6 Natural Dopamine Boosters

Natural Boosts for Dopamine: Enhancing Mood and Focus Holistically

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By Laura Cipullo, Whole Nutrition Services Team

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter in your brain that is involved in reward, motivation, memory, attention, and regulation of body movements.  When dopamine is released, it creates feelings of pleasure and reward.  You may experience low levels of dopamine when ADHD medication wears off, you are recovering from drug or alcohol abuse, or you find yourself turning to food for hedonic reasons.  If your dopamine levels are not well-regulated on their own, there are some things you can do to naturally increase your dopamine levels.


Daily gratitude journal


Practicing gratitude and positive thinking on a daily basis can change your brain!  The area of the brain responsible for emotions and behavior also controls skills like focus and attention.  Gratitude can result in more creative thinking, increased mental productivity, and wider attention span.1 You can practice gratitude by writing in a daily gratitude journal, doing daily positive affirmations, and giving gratitude to others.


Listen to music


Several brain imaging studies have found that listening to music increases activity in the reward and pleasure areas in the brain, which are high in dopamine receptors.2  One small study found a 9% increase in dopamine levels when individuals listened to instrumental songs.3  Try listening to your favorite song or instrumental music to naturally raise your dopamine levels.




Meditation is a practice that helps clear your mind, focus inward, and lets you notice your thoughts without judgement.  Research shows that the improved mental and physical health benefits from meditation may be due to increased dopamine in the brain.  One study showed a 65% increase in dopamine in experienced meditation teachers after 1 hour of meditation.4  Meditation takes practice; you can try starting with one minute a day or using an app like Calm or Insight Timer.


Touch and Massage


Touch, massage, and hugging are known to have positive effects on decreasing cortisol and increasing dopamine.  Research shows that massage therapy has beneficial effects on a variety of medical conditions and stressful experiences.5  In moments you need a dopamine release, ask a friend or loved one for a hug or massage and even self-massage and touch can release dopamine as well.


Petting an animal


Research shows that owning and taking care of an animal, specifically dogs, can affect our mental health by lowering stress levels and increasing feelings of self-worth.  A number of studies show that petting a dog can release dopamine.6  If you don’t have a dog or another live pet, even petting a stuffed animal or soft pillow can boost dopamine.


Cold exposure


Deliberate cold exposure by taking a cold shower, holding an ice pack, or submerging your body in ice can release dopamine.  Historically, ancient Romans, Greeks, Chinese, and Egyptians have used various forms of cold baths and other therapies as natural treatments for aches and pains.  While this may sound unpleasant, research shows that short bursts of cold showers or other cold exposures significantly increase dopamine levels in the brain.7   Try just a minute or two in a cold shower or holding an ice pack.





  1. Zahn R, Moll J, Paiva M, Garrido G, Krueger F, Huey ED, Grafman J. The neural basis of human social values: evidence from functional MRI. Cereb Cortex. 2009 Feb;19(2):276-83. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn080. Epub 2008 May 22. PMID: 18502730; PMCID: PMC2733324.
  2. Koelsch S. Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2014;15(3):170-180. doi:10.1038/nrn3666
  3. Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, Zatorre RJ. Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nat Neurosci. 2011;14(2):257-262. doi:10.1038/nn.2726
  4. Kjaer TW, Bertelsen C, Piccini P, Brooks D, Alving J, Lou HC. Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2002;13(2):255-259. doi:10.1016/s0926-6410(01)00106-9
  5. Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2005;115(10):1397-1413. doi:10.1080/00207450590956459
  6. Lloyd J, Johnston L, Lewis J. Psychiatric Assistance Dog Use for People Living With Mental Health Disorders. Front Vet Sci. 2019;6:166. Published 2019 Jun 6. doi:10.3389/fvets.2019.00166
  7. Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. N Am J Med Sci. 2014 May;6(5):199-209. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.132935. PMID: 24926444; PMCID: PMC4049052.


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