DOPAMINE’S BAD RAP
The neurochemical ‘dopamine’ used to have a bad rap as 'the hedonism’ and ‘happy’ hormone largely because it was especially active in hyperactive kids, people unable to delay their gratification, shopaholics, drug addicts about to take their hit, foodies about to eat etc.
SOME CONFOUNDING FINDINGS
Later research on PTSD-afflicted US Veterans returning from Afghanistan showed high levels of dopaminergic activity in response to triggering stimuli as the physiological cascade of panic took hold of them.
There’s nothing hedonistic or pleasurable about PTSD episodes or flashbacks – so why was dopamine involved?
As it turns out, neuroscientists had it wrong – dopamine isn’t the ‘pleasure-seeking’ hormone we thought it was. Instead, while it is indeed involved in ‘approach emotions’ – the binding theme was that of ACTION. As it turns out, dopamine is more accurately thought of as ‘the action hormone’, not ‘the hedonism hormone’. It is true however that normally functioning subjects with increased levels of dopamine activity do report higher levels of happiness and elevated affect.
‘THE ACTION HORMONE’, OUR FRIEND FOR WORK
All these years of research on dopamine has beneficial results for us in our normal everyday working lives: If you want to get more done, be more active, overcome procrastination, jolt yourself from inactivity, be more effective, you need only to activate and surge more dopamine.
THE HAPPY HELPER: A SCARCE RESOURCE
As a molecule, dopamine is manufactured by the brain and body from proteins containing the amino acid l-tyrosine, among a myriad of others. A diet that is too low on protein, or that is too high in sugar and saturated fats can compromise one’s ability to manufacture dopamine.
Further, acute or chronic stress, chronic elevated levels of glucocorticosteroids (e.g. cortisol), adrenal fatigue (and burnout), and other psychosomatic factors (e.g. sleep disturbances, substance abuse, over-exertion, dehydration, low affect) inhibit one’s ability to properly manufacture the very hormone that is most likely to decrease our stress, increase our functionality, boost our brains, and get us performing as our peak levels.
EATING YOUR AGONISTS: BRAIN-BOOSTING BANANAS & OTHER TASTY HELPERS
So, how do you surge more dopamine in order to boost your brain and get more done? While there are many ways, an easy way to start is by ensuring you eat enough of the amino acid building blocks so that your brain and body have the raw materials to form the dopamine molecule.
Dopamine agonists include (but are not limited to!):
- Dairy such as milk, cheese and yogurt
- Unprocessed, organic meats in the poultry family
- Omega-3-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel
- Fruit and vegetables (especially bananas)
- Nuts, e.g. almonds, walnuts
- Dark chocolate
With that, I'm off to lunch!
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