Do Dopamine Supplements Really Work?

By Dylan Buckley|Updated July 18, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Laura Angers, NCC, LPC

Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article mentions topics that include prescription medication, abuse of medication, and addiction. The information found in the article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.

Natural health remedies can be effective, but they’re sometimes met with skepticism. Just as with all medical treatments, the effects of natural health products can vary from person to person. Dietary supplements can contain minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes, and other ingredients intended to improve overall health and help manage various health conditions.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter created within the body. It has many functions, but one of the most important is how we feel pleasure, (the area of the brain affected is sometimes known as the “pleasure centers”), think, plan, focus, and find things interesting. Some supplements are available that can help your body either generate more dopamine than it currently does or aid in your body’s use of the dopamine that it already generates. In this article, we’ll be discussing these dopamine supplements and their effectiveness, usually in addition to online therapy.

Talk To Your Online Therapist & Find Out If Dopamine Supplements Are Right For You

Are Dopamine Supplements Effective?

To understand whether dopamine supplements work, we first have to define what it means for a supplement to “work.” If it's helping you produce more dopamine, or increase your overall dopamine levels, then we’ll say that it works.

However, if you ask whether or not dopamine supplements can effectively treat depression, dopamine deficiency, or other mood disorders, that is much more difficult to answer. While some studies support the efficacy of specific dopamine supplements, other studies disagree. The information below will help you further understand the differences between various dopamine supplements and credible and trustworthy information.

For those living with a mood disorder who typically function well using their coping mechanisms, supplements might seem to be the perfect method to maintain your home-based mental health strategy, improve mood, and reduce stress. That being said, mental illness does not always maintain the same severity level, and you may struggle more during some episodes than others. Always make sure you are open to reaching out for additional help if it is needed. Try looking at dopamine supplements as just another tool in your mental wellness toolbox.

Now, let's take a closer look at dopamine supplements and their efficacy in the long term.

What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine affects your mood and helps you move. It is a neurotransmitter, a brain chemical released by the nerve cells in the nervous system to send signals or messages to the other nerve cells in the nervous system. As a neurotransmitter and brain chemical, dopamine is responsible for helping transfer messages between nerve endings within the brain and all over the body. It is one of the most important chemicals in the body for daily life and can affect many things, like how much we eat and whether we're likely to experience addiction.

Dopamine neurons are the main source of dopamine in the nervous system. Dopamine is produced in two different brain parts: the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area, both located within the midbrain. Also, the dopamine neurons are typically found in the substantia nigra pars compacta, which is a harsh region of the entire brain. You can also refer to the substantia nigra as a dopaminergic nucleus.

The substantia nigra helps modulate motor movement, and the substantia nigra also plays a vital role in reward functions. People with diminished substantia nigra sometimes develop medical conditions like Parkinson’s disease. The substantia nigra and the tegmental area are two small areas of the brain, but they produce signals that affect the entire body.

Part of the "job" of these brain areas is determining when we should expect to feel a reward. When you eat your favorite food or listen to your favorite song, your dopamine level rises, eventually leading your brain to want more of it. Therefore, you may tend to have your full attention and focus fixed on that area. In some research, studies show that dopamine may also contribute to the development of ADHD or attention deficit. In this case, the brain may not be producing what is considered a normal amount of dopamine.

Supplements Vs. Medications

As previously noted, supplements are meant to boost natural amounts of dopamine. People sometimes prefer supplements over antidepressants and other psychiatric medications because they're less likely to have serious side effects.

Dopamine supplements are meant to reduce dopamine deficiency in the body system. However, the supplements don’t contain dopamine itself. Instead, they contain ingredients to increase dopamine production in the body.

Sometimes, low dopamine levels are due to an issue in the brain cells and dopamine receptors. The dopamine receptors play vital roles in daily functions like emotions, movement, and the brain's reward system. Dopamine deficiency is related to a large number of medical conditions, which also include Parkinson’s disease. In the early stages of PD, dopamine neurons play an important role in regulating cognitive functions.

Dopamine neurons are the major source of dopamine. Generally, a cognitive function implies any mental process that allows a person to carry out a task. For instance, a cognitive function is a mental process that allows for memory, knowledge, and attention tasks. Overall, the brain's cognitive function includes mental processes that allow for receiving, selecting, storing, transforming, developing, and recovering information received from external stimuli. One advantage of cognitive function is how it helps our daily lives.

The main issue with supplements is not just the regulation but the consistency as well. Because the dosage is often based on clinical lab conditions on a molecular level, the supplement itself may not perform as well within the human body under less than ideal conditions. It's important to look carefully at any research for purity and dosage before finding similarly pure supplements that have the best bio-absorption rates. Additionally, you should also scan research to see if any conditions need to be met when taking certain supplements. (Supplements are not necessarily suitable or recommended replacements for medication, and you should always speak to your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement.)

The Most Recommended Dopamine Supplements

L-Tyrosine     

This supplement aims to boost dopamine levels or natural dopamine by increasing the amount of amino acid (Tyrosine) available in the body to create the neurotransmitter. L-tyrosine is normally synthesized within the body, but the amount available can be boosted with either diet or supplementation. Tyrosine is a precursor for DOPA, which is part of the process that creates norepinephrine from dopamine. Tyrosine can be effective in increasing natural dopamine levels and also helps with dopamine deficiency. It has been shown to improve mood, mental function, sleep, and overall emotional wellbeing in some cases.

Mucuna

Mucuna Pruriens is a natural dopamine herbal supplement. The velvet bean plant naturally contains 5% of the amino acid L-dopa, synthesized within the body the same way as Tyrosine. Mucuna Pruriens is used in the same dopamine production process. This amino acid plays a vital role in the production and supply of dopamine naturally.

Mucuna Pruriens is unique as a supplement because L-dopa can be used immediately within the brain to improve dopamine levels. The bean is harvested and processed to create the supplement, but in traditional Indian medicines, it was ground and used for Parkinson's disease. This has been heavily studied, and research has shown that a therapeutic level of L-dopa can improve motor function. Studies on mucuna have shown an increase in more than just dopamine because it can be synthesized in the body into other neurotransmitters like serotonin.

This is generally considered to be the most effective of all supplements at raising dopamine levels.

L-Theanine

Another popular amino acid, L-theanine, is found only in green tea and can cross the blood-brain barrier to improve brain dopamine levels or natural dopamine. It has also been shown to increase the production of GABA, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that it only takes a small amount to produce a stress-relieving effect and lower anxiety levels for many people.

While these studies were looking for glutamic acid (a different neurotransmitter), they also measured dopamine release levels simultaneously. L-theanine also improves blood circulation, which can oxygenate the cells used in the dopamine process and make them more efficient. While there is limited information about how much L-theanine affects dopamine levels, it has often been used to supplement depression and anxiety with success. But just as with medications, L-Theanine’s effects vary from individual to individual.

Rhodiola Rosea

More commonly known as the "golden root," this is a popular herbal medicine often advertised to improve stress, tiredness, and depression. Rhodiola Rosea is categorized as an adaptogen; it's a natural dopamine supplement that improves brain function. In other words, it can make you less prone to stress. In some cases, it may be said to reduce stress. It works on the central nervous system by improving the re-uptake rate of dopamine rather than giving the body the ability to make more.

This process can help improve the symptoms of depression, and studies have shown that it can be significantly more effective when used together with a supplement that improves dopamine. The supplement is only effective if made from the Rhodiola Rosea root and no other part of the plant because the root has higher levels of salidroside and rosavins.

Please note that some studies also show that Ginkgo Biloba can increase dopamine levels and help with dopamine deficiency in the body system. You should know that the supplements listed above are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent diseases. If you are struggling with health issues, whether physical or mental, it is very helpful to see your doctor or another healthcare provider.

Dopamine Supplement Research

As with many natural health supplements, proving their efficacy can be difficult; fortunately, when looking at specific levels of any chemical, the results are much clearer: they do or do not raise dopamine levels. A study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry compared nutrition and depression to understand how mental illness can be regulated through diet and supplementation.

The most important part of the study confirmed that a diet deficient in certain nutrients, especially amino acids, was likely to affect the symptoms of depression, even if the patient had never been diagnosed as depressive. The study theorized that it might be possible to control depression and even prevent it with the right combination of nutrients and supplements rather than relying on conventional medications, which have side effects.

Another study supported the idea that supplementation may be a better choice than medications for non-compliant patients because they were more likely to take the supplements without risk of side effects while still receiving the benefits. This study used specific information about suicidal patients. While there is a lack of clarity about the best-recommended doses, the results show that supplementation can help if medication is unavailable or a patient is non-compliant. If you or a loved one is suicidal, please reach out for help immediately.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and it is available 24/7.

Supplements and nutrition often go hand in hand. What we eat in our diets can affect the need for supplementation. A naturally rich diet in the amino acids and vitamins necessary to keep these processes running smoothly doesn't typically require supplementation. This study showed that dopamine levels could also be improved by using caloric restriction or fasting because of the digestive process's enzymes. Dopamine is used in the GI tract for digestion, so it makes sense that more is available as a neurotransmitter with caloric restriction and less digestion.

Other Ways to Boost Dopamine

A dopamine boost creates a good feeling of reward and pleasure. Some patients are still unsure about taking supplements instead of or in addition to medication to boost their dopamine levels, and that's okay. There are many other effective ways to increase dopamine without supplementation. Many studies have shown that regular exercise can create a huge spike in dopamine due to the phenomenon known as a "runner's high." For many people, getting enough sleep, listening to good music, and meditating can also boost dopamine levels.

Taking antidepressants is another way to boost dopamine, but it’s important to note that medication affects everyone differently. If you have been prescribed antidepressants to improve dopamine levels, it's important that you not stop taking them unless otherwise advised by your doctor. You should also ask your doctor about any supplements you plan to take to avoid interactions. Dopamine supplements are available from many sources, and they may not always be the best quality because the regulation is different for supplements than for medication. Choose wisely, do plenty of research, and speak with your doctor before beginning any medication or supplementation.

Important Steps to Take Prior to Considering Supplements

Although supplements may be an option for you to boost your prescription medication or help with your daily self-care regimen, research is necessary. Here are three things you should do before considering supplements for your mental health.

  1. Come Up with a List of Viable Options

When considering supplements, it is important to drown out the noise. Some supplements may make claims unsupported by research. Come up with a list of supposed supplements before you start narrowing down your options.

  1. Cross Them Off as You Learn More

Like you would with prescription medications, it's important to learn as much as you can about a supplement before you consider taking it. Are there studies backing its use? Does it have proven results? Would it address your needs?

  1. Determine the Pros and Cons

Some supplements can come with undesirable side effects. If you plan on taking any supplement, make sure you understand the possible risks first.

Talk To Your Online Therapist & Find Out If Dopamine Supplements Are Right For You

Living with depression can be difficult, and it can sometimes affect your judgment, which is why it's important to talk to a professional about your symptoms rather than just taking a supplement and hoping for improvement. You can find a professional therapist online at BetterHelp. BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that allows you to meet with counselors without ever having to leave your house. Read on for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

"Leah Finn is an excellent therapist! She is there every step of the way and provides multiple avenues for you to escape negative feelings like anxiety and depression safely. I don't know anyone in my immediate community who has ever sought mental well-being through therapy, so I thought it a drastic option. The fact that I decided to give this a try is a testament to the horrible place. Within a couple of months, Leah was guided through various exercises to overcome several mental blocks. I am doing much better now, but when these low feelings come back, I have the skills to cope and keep them at bay. I would recommend working with Leah!"

"Heidi has been a great help. I'm so very thankful. I had a hard time getting my thoughts in order and was at an all-time low with my depression because I didn't know where to go or what to do. Heidi's guidance helped me tremendously, and I am ever so grateful."

Conclusion

Simply put, dopamine supplements may be a helpful tool for you if you do your research and make a wise, informed choice. As long as you talk about it with your doctor and take the supplements as advised, you’re not likely to experience any adverse effects. Take the first step to a healthy, fulfilling life today.

 

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