Dopamine Supplements: Boost Your Mood (and more) Naturally

Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC | Written by Deane Alban

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These dopamine supplements are the safest, most effective way to boost dopamine levels, helping problems with anxiety, depression, stress, and memory.

Dopamine is a major neurotransmitter that activates the brain’s pleasure and reward centers.

It plays a huge role in motivation, mood, and zest for life.

Self-medicating with sugar, caffeine, drugs, gambling, and all kinds of thrill-seeking behavior will boost dopamine, but it’s also self-destructive.

The right supplements are a healthy option to increase dopamine safely and effectively.

How Natural Supplements Work to Increase Dopamine

You can’t buy over-the-counter dopamine in a pill.

Dopamine, in fact, is a potent drug injected intravenously for treating shock, heart attacks, serious low blood pressure, and slow heart rate. 

However, there are a number of amino acids, herbs, and other natural compounds that work by various mechanisms to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Many increase the actual amount of dopamine available, while others keep dopamine from being broken down too quickly.

Some supplements increase the number of dopamine receptors or help existing receptors work better.

While researching dopamine supplements, you may come across the following terms:

Supplements and drugs that increase dopamine are called are dopaminergic (meaning “working on dopamine”).

There are also many drugs known as dopamine agonists that activate dopamine receptors.

These are typically used for treating dopamine-related disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and restless leg syndrome.

Amino Acid Dopamine Supplements

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

Some are precursors to neurotransmitters, including dopamine.

Here are three amino acids that can help boost your dopamine level.

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L-Tyrosine

There’s a reason l-tyrosine is the first dopamine supplement on our list.

This amino acid is a precursor to dopamine.

It is usually referred to as a non-essential amino acid, but more accurately, it is a conditional amino acid.

This means that your body can make some l-tyrosine but not always adequate amounts, especially during times of stress, exhaustion, or illness.

The top sources of l-tyrosine are protein-rich animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, and soy protein. 

Tyrosine supplements are available in several forms.

N-acetyl l-tyrosine (NALT) is often touted as the best form of l-tyrosine since it is highly soluble.

However, research shows that when compared to other forms of tyrosine, NALT is the least effective at raising blood levels of tyrosine. 

For this reason, I recommend sticking with the l-tyrosine form over NALT supplements.

SAM-e

SAM-e (s-adenosyl methionine) is a naturally occurring compound found in the body.

While technically not an amino acid, it is a metabolite of the amino acid l-methionine

It’s available as a supplement commonly taken for depression.

It works by increasing levels of dopamine, serotonin, and other feel-good neurotransmitters. 

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Depression is usually thought of as a low-serotonin disorder, but there’s a lot of evidence that points to low dopamine as a factor.

This is particularly true in people who are not helped by taking serotonin-enhancing medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

SAM-e works better for depression than St. Johns wort, another popular herb for depression.

It often works as well as prescription antidepressants, and it works faster, bringing relief usually within a few days.

SAM-e is available as a supplement in the US.

In many other countries, including Russia, India, China, Italy, Germany, Vietnam, and Mexico, it’s available as a prescription medication for depression

It’s particularly helpful for the depression associated with Parkinson’s disease

SAM-e should not be mixed with levodopa, Demerol, or Ultram, or the over-the-counter cough remedy Robitussin DM. 

L-Theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid found in green, black, and white teas.

It improves recall and learning and boosts mood by increasing dopamine.

" There are few substances on the planet that do as much dopamine boosting as caffeine.

It’s one of the main reasons that green tea especially has the ability to induce a state of calm focus. 

If you prefer drinking tea to taking supplements, it’s generally recommended that you drink 3 cups of green tea per day for maximum benefits. 

Herbal Dopamine Supplements

Herbal remedies have been used by humans to treat what ails them for a long time.

There’s evidence that humans have been using herbal remedies for 60,000 years

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Worldwide, more people rely on herbal remedies than modern medicine. 

Here are the top herbal supplements that increase dopamine levels.

Mucuna Pruriens

Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume that goes by many common names, including velvet bean or cowhage.

The beans and pods contain l-dopa, a dopamine precursor

beans and pods of mucuna pruriens
Beans and pods of Mucuna pruriens. (Image courtesy of University of Richmond)

Mucuna supplements are sold to enhance mood, memory, overall brain health, anti-aging, and libido.

Mucuna is sometimes used to treat Parkinson’s, a disease characterized by low dopamine levels.

In one study, this herb was found to work even better than levodopa medications for Parkinson’s. 

However, Parkinson’s patients are advised to not self-medicate with Mucuna pruriens since it interacts with many medications

If you have Parkinson’s and want to give it a try, talk to your doctor first.

Ginkgo 

Ginkgo biloba is one of the most popular herbal remedies in the world.

It has a long history of use for a wide variety of brain-related disorders such as memory loss, poor concentration, mental confusion, depression, and anxiety.

But recently ginkgo has recently fallen out of favor since not all of its claims as a memory enhancer have held up to scientific scrutiny in either healthy adults or seniors.  

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But that doesn’t mean it has no merit as a brain supplement.

Ginkgo shows a lot of promise for serious mental decline

And it can help with depression by increasing the turnover of dopamine and possibly serotonin

Ginkgo also reduces stress and anxiety by lowering levels of cortisol. 

Bacopa 

Bacopa monnieri is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that’s been used for thousands of years as a brain tonic to enhance memory, learning, and concentration. 

Bacopa is well recognized as an adaptogen, a substance that moderates the negative effects of stress. 

It works in part by balancing dopamine and serotonin, while reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. 

Arctic Root

Arctic root (Rhodiola rosea) is another highly regarded adaptogen.

Like all adaptogens, it improves your ability to handle both physiological and psychological stress.

It increases levels of dopamine as well as serotonin and norepinephrine. 

If you have brain fog, trouble concentrating, and low energy, combined with stress and anxiety, this is an excellent herb to try.

Ginger

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is renowned as one of the oldest medicinal herbs and one of the world’s most popular and versatile culinary spices.

Its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are mainly responsible for ginger’s healing power.

Of the hundreds of compounds identified in ginger, 50 of them are antioxidants

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Ginger is rich in two specific kinds of antioxidants, shaogals and gingerols, that safeguard the brain from damaging free radicals.

Ginger quells inflammation, a risk factor for numerous brain-related conditions, including depression. 

Ginger increases levels of important brain chemicals, including dopamine and serotonin

Asian Ginseng

Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) is the quintessential Chinese medical herb.

Its botanical name means “panacea.”

It is a main ingredient in the traditional Chinese herbal formula Kai Xin San.

This combination of herbs has been found to be just as good as Prozac for treating depression by regulating levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. 

It protects the brain cells that create dopamine from dying in substance abusers and Parkinson’s patients. 

Oregano Oil

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is another culinary herb that doubles as a dopamine supplement.

Its main active compound is carvacrol, which is potently antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective — all important for a healthy brain. 

Carvacrol increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. 

Oregano oil can act as an antidepressant by increasing dopamine. 

It keeps dopamine recirculating and prevents its breakdown

Oregano oil has a positive effect on brainwave patterns.

Test subjects took oregano oil for five days and then had their EEGs recorded to measure changes in brainwave patterns.

They experienced increases in both alpha and beta brain waves. 

The alpha brainwave state is associated with relaxation and reflection, while the beta state increases alertness, active thinking, and focus.

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Kava

Kava (Piper methysticum) is a traditional non-alcoholic ceremonial drink of the South Pacific.

It leaves those who consume it feeling relaxed, and even euphoric.

Reported kava benefits include an increase in overall well-being, cheerfulness, and sleep quality, and a reduction in stress. 

It works as well as prescription anti-anxiety medications mainly by boosting levels of the relaxing brain chemical GABA

But kava also increases dopamine which is believed to be responsible for the feelings of euphoria. 

A single dose of kava has been shown to significantly increase brain levels of dopamine for up to 8 hours

Don’t mix kava and levodopa if you have Parkinson’s disease. 

Together, they can worsen symptoms.

Naturally-Sourced Dopamine Supplements

The ingredients in this group of supplements are extracted or synthesized from natural compounds.

Curcumin

Curcumin is the main active ingredient in the Indian spice turmeric (Curcuma longa).

Curcumin increases both dopamine and serotonin, two brain chemicals linked to depression.

Studies have found it to be as effective as Prozac for treating major depressive disorder

Unlike many other substances, curcumin is safe to take along with antidepressant medications.

If you decide to try a curcumin supplement, look for one that has taken steps to enhance bioavailability, typically the addition of piperine.

Piperine, a compound found in black pepper, increases curcumin absorption by an impressive 2,000%. 

Note that there are pros and cons to taking curcumin supplements versus consuming turmeric as a spice or as a tea.

You can learn about these in our article on curcumin supplements above.

Berberine

Berberine is a compound that can be extracted from many herbs including goldenseal, California poppy, and barberry. 

Its recorded use goes back 3,000 years in Chinese medicine.

Berberine supplements have been found to increase dopamine concentrations in some areas of the brain. 

When large amounts are given to mice, their brain levels of dopamine increase by over 50%.

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in red wine that may be responsible for at least some of wine’s cognitive benefits.

It’s thought to work largely due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but there’s some evidence that it modulates the release of dopamine as well. 

Resveratrol protects the neurons that create dopamine in Parkinson’s patients. 

Addictive substances of all kinds cause unnaturally high dopamine surges.

Resveratrol mitigates these swings in dopamine and so may help substance abusers by reducing their desire for addictive substances. 

Antioxidant Supplements

In his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, Harvard researcher Datis Kharrazian, PhD, DHSc, stresses the importance of antioxidant supplements to protect the area of the brain where dopamine is synthesized, the substantia nigra.

He’s found the number one neuroprotective antioxidant to be blueberry extract.

Others he recommends are alpha-lipoic acid, selenium, and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) which all work by increasing levels of the master antioxidant glutathione.

While you could take a glutathione supplement directly, I don’t recommend it.

It is of little value since glutathione is broken down in the stomach before it gets absorbed.

Citicoline

Citicoline, also known as CDP choline, is a naturally occurring compound that’s commonly marketed as a nootropic to increase overall mental performance.

It was first developed for stroke victims and was originally available by prescription only. 

It is one of the few nutritional supplements powerful enough to therapeutically treat serious neurological disorders such as age-related memory loss, dementia, brain injury, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. 

Citicoline works by increasing energy to the brain, protecting it from aging and toxins, and increasing levels of both dopamine and acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter most associated with memory and learning. 

Besides raising dopamine levels, citicoline also increases the number of dopamine receptors in the brain. 

Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a naturally occurring fat found in high concentrations in the brain.

It’s also a highly regarded brain supplement.

Phosphatidylserine increases dopamine levels to help with memory, concentration, learning, and the symptoms of ADHD

It shows promise as an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In fact, the FDA has granted phosphatidylserine manufacturers the unprecedented right to make these qualified claims on the bottle label and in their marketing materials: 

  • “consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly”
  • “consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly”

Phosphatidylserine acts as the brain’s “gatekeeper” by regulating nutrients coming into and waste going out of the brain.

It also normalizes levels of cortisol to reduce the wear and tear of stress. 

You can get phosphatidylserine from food, but it occurs mainly in foods few people care to eat, such as cow brains and chicken hearts.

Essential Core Nutrients That Support Dopamine

Everyone is looking for the “magic bullet,” the one pill that will make them feel better fast.

But no supplement formulated to increase dopamine can take the place of missing essential nutrients.

You will give any dopamine-boosting supplement you take a better chance to work by simultaneously addressing these basic nutritional needs.

Vitamins D and B6, Magnesium, and Omega-3 Fats

Deficiencies of vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 essential fatty acids are surprisingly common, and each can contribute to dopamine deficiency. 

One omega-3, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), may be the single most important nutrient you can take for brain health throughout all stages of life.

It facilitates neurotransmitter activity and increases the number of neurotransmitter receptors, allowing the brain to optimize its use of mood-boosting brain chemicals, including dopamine. 

Vitamin B6 is an important cofactor that’s essential for dopamine synthesis. 

Probiotics

It’s now known that there is two-way communication between the bacteria in your intestines and your brain. 

More than 50% of your dopamine resides in your intestines and probiotics can increase dopamine production there. 

So far, there’s evidence that dopamine can be synthesized by gut microbes of the Bacillus and Serratia genera and the species Lactobacillus plantarum

Caffeine as a Dopamine Booster

Lastly, there are few substances that do as much dopamine-boosting as caffeine.

Caffeine is the most popular mind-altering substance in the world.

Many people with low dopamine levels self-medicate with caffeine, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Caffeine works by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine which signals that you are tired, leading to a stimulant effect.

Much of the world gets their caffeine from tea.

Here in the US, we get ours mainly from coffee.

While I definitely do not recommend caffeine supplements which can be very dangerous, natural caffeine sources like coffee, tea, and yerba mate provide some amazing health benefits.

Coffee, for example, decreases the risk of many major diseases and can even help you live longer. 

So if your morning cuppa makes you feel happier, more energetic and productive, I won’t argue with your methods.

But keep in mind that caffeine is addictive and is not a good choice for anyone with anxiety.

Interestingly, another controversial substance, nicotine, also shows promise as a surprisingly safe and effective dopamine-enhancing brain booster when isolated from tobacco.

Two Dopamine Supplements to Avoid

I hate to see people waste their money on supplements that don’t work as claimed, so here are two I recommend skipping.

Phenylethylamine

Phenylethylamine (PEA) is a naturally occurring compound that stimulates the release of dopamine and norepinephrine.

But it’s pretty useless as a supplement.

Once it reaches your brain, it has a half-life of only 30 seconds

5-HTP

5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid supplement commonly sold for depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

While 5-HTP boosts serotonin, it does so at the expense of dopamine

So skip taking 5-HTP either alone or as part of a proprietary blend if you want to boost your dopamine level.

Dopamine Supplements: Take the Next Step

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that keeps you motivated, productive, and engaged with life.

But too many people try to increase their dopamine levels through addictive substances and behaviors.

The right dopamine supplements provide a safe and effective alternative to optimize dopamine instead.

Some dopamine-boosting supplements also address particular issues such as memory loss, ADHD, depression, anxiety, or even Parkinson’s disease.

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