reflux, diarrhea, constipation, functional colopathy and various digestive disorders. These in turn cause weight gain or even obesity, as well as high cholesterol levels.
  • excessive or restless sleep.
  • problems with the pancreas, manifested by anemia, diabetes, a state of hyper or hypoglycemia.
  • hormonal disorders such as low libido and thyroid problems.
  • impairment of the nervous and motor system, with dizziness and imbalance, decrease in spontaneous movement, tremors and muscle rigidity. When 50% of the dopaminergic neurons are destroyed, we begin to observe the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
  • inability to lose weight, high blood pressure.

These manifestations can lead to a search for compensation with the consumption of stimulants such as coffee or tobacco, but also sex and drugs such as amphetamine.

Psychic symptoms

Hormone of pleasure and motivation, a lack of dopamine is marked by a drop in mood, and behavior marked by negativity:

  • depression and pessimism;
  • low motivation and confidence, difficulty making decisions;
  • introversion and withdrawal, disinterest in the environment leading to the absence of social life;
  • melancholic depression, marked by significant fatigue that lasts (asthenia) and a lack of initiative in everyday life;
  • decreased intellectual performance, attention and memory;
  • difficulty dealing with stress, with mood swings, outbursts of rage and great impulsiveness.

Finally, the person concerned is often psychically active, thinking constantly, but with thoughts marked by guilt.

The causes

A lack or deficiency of dopamine is mainly caused by the degradation of dopaminergic neurons, which is also one of the causes of Parkinson’s disease.

But it is also caused by problems with hormone secretion and synthesis. Thus, the excess of stimulants can be the cause, insofar as the brain, accustomed to an artificial release of this hormone, becomes unable to produce it. For example, drinking a large amount of coffee, alcohol, or taking drugs like cocaine causes the release of dopamine. Subsequently, the body will ask for more, which gives rise to the vicious circle of addiction. Its secretion then takes place only via stimulants, because the natural production begins to fall.

It should be noted that this state of dependence is not only linked to drugs. It can also be caused by gambling and excessive use of social media. Indeed, winning games, as well as the number of likes obtained on a publication also represent stimulants. They cause its production and act like a real drug, thus causing a real addiction.

Stress can also impact its synthesis. Indeed, the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, reduces the transformation of tyrosine into dopamine.

In order to remedy a lack of dopamine, it is important to consume foods containing its precursor, tyrosine, as well as sources of cofactors.

Tyrosine-Rich Foods

Best food sources of tyrosine.

Tyrosine is found in many foods of animal and plant origin. The best sources are:

  • the chicken egg
  • meats: turkey, beef steak, pork bacon, veal cutlet;
  • fish: cod, smelt, tuna;
  • dairy products: gruyère, powdered milk, emmental;
  • vegetables: dried spirulina, leek bulb, green pepper and shiitake mushroom;
  • fruits: peach, banana, apricot;
  • legumes: soy protein, peanut flour, lupins, lentils.

Sources of cofactors

Copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, carbon, as well as vitamins B3, B6 and B9 participate in its synthesis.

Copper: this trace element is mainly found in veal liver, oysters, mussels, buckwheat and red rice.

Manganese: it is present in significant quantities in mussels, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, several cereals (red rice, oatmeal) and beans.

Magnesium: this mineral is found in particular in cereal germs (corn, wheat, barley), seaweed, sardines, split peas, bananas, dates and apricots, sesame and other oilseeds.

Zinc: among the best sources of this trace element, there are oysters, calf’s liver, meats (beef, veal, lamb), lobster, sesame seeds and legumes.

Carbon: Carbohydrates are simply sugars. They are present in many foods, including starches and legumes. Our daily diet already provides enough.

Vitamin B6: this cofactor in its production is found in turkey, tuna, calf’s liver, cod, chickpeas, sesame seeds, prunes and bananas, among others.

Vitamin B3: the best sources are chicken, beef liver, salmon, tuna, duck and peanuts, as well as fortified cereals.

Vitamin B9: the richest foods are poultry offal, calf’s liver, legumes, spinach and asparagus.

In the context of a lack of dopamine, in addition to food sources favorable to its production, it is also important to reduce stress. Moderate physical activity such as walking lowers cortisol levels. You can also resort to meditation, massages and various relaxing activities.

10 Ways to Boost Dopamine Naturally

Dopamine is an essential neurotransmitter due to its different roles in the functioning of the body and in particular of the brain. But how do you make sure you have enough dopamine? How to increase your dopamine levels to feel good in your body and in your head? gives you 10 ways to naturally increase your dopamine.

10 tips to increase dopamine naturally

10 best ways to increase Dopamine.
  1. Exercise

First thing to do to increase your dopamine levels: play sports! Indeed, physical activity is the best natural method to boost dopamine synthesis: a large amount of dopamine is released and the feeling of pleasure is then there! This is why we feel a feeling of well-being after physical activity.

  1. Stock up on tyrosine

Dopamine is produced from two amino acids, phenylalanine and tyrosine. To allow a good synthesis of dopamine, it is essential to have a diet sufficiently rich in tyrosine.

My advice: Make sure to consume foods rich in tyrosine, such as almonds, sunflower seeds, tofu, avocado, banana, sesame seeds, soy, dark chocolate, etc.

  1. Watch your phenylalanine intake

In some cases, dopamine secretion is suppressed by a phenylalanine deficiency. Make sure you meet your phenylalanine needs so your body can synthesize enough dopamine.

My advice from a dietician: Eat foods rich in phenylalanine: cereals, nuts, pulses, dairy products, meat, soy or even fish…

  1. Pay attention to your omega 3 intake

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have established a link between omega-3 intake and dopamine levels. Thus, deficiencies in omega-3 would lead to a decrease in dopamine levels – hence the importance of opting more often for foods rich in omega-3.

  1. Stock up on antioxidants

We will also think about stocking up on antioxidants. Indeed, because dopamine is a hormone that oxidizes easily: in order to protect it, it is therefore essential to consume antioxidants.

  1. Opt for turmeric

Opt for spices, and especially turmeric! Curcumin, a compound present in turmeric, would have the ability to modulate neurotransmitters such as dopamine, preventing their early degradation.

  1. Drink green tea

Green tea would contain epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG), a molecule that would have the ability to promote the transmission of dopamine in the brain. Result: the passage of dopamine is facilitated, which improves its action.

  1. Sleep!

Getting good sleep is essential for maintaining your dopamine levels. A good night’s sleep is important to be in good shape and regenerate enough stock for the next day.

  1. Take time for yourself

Finally, last advice: take time for yourself and free yourself from stress! Stress works to inhibit dopamine secretion, while feel-good activities have the opposite effect.

My advice: Meditate! Meditation has been proven to have an impact on learning ability, creativity, concentration. It also promotes feelings of deep relaxation which promotes a spike in dopamine concentrations in the brain.

  1. food supplements

Many food supplements exist to compensate for a dopamine deficiency. It is recommended to resort to it only after the failure of the implementation of the dietary changes stated in the previous points.


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