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5 Healthy + Natural Ways to Get a Dopamine Hit

Some of us resort to binging on junk food after a stressful day to up our dopamine levels, but the only problem is the crash that follows and the cycle of dysregulated hormones that leave us constantly chasing that high. But we're here to show you another way – 5 other ways, actually.

Picture this: the sun's warm embrace, a favourite tune filling the air, the taste of a delicious meal – these simple joys in life owe their magic, in part, to dopamine. Often referred to as the 'feel-good' hormone, dopamine plays a central role in our mood, motivation, and overall wellbeing. When dopamine levels are balanced, we experience a sense of reward and satisfaction that keeps us moving forward. However, in our modern fast-paced world, factors like stress, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyles can throw our dopamine equilibrium off-kilter. The good news is that there are various natural and scientifically-backed ways to give your dopamine levels a boost, allowing you to tap into your inner reservoir of positivity and motivation. 

Sugar can have a significant impact on our dopamine levels, and not in a positive way. Dopamine is often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter because it plays a crucial role in our brain's reward system and pleasure pathways. Here's how sugar negatively affects our dopamine levels: 

  • Sugar and Reward Pathways: When we consume sugar, especially in the form of highly processed and refined sweets, it triggers a release of dopamine in the brain's reward centre. This surge of dopamine creates a pleasurable sensation, leading to a sense of reward and satisfaction – its addictive effects have even been compared to those of cocaine!
  • Dopamine Dysregulation: However, excessive sugar consumption can lead to dopamine dysregulation. Over time, the brain's dopamine receptors can become less sensitive to the effects of dopamine due to the constant stimulation from sugar. This phenomenon is similar to the way drug addiction can lead to tolerance, requiring more of the substance to achieve the same "high."
  • Cravings and Addiction: As dopamine sensitivity decreases, individuals may experience a decrease in pleasure from activities that would normally release dopamine, such as engaging in hobbies or spending time with loved ones. This can lead to an increased reliance on sugary foods to attain that dopamine rush, contributing to cravings and a potential sugar addiction.
  • Cycle of Overconsumption: The more sugar we consume to chase that dopamine boost, the more our bodies become accustomed to needing higher amounts of sugar for the same effect. This can create a cycle of overconsumption and reliance on sugary foods to maintain a sense of pleasure and reward.
  • Negative Impact on Mood: The rollercoaster of dopamine levels due to sugar consumption can lead to mood swings, irritability, and even feelings of depression when dopamine levels drop after the initial surge.
  • Implications for Mental Health: The dysregulation of dopamine caused by excessive sugar consumption has been linked to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. High sugar diets have been associated with an increased risk of developing mood disorders. 

So, now you know what not to do, let’s take a look at what you can do to naturally boost dopamine levels.

Enjoy Time with Friends and Family (And Strangers Too!)


Social interactions can indeed boost dopamine levels, contributing to feelings of pleasure and reward. Human beings are social creatures, and our brains are wired to respond positively to social connections. Here's how social interactions can influence dopamine levels, along with some research findings:

Dopamine and Reward: Dopamine is closely linked to the brain's reward system. Positive social interactions can activate the release of dopamine, leading to feelings of pleasure and reinforcement of social behaviour. A study published in the journal Nature Communications in 2018 found that social interactions trigger the release of dopamine in the brain's reward centres. The study used MRI scans to show that even the anticipation of positive social interactions led to dopamine release, enhancing mood and motivation. Talk about getting a visual image! Research published in Psychological Science indicated that engaging in cooperative activities with others, such as teamwork, can lead to increased dopamine release, finding that social cooperation can be rewarding and boost the brain's reward circuitry. So, perhaps a friendly game of tennis or basketball could be a fun way to get those endorphins firing! Volunteering to clean up your local park could also be a great way to work together with others – in fact, you’ll be combining goal setting with sunlight exposure too, crossing off three of the items on this list! An article published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience discussed the role of dopamine in social bonding, finding that dopamine reinforces social behaviours and contributes to social learning and adaptation – so it’s a cycle of benefits!

Positive Feedback Loop: Engaging in positive social interactions can create a positive feedback loop. Dopamine release during social experiences encourages individuals to seek out social connections, which, in turn, leads to more dopamine release when those interactions occur.

Stress Reduction: Meaningful social interactions can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can have a positive impact on dopamine regulation. Lower stress levels are associated with improved dopamine sensitivity and function. 

Emotional Connection: Emotional interactions, such as laughter and shared experiences, can stimulate the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters that work in conjunction with dopamine to enhance feelings of pleasure.

Listening to Music


Who knew blasting your favourite songs could help your hormones? Well, it turns out that listening to music can activate the brain's reward system, leading to the release of dopamine. The brain perceives music as a pleasurable stimulus, triggering feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction – and the research to back its powers up is extensive. A study published in Nature Neuroscience in 2016 demonstrated that listening to music that participants found pleasurable led to the release of dopamine in the brain. The study used PET scans to show that even anticipating a favourite song increased dopamine levels, highlighting the role of music in dopamine modulation. Just make sure it’s music you like, you might find the opposite effect if the song that’s playing sounds like nails on a chalkboard to you! Research from 2019 investigated the neural mechanisms underlying music-induced pleasure. The study found that pleasurable music increased dopamine release in brain regions associated with reward and motivation. Yet again more research unveils how music-evoked emotions and rewards are mediated by the brain's dopamine system. The article highlighted that music can modulate emotional states and contribute to mood enhancement – take a look at some of the ways in which this works: 

  • Emotional Resonance: Certain types of music, especially those that resonate emotionally with individuals, can have a stronger impact on dopamine release. Songs that evoke nostalgia, joy, or other positive emotions tend to lead to more pronounced dopamine responses.
  • Personal Preference: Individual preferences play a role in how music affects dopamine levels. People tend to experience a dopamine release when listening to music they enjoy or that holds personal significance.
  • Stress Reduction: Music has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, which can positively impact dopamine regulation. Lower stress levels are associated with improved dopamine function.
  • Engagement of Brain Regions: Listening to music engages various brain regions, including those associated with reward and pleasure. This engagement contributes to the release of dopamine and the ensuing feelings of enjoyment.

Listening to music can be a simple and enjoyable way to naturally boost dopamine levels and enhance mood. Incorporating music into daily routines, selecting tunes that evoke positive emotions, and allowing yourself to fully engage with the musical experience can contribute to an uplifted and pleasurable state of mind. So, whip out your Mariah Carey or Ed Sheeran classics – whatever floats your boat – to experience the benefits that come with music. Maybe even bust a move or two while you’re at it, since dancing has also been found to boost those feel-good hormones.


Getting a bit of morning sun can do you a world of good – from improving your sleep cycle and appetite hormones to giving you a boost of dopamine. This is because sunlight exposure plays a crucial role in regulating mood and influencing neurotransmitters, and that includes the hormone of the hour; dopamine. Plus, sunlight also helps stimulate the release of serotonin, another neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of wellbeing and indirectly affects dopamine levels. A study published in Psychological Medicine in 2014 investigated the relationship between sunlight exposure and dopamine receptors, finding that sunlight exposure positively correlated with dopamine D2 receptor availability, suggesting that sunlight might have a positive influence on dopamine-related brain functions. Research published in NeuroImage showed that exposure to bright light, such as natural sunlight, led to increased dopamine release in brain regions associated with reward and pleasure. Yet another piece of research in Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience shows how sunlight exposure affects mood regulation, finding that sunlight-induced increases in serotonin levels can indirectly influence dopamine pathways and contribute to improved mood. Here’s how:

  • Circadian Rhythm Regulation: Sunlight exposure helps regulate the body's internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. A well-regulated circadian rhythm supports healthy sleep-wake cycles, which in turn can impact dopamine regulation.
  • Vitamin D Synthesis: Sunlight exposure is essential for the synthesis of vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D plays a role in brain health and may indirectly influence neurotransmitter function, including dopamine.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Seasonal changes in sunlight exposure can lead to conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), characterised by low mood during the winter months with reduced sunlight. Treatment for SAD often includes light therapy, which may influence dopamine levels.
  • Physical Activity: Sunlight exposure often encourages outdoor activities and exercise. Regular physical activity has been linked to increased dopamine release and sensitivity.

Spending time outdoors, especially in the morning when sunlight is abundant, can have a positive impact on mood and dopamine regulation. Engaging in outdoor activities, taking walks, and allowing natural light to reach your eyes can contribute to improved overall wellbeing by supporting healthy dopamine function. Even a simple morning walk can make a world of difference!

Goal Setting


Dopamine and Reward: Goal setting and achievement are closely linked to the brain's reward system, which involves the release of dopamine. Dopamine acts as a motivational neurotransmitter, reinforcing behaviours that lead to rewards, including accomplishing goals. A study explored the role of dopamine in goal-directed behaviour, finding when individuals achieved a goal they had set, there was an increase in dopamine release in the brain's reward centre, contributing to the feeling of accomplishment. Research published in Nature Communications just last year discussed how dopamine release is associated with achieving personal goals. The study indicated that the anticipation of completing a personally relevant task increased dopamine release, encouraging individuals to take action. And that’s not all – an article in Trends in Cognitive Sciences also discussed how dopamine reinforces goal-directed behaviour, finding that dopamine promotes persistence and motivation by signalling the potential for rewards. Now these goals don’t have to be overwhelming – in fact, setting little goals can be a great way to boost dopamine as they’re achievable and easy to make time for.

Positive Reinforcement: The act of setting a goal and working toward its achievement creates a sense of purpose and direction. The anticipation of successfully reaching the goal triggers dopamine release, which reinforces the behaviour and motivates continued effort.

Sense of Accomplishment: Achieving a goal triggers a surge of dopamine that leads to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This positive feeling reinforces the brain's reward circuitry, encouraging individuals to set and pursue new goals. 

Long-Term Goals: Dopamine release isn't limited to immediate achievements. The brain's reward system can also respond to the progress made toward long-term goals, providing motivation along the way.

Reward Prediction: Dopamine also plays a role in reward prediction. As you work toward a goal, your brain anticipates the satisfaction of achieving it, leading to increased dopamine release even before the goal is attained.

Setting and achieving goals can provide a consistent source of dopamine release, driving motivation and a sense of accomplishment. Whether your goals are small or ambitious, the act of setting them and taking steps toward achievement can lead to improved mood, increased motivation, and enhanced overall wellbeing. Try some of the following:

  • Scheduling a walk
  • Planning to read one chapter of a book
  • Planning a before-bed ritual like meditation or listening to music – yep, these tasks can be simple, relaxing things, they don’t have to be stressful!

Healthy Diet + Dopamine-Boosting Foods

A number of nutrients play a vital role in the production and regulation of dopamine. A balanced and diverse diet can support optimal dopamine function.

Research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2016 discussed the relationship between diet and dopamine function. The study highlighted that dietary elements like amino acids and vitamins can influence dopamine synthesis and receptor function. Another article emphasised the importance of adequate protein intake for dopamine production, as protein-rich foods provide the necessary amino acids for dopamine synthesis. If you feel you may be lacking protein in your diet – often times, diets rich in ultra-processed foods leave us lacking in a range of areas, and that includes protein – try adding some of the following to your meals:

  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains (ditch those highly-refined grains and opt for quinoa and millet instead)
  • Natto – a stringy, pungent fermented soybean dish that is surprisingly dense in protein!
  • Nuts 

Another piece of research published in Neuropsychopharmacology uncovered an important element in the relationship between nutrition and brain reward pathways, finding that one nutrient in particular – tyrosine – is a precursor to dopamine. This amino acid is found in soy, bananas, milk, cheese, yoghurt, lima beans and pumpkin seeds. Check out some of the other precursors to dopamine that you can include in your diet:    

Amino Acids: Amino acids, particularly tyrosine and phenylalanine, are building blocks for dopamine production. Foods rich in protein, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, and plant-based sources like legumes, provide these essential amino acids.

Folate and Vitamin B6: Adequate intake of B vitamins, including folate and vitamin B6, supports dopamine synthesis. Leafy greens, beans, lentils and fortified cereals are good sources of these vitamins.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon and walnuts, have been associated with improved dopamine receptor sensitivity and brain function.

Antioxidants: Antioxidant-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, protect brain cells from oxidative stress, preserving optimal dopamine function.

Balanced Blood Sugar: Consuming complex carbohydrates and avoiding large spikes in blood sugar helps maintain stable dopamine levels. This prevents the rollercoaster effect of blood sugar crashes, which can negatively impact mood. 

Moderation and Variety: A varied diet ensures that you're receiving a wide range of nutrients essential for overall brain health, including dopamine regulation. 

A healthy diet provides the foundational nutrients needed for dopamine production, receptor sensitivity, and overall brain function. By prioritising nutrient-rich foods and maintaining balanced eating habits, you can support optimal dopamine levels and contribute to enhanced mood, motivation and wellbeing. Take a look at a few foods that are known to increase dopamine levels:

  • Berries
  • Yoghurt
  • Nuts
  • Green tea
  • Leafy green veggies

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