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February 6, 2015
By Joseph Strongoli,  Contributing Columnist









There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain – as
many stars as there are in our Galaxy – all abuzz with electricity, firing
in synchronous concert to create the beautiful symphony that is human
consciousness.

But to act in harmony, these neurons have to communicate with one
another, and they do so with chemical compounds called
neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters contain binary information:
inhibitory or excitatory. That is, they either inhibit certain
processes/systems, or activate them.

These chemical messages are passed from one cell to the next across a
gap between them called a synapse, and received on the other side by
receptor sites. When neurotransmitters or their ingredients are
depleted in the brain, the brain’s communication with itself is impaired,
and thus can impair brain functions and their phenomena, such as
cognition, attention, behavior, mood, memory, learning, sleep,
movement, and speech.

One such neurotransmitter is dopamine. Dopamine plays a role in motor
control, motivation, arousal, drive, focus, concentration, and cognition.
Its most important effect however might be its role in the brain’s
reward system. The brain rewards certain behaviors, thought to
originally be survival-enhancing in our ancestors, so as to ensure
repetition of such behavior. Feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and bliss
accompany behaviors such as sexual activity, eating, and physical
exercise. These feelings are brought on by the release of dopamine in
the brain.  

As such, dopamine is a powerfully influential chemical in our brains, and
its balance is crucial and requires regulation: deviations from its normal
levels can lead to serious consequences. Although less common, an
over-abundance of dopamine in the brain is associated with psychosis
and schizophrenia.

More common is the deficiency of dopamine, which leads to a plethora
of symptoms, such as apathy, fatigue, decreased motivation and lack of
interest in life, depression, inability to feel pleasure, inability to
concentrate, impaired memory, mood swings, weight gain, ADHD, and
Restless Leg Syndrome. A long-term deficiency of dopamine is a leading
cause of Parkinson’s Disease.

Fortunately, there are natural ways to increase your dopamine level.
Here are the top 7 ways to do so.






























1.
Eat Foods High in Tyrosine

Our brains don’t come stocked with a life-time supply of
neurotransmitters, nor do they appear magically.  The brain
manufactures them, using amino acids and other raw materials as the
building blocks. These essential nutrients are obtained through the
foods we eat. Tyrosine is an essential amino acid necessary for
dopamine synthesis.

Foods high in tyrosine include bananas, especially ripe ones, almonds,
apples, avocados, beets,
chocolate, fava beans, oatmeal, watermelons,
and wheat germ.

2.
Decrease Sugar, Caffeine Intake

A 2008 study by Dr. Bart Hoebel at Princeton University demonstrated
the addictive effects of sugar on the brain. Specifically, Dr. Hoebel
found that every time his rats consumed a sugar solution, they were
rewarded with a dopamine spike in the brain.

After a month, their dopamine receptors decreased—they built up a
tolerance to dopamine, and needed more and more sugar to elicit the
same dopamine high.  

When Dr. Hoebel took the sugar away from the rats completely, the
dopamine levels in their brains plummeted, as the rats’ brains had
grown to rely on the sugar to initiate dopamine production.

Sugar has an effect on the brain similar to cocaine and heroin.

Another substance found to boost dopamine levels short-term, but
decrease them long-term is caffeine. A 2002 study at the University of
Cagliari in Italy led by Dr. E. Acquas et al., found that caffeine
stimulates dopamine release, but builds tolerance and leads to
withdrawal and diminished levels of dopamine after disuse.


3.
Increase Vitamin C

A 1997 study conducted at the University of Tubingen in Germany, by
Dr. Gabriele Seitz et al., found that ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin
C, enhanced dopamine production short-term, at the metabolic level,
and long-term, by increasing tyrosine hydroxylase gene expression, or
increasing the genetic expression for the production of the enzyme
which converts tyrosine into dopamine.

Upping your Vitamin C intake can raise your mood levels in the
immediate future and in the long-run, where long-term healthy
dopamine baselines are associated with decreased risk of Parkinson’s
disease.  

Foods high in Vitamin C include bell peppers, guavas, kale, kiwi,
broccoli, strawberries, and of course, citrus fruits like oranges and
grapefruit.


4.
Exercise Regularly, Lose Weight

A 2001 study led by Dr. G.J. Wang et al., at Brookhaven National
Laboratory found that regular exercise increased dopamine release
while simultaneously increasing the number of dopamine receptors.
Conversely, Body Mass Index was shown to have an inverse
relationship with number of dopamine receptors.  In other words, the
higher someone’s BMI, the lower the number of receptors. Indeed,
obesity was linked to a dearth of dopamine receptors in the brain.

5.
Meditate

Meditation has been shown to bear many health benefits, such as
reduced stress, increased blood flow, lowered long-term risk for
dementia, Parkinson’s Disease and
Alzheimer’s Disease, among others.

A 2002 study at the John F. Kennedy Institute in Denmark, led by Dr.
Kjaer et al. found that meditating can elicit up to a 65% increase in
dopamine release! All participants reported a decreased desire for
action during meditation, along with heightened sensory imagery. Dr.
Kjaer stated in his report that this evidence represents the ‘in vivo
demonstration of regulation of conscious states at a synaptic level.’
Thus is the power of meditation.

6.
Get A Skilled Hobby, Stay Stimulated

A 2007 literature review by Dr. S.A. Gutman at Columbia University
surveyed research concerning the neurological basis of human
activity/occupation and its relationship to health.  

Dr. Gutman found that purposeful, meaningful, and stimulating activity
can activate the brain’s reward system, i.e., it’s dopamine pathways,
promote the relaxation response, and preserve cognitive function into
old age.

The study concluded that activities such as listening to music, drawing,
meditation, reading, creative activities like arts and crafts, knitting,
quilting, home repairs and making things with your hands countered
the effects of stress-related diseases, reduced the risk for dementia,
and slowed the rate of cognitive decline by stimulating the neurological
system and enhancing health and well-being.


7.
Listen to Music

Music, which is an abstract stimulus, can arouse feelings of euphoria
and craving. A 2010 study at McGill University in Montreal, led by Dr.
Valorie Salimpoor et al., found that intense pleasure and peak
emotional arousal while listening to music led to dopamine release in
the striatal system, and that even the mere
anticipation of  listening to
music, before its actually played, led to dopamine release.

Moreover, it was discovered that the dopamine released in the
anticipation of the listening experience was released in the caudate, a
different part of the brain than the striatal system, where the dopamine
is released during the actual listening.  

This shows how much music stimulates the brain, as diverse regions
undergo profound changes when music is played. The authors of the
study remarked that " our results help to explain why music is of such
high value across all human societies."



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Eating apples can trigger the release of
dopamine in your brain, elevating your
mood.
.