Sources: Dr. Eric Braverman’s “Younger You” and “The Younger You Diet”
Optimal brain health for well-being and outstanding physical performance requires optimal levels of the four main neurotransmitters: Dopamine, Acetylcholine, GABA, and Serotonin.
Dopamine and acetylcholine are essentially our energy neurotransmitters, we need optimal levels of both to feel vibrant and excited about life. We also need them for optimal levels of growth hormone and energy for intense workouts. GABA and Serotonin are essentially our relaxation hormones; we need both to deal with stress and to recover from hard training.
Dopamine is a powerhouse neurotransmitter and it is what gives you the boost to get out of bed in the morning and take charge of your day. It also plays a big role in sex drive and sexual function. Dopamine is also a powerful growth hormone booster and lowers levels of prolactin. Prolactin is a nasty hormone that lowers testosterone levels in men. Dopamine is intimately connected to addictive behavior. People with low dopamine levels are often addicted to sources of quick pleasure and easily succumb to addictions.
Acetylcholine is the memory neurotransmitter and is also involved with reaction time. Without adequate levels of acetylcholine, your memory will suffer, as will your speed and reaction time. Acetylcholine is also involved with optimal growth hormone production.
GABA is an anti-anxiety neurotransmitter. When GABA levels are low you just do not feel right and have a hard time relaxing. This, of course, will hamper sleep quality and overall well-being. You need GABA to calm down in the evening and to restore after the daily stresses of life.
Serotonin is often referred to as the anti-depression neurotransmitter. When your serotonin levels are too low you will feel burned out and disconnected. You will have a hard time enjoying life and will go through each day worn out. You will lack motivation. Serotonin is very important for workout recovery and restoration.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and neurohormone. Dopamine is a precursor to the adrenaline hormones norepinephrine and then epinephrine. Dopamine is the brain’s power source that keeps you fully alive and alert.
Dopamine works like a natural amphetamine giving us power and controlling our energy. High levels of dopamine increase focus.
Dopamine has many functions in the brain including important roles in behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation, rewards, sleep, mood, attention, and learning. Dopamine is commonly associated with the pleasure system of the brain, providing feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate a person proactively to perform certain activities. In the frontal lobes, dopamine controls the flow of information from other areas of the brain.
Dopamine also regulates prolactin production. Prolactin is a hormone that counteracts the sexual arousal effects of dopamine. High levels of prolactin results in impotence and low libido. Prolactin decreases testosterone levels in men and estrogen in women. Dopamine keeps prolactin in check and thus dopamine must be optimized for testosterone levels to be optimal.
When your dopamine levels are balanced you’ve got plenty of energy, your day is organized, and you feel social and confident. Low dopamine affects emotional stability. People with low dopamine are often loners, eccentrics, shy individuals, procrastinators, codependent, masochists, and obsessive-compulsive. When dopamine is low you do not feel motivated and alive. You have low energy and a feeling of being burned out.
Without dopamine, your body and your brain will lose its vitality. You will feel tired and burned out all of the time. Initial symptoms of low dopamine include fatigue and light-headedness. If you have a severe dopamine deficiency you will have a low sex drive, fat gain, and difficulty performing simple tasks.
All addictions (food, drugs, sex) are linked to a brain chemical imbalance. Low dopamine plays a role in addictive behaviors.
The low dopamine person needs more food or more pleasure gratification to achieve what is considered a normal level of satisfaction. An addictive brain seeks the dopamine high in the form of rewards and pleasures.
Dopamine and food
The brain and body are always trying to maintain homeostasis. Thus, each time we eat the brain naturally releases less dopamine. People often try to eat more to get an increase in dopamine to no avail.
If your dopamine levels are low your brain has fewer dopamine receptors. When you consume low nutrient food that doesn’t produce dopamine it becomes much more difficult for these receptors to transfer feelings of satisfaction. This results in eating more garbage food in a desperate attempt to get your fix, which results in the receptors becoming less efficient and eventually causes them to break down. The bottom line is you have to eat more low nutrient food to get an adequate dopamine boost. Healthy food provides more nutrition per calorie and you do not have to eat as much to get the same dopamine response.
The connection between the stress hormone cortisol and dopamine
Whenever a brain chemical declines a hormone is activated to take its place. In the case of dopamine, the body ramps up cortisol levels (stress hormone). Cortisol acts as a backup energy reserve so that the brain and body can continue to function. This is fine for short stressful periods. Cortisol helps with dopamine support when you’re under stress because during stressful times you burn immense amounts of dopamine. However, when you’re stressed for too long problems occur from the extended high cortisol levels. When your brain is continually turning to cortisol for energy, it becomes a way of life. You’re addicted to the cortisol rush and have the illusion that you’re in control and staying on top of stress.
Excess cortisol leads to fat gain with particular emphasis in the stomach. If you’re fat and still have high energy, chances are your body is burning cortisol like crazy to support your low dopamine levels.
Increasing Dopamine levels
Low dopamine problems can be reversed by increasing dopamine through food, nutrition supplements, and stress management. When you do so you will no longer rely on cortisol to support energy needs.
Healthy food choices increase metabolism strength by ramping up dopamine levels. These foods and nutrients will increase your dopamine levels to the point where eventually you will retrain your brain to create more dopamine on its own.
Cut out foods that lower dopamine
· Sugar and other forms such as high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, agave, sucralose, molasses, and syrup. Use Stevia as your main sweetener.
· High glycemic carbohydrates: cake, crackers, white bread, white rice, pasta, pies, potatoes, and processed foods. Basically all of the garbage that you like to snack on endlessly.
Increase consumption of the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine by eating more high protein foods and wheat germ.
Supplements for supporting dopamine production
*Mucuna Pruriens: a potent herb that not only increases dopamine but testosterone production as well. It is one of the key ingredients in Aggressive Strength Testosterone Booster
*Rhodiola Rosea: an adaptogen that not only helps with stress management and endurance training but also supports dopamine production. A key ingredient in my adrenal energizer RED
*Tyrosine: an amino acid which is a building block for dopamine production and also supports thyroid hormone production as well. A key ingredient in my soon to be released pre-workout supplement Overpower
*Acetyl-l Carnitine: Research shows that ALCAR elevates both acetylcholine and dopamine in specific regions of the brain. ALCAR enhances cellular energy in the brain and supports all bodily functions that have a high-energy demand. Overpower contains 1 gram of ALCAR per serving.
Caffeine can help with low dopamine levels. Coffee, for example, provides a jump-start for low dopamine. Too much caffeine increases stress hormones so keep it to no more than 200mg per day (100mg twice per day). Very few have the discipline to only consume 1-2 cups of coffee per day. One develops a tolerance to the caffeine boost from coffee with regular use, which always results in increased consumption of coffee. Once that occurs the potential benefits are nullified and adrenal resistance is around the corner.
Add spices such as Basil, cayenne, cumin, turmeric, sage, rosemary, garlic, nutmeg, and ginger. Nutmeg is great in morning protein shakes for nice energy and dopamine boost. Cinnamon works great as a blood sugar regulator and should be taken with meals several times per day.
Drink tea every day. Loose tea leaves are better than tea bags. 1 teaspoon of black tea and 1 teaspoon of green tea boiled in 10oz of water twice per day.
Ramp up DHEA levels by taking transdermal magnesium oil twice per day. DHEA is the ultimate stress management hormone and has a protective effect on testosterone by acting as a backup reserve.
Sources “The Younger Thinner You Diet” and “Younger You” by Dr. Eric Braverman, MD