A high level of the neurotransmitter dopamine can cause problems with mood, memory, focus and more. These natural remedies and lifestyle changes will help.
If anyone has ever called you an “adrenaline junkie” or your personal mantra is “too much is not enough,” too much dopamine may be a problem for you.
Dopamine is a major neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, sleep, learning, memory, the ability to focus, and motor control.
It’s in charge of your brain’s pleasure-reward system. (1)
The vast majority of people with brain chemical imbalances have low neurotransmitter levels, not high. (2)
Consequently, there’s plenty of information available on how to deal with low dopamine levels, but very little on high dopamine.
If you suspect you have a problem with excess dopamine, here’s everything you need to know — the signs, the causes, and the steps you can take to balance your dopamine levels.
Signs of Too Much Dopamine
Primarily, dopamine acts as your “motivation molecule.”
It helps you get going in the morning and be productive throughout the day.
A low dopamine level can rob you of your zest for life, but when your dopamine level gets too high, addictions, an overactive libido, and risk taking can take over your life. (3)
Having high dopamine may sound like one big party, but it can leave you overstimulated, anxious, and unable to sleep which ultimately leads to self-destructive behaviors.
Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen is the poster child for what can go wrong when too much dopamine-induced “fun” rules your life.
Excess dopamine plays a role in several mental disorders.
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Causes of High Dopamine Levels
The main causes of too much dopamine in mentally healthy adults are lifestyle-related.
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Lack of sleep is another highly detrimental lifestyle habit that can contribute to a rise in dopamine.
There’s a neurochemical reason that sugar and caffeine-laden energy drinks are a favorite of extreme sports enthusiasts — their brains are getting a dopamine boost.
But the worst hazards are drugs, both prescription and recreational.
Many prescription medications are dopamine agonists which work by activating dopamine receptors in the brain.
These drugs are usually prescribed for treating low dopamine conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome. (12)
But they can overshoot their target level, causing the symptoms associated with high dopamine.
The popular antidepressants Wellbutrin and Zoloft work by increasing dopamine as do drugs commonly prescribed for ADHD like Ritalin.
You can find a complete list of dopaminergic drugs at RxList.com.
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Stimulants of all kinds raise dopamine levels.
Nicotine, caffeine, amphetamines, ecstasy, and cocaine all owe their buzz — and their addictiveness — to dopamine. (13)
So do addictive behaviors such as compulsive shopping, online pornography, video gaming, and internet use.
Some Parkinson’s patients have experienced weird side effects from their dopamine-boosting drugs including compulsive gambling. (14)
Sadly, some seniors have gambled away their life’s savings before the connection between their behavior and the medication was made.
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Money Maker or Thrill Seeker?
Whether you end up pursuing the lifestyle of a wolf of Wall Street or an extreme sports competitor may depend on the part of your brain that’s releasing excess dopamine. (15)
Using PET imaging scans, researchers found that those motivated by money had elevated levels in their striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
Athletic thrill seekers aren’t motivated by money but instead seek intense, living-on-the-edge experiences.
They exhibit high levels of dopamine in their brain’s anterior insula.
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Nootropic brain supplements are growing ever more popular.
Nootropics are substances that can make you more focused, sharper, energized and productive.
That sounds good, but many of the products containing these substances are neither helpful nor harmless.
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How to Reduce Dopamine Naturally
There are several prescription drugs that effectively reduce dopamine levels.
These are called dopamine antagonists and are prescribed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many safe, natural dopamine-reducing substances.
Some, like Indian devil tree (Alstonia scholaris), have a history of use as a home remedy, but aren’t available as an over-the-counter supplement. (18)
Here are a handful of natural remedies that are safe and proven effective at reducing high levels of dopamine.
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is a very popular herb used in the Indian Ayurvedic tradition of medicine. (19)
It’s a popular brain-boosting supplement that enhances memory, learning, and concentration and is especially good for age-related mental decline.
It is also a mood enhancer that reduces both anxiety and depression.
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Bacopa regulates levels of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA by moving production up and down as needed. (21)
This ability makes bacopa a unique, excellent all-purpose herb for achieving and maintaining neurotransmitter balance.
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White mulberry (Morus alba) is small ornamental tree native to China that’s widely cultivated to feed silkworms.
It now grows wild throughout the United States and in some areas is considered a pest.
In traditional Chinese medicine it’s used to treat fever, cough, and diabetes, to increase vitality, and to darken prematurely grey hair. (22)
Amino acids are naturally occurring building blocks of proteins.
Some amino acids are also precursors of specific neurotransmitters.
The relationships between neurotransmitter synthesis and amino acids can be complicated.
Tryptophan, an amino acid found in animal protein sources, turns into another amino acid, 5-HTP, in the body.
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Both 5-HTP and tryptophan deplete excess dopamine and are available as single-ingredient supplements. (25)
The sulfur-based amino acids methionine, cysteine, and taurine also lower dopamine.
Avoid any amino acid formulations that contain tyrosine since it’s the main building block of dopamine. (26)
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Noni fruit (Morinda citrifolia) comes from a small evergreen tree that grows in volcanic soils of the South Pacific.
In traditional medicine, noni is considered nature’s cure-all and is used for colds, flu, diabetes, and high blood pressure, as well as for depression and anxiety. (27)
You can buy bottled noni juice or take it in capsule form.
Magnolia bark (Magnolia officinalis) is a bitter herb used in traditional Chinese medicine for digestive disorders and to treat asthma. (30)
It is a relaxant that’s good for stress relief, anxiety, and depression.
It’s considered a nootropic that protects the brain from oxidation and inflammation. (31)
It’s available in capsules, as a liquid extract or dried powder, or as a tea that goes by the name hou po tea.
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I saved licorice root for last since it’s one herbal remedy that’s definitely not suitable for everyone.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is mostly known as a popular flavoring used in candy.
Its botanical name Glycyrrihiza literally means “sweet root.”
But it also has a long history of medicinal use by both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic healing practices.
Licorice supplements are now used mainly to treat digestive disorders and heal ulcers.
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Licorice contains many bioactive compounds including isoliquiritigenin which blocks the production of dopamine and is being studied as a possible antidote to cocaine abuse. (32)
Another compound found in licorice, glycyrrhetic acid, has the undesirable effects of decreasing testosterone and increasing the stress hormone cortisol. (33)
The US Food and Drug Administration warns that foods containing licorice should be consumed in moderation.
Licorice should not be mixed with certain medications.
Before taking this herbal remedy, we recommend checking the precautions and possible interactions at WebMD.com.
Dopamine-Enhancing Supplements to Avoid
You may be inadvertently taking supplements that increase dopamine.
If are are trying to lower your dopamine level, taking any of these would be like trying to stop your car with one foot on the brake and the other on the gas pedal.
Common supplements that increase dopamine include curcumin (a compound found in turmeric), SAM-e (taken for depression), and Ginkgo biloba (taken for memory loss).
Here’s a complete list of dopamine enhancing supplements that you should avoid if lowering dopamine is your goal.
Too Much Dopamine: The Bottom Line
A high dopamine level might make you the life of the party, but it also can lead to self-destructive behaviors.
If you suspect too much dopamine is your problem, get enough sleep, learn to manage stress, avoid caffeine and sugar, and try one of the natural remedies that can reduce dopamine.
If you have reason to believe you have a dopamine-related mental disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, talk to your doctor before trying any of these natural remedies.