Dopamine – the neurotransmitter of determination, motivation, concentration, feeling positive and movement. This is a wonderful video clip and I do recommend watching it. When we are anticipating doing something that we like, from eating, drinking, socialising, learning something interesting, our dopamine levels rise and we want to keep doing that thing. When levels are low, we become unfocused and easily distracted and this is when we reach for the coffee. If levels are chronically low, then the motivation is completely lacking to do anything at all.
Dopamine is at the opposite end of the spectrum to serotonin, so we want it high in the day and low in the evening. It is made from the amino acid tyrosine. Now the best dietary source of tyrosine is red meat. And this is a prime reason for eating meat at breakfast. Dopamine levels rise and we become very motivated to engage with the day. Focus and concentration improve, the rewards from the daily grind improve and life is worth living.
Tyrosine can be taken as a supplement, but it is best taken at breakfast if you want to go to sleep that evening. This is because dopamine is also the precursor to adrenalin. So take tyrosine in the evening and you will be raring to go fight tigers. It is also worth bearing in mind that since red meat raises dopamine, if falling asleep is a problem then it could be worth avoiding red meat at the evening meal to see if that helps improve things.
Drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine raise dopamine to dangerously high levels and can cause psychosis – so snorting some cocaine is not the best way to raise dopamine levels. And, as with all neurotransmitters, if they are artificially raised on a regular basis, then the brain will down regulate the receptors, so more stimulants will have to be taken to get the same response. And in the absence of the stimulant, in this case cocaine, we will feel very flat. And this explains one pathway of addiction.
It is worth noting that every time we eat something, as the video said, dopamine levels rise. If we have too few dopamine receptors then this can predispose us to over eating. But as stated in the serotonin blog, ‘Ways of raising serotonin through the diet’, when it comes to neurotransmitters, the most important thing to do initially is get enough high quality animal and fish based protein in the diet, ensure digestion is optimal and then let the body sort out what it needs. Interaction between neurotransmitters is complex and we are only at the beginning of our understanding. However, our bodies already have that understanding; we just need to give it the ingredients it needs. Then feeling motivated during the day and calm and relaxed in the evening will happen quite naturally.