Dopamine is one of the most important neurotransmitters and it has a major impact on how you feel. You may have heard that food addiction is often related to this messenger substance in your brain. This is right. Far more women than men struggle with binge eating. I would very much like to change this. Today I’ll explain how this works when it comes to dopamine and give you tools that can help you fight a binge.
Binge eating costs us way too much confidence and energy
These tips can also help with Parkinson’s disease, which involves reduced production of dopamine. If you are interested in this, please read on.
What are neurotransmitters?
There are more than 50 neurotransmitters, but the main four are dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine. They have a big influence on how you feel. Like hormones, they carry messages, in this case, a message in your brain.
Your brain contains trillions of nerve cells called neurons. These neurons continuously send and receive messages from each other; messages that are conveyed via neurotransmitters, or ‘brain hormones’. Your entire functioning, not just your brain, is governed by these neurotransmitters.
Hormones, neurotransmitters (brain hormones) and peptides are messenger substances: they continuously transmit messages in your body.
Dopamine: the ‘happy energy hormone’.
Dopamine and serotonin are sometimes referred to as our ‘happy hormones. I like to call dopamine my “happy energy hormone.” An important hormone because I really like to feel happy and energetic.
Just like ‘normal’ hormones, neurotransmitters must also be sufficiently produced and in balance with each other.
Dopamine is the substance that gives energy, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. It gives decisiveness and sense to get moving, but also mental sharpness and concentration. It also provides a cheerful feeling; so feel good about yourself.
Dopamine is the battery in your brain and the important substance that makes you feel good about yourself
The Addictive Effect of Junk Food
Do you see how much impact this messenger fabric has? Wouldn’t you like to have a large portion of that every day? Do you struggle with binge eating? Have you ever made the connection between your binge eating and this chemical dopamine? No one overeats broccoli or celery. We become addicted to processed foods such as chocolate, chips, and pizza slices.
Dopamine plays an essential role in this. Almost all processed food is a mix of sweet, fat, and a little salt. Make no mistake: ice cream contains a little salt and chips contain sugar. Just read the label. The food industry does this consciously.
They don’t do this to make it tastier, but because the combination of these three gives your brain the biggest dopamine boost! And this gives such a nice feeling that you want more and more of it. And more often. That’s exactly what they want.
Nobody eats a sugar bowl
Food industry researchers spend millions of dollars every year to measure this “seventh heaven feeling” in test subjects’ brains. Which product composition gives the highest dopamine peak? This is how they make and keep us addicted to their products.
Are you addicted to sweets? Have you ever emptied a sugar bowl? Probably not. But sugar ‘packed’ in ice cream, M&Ms, cookies, snickers, or those orange Tony Chocolonely bars. The dopamine boost your brain gets from this is comparable to that of a cocaine user. The addictive effect of processed foods is greatly underestimated.
Nature does not give us food that is a mixture of fat, sweet and salty. That’s not for nothing. It disrupts a naturally well-balanced and cheerful brain.
Give yourself a healthy dose of dopamine
Of course, even more, factors play a role in binge eating, such as fluctuating blood glucose levels and the bacteria in your gut. But chances are that providing yourself with a healthy dose of dopamine on a regular basis can greatly help you reduce binge eating. Your cravings for junk food and sweets will diminish if you regularly provide yourself with a healthy dose of dopamine
Here are 10 suggestions. Read through them and start with the tips that appeal to you the most. Chances are you need it the most.
1. Eat Healthy Protein
Neurotransmitters such as dopamine are made up of proteins or proteins. The proteins you eat are broken down in your body into 22 different amino acids (building blocks) with which the body can then make up to 50,000 different forms of the body’s own proteins (buildings).
The amino acid tyrosine is the raw material of dopamine; the precursor to tyrosine is the amino acid phenylalanine.
There is plenty of tyrosine in protein-rich foods such as eggs, fish, and meat (especially poultry), but also in cottage cheese, mozzarella, and hard Parmesan cheese. Good plant sources include sesame seeds, spirulina, and seaweeds.
Several studies show that increasing tyrosine and phenylalanine in the daily diet increases the brain’s dopamine levels. It also works the other way around: less food with tyrosine and the dopamine level in the brain decreases.
So simple: put the above foods on your daily menu more often!
2. Ensure a healthy intestinal flora; with sufficient fiber, moisture, and fats.
Believe it or not, your gut contains gut bacteria that have a major impact on dopamine production. There are intestinal bacteria that promote the production, but also that can hinder this. Our gut is called our second brain for a reason. I like to call them our first brain.
Having a healthy gut with a wide variety of healthy gut bacteria is, therefore, a must for the production of sufficient dopamine. Your intestines need, among other things, sufficient fiber, moisture, and healthy fats. Add these regularly.
Fiber is only found in plant products. Flax seeds, chia seeds and psyllium provide extra fiber.
I regularly drink a large glass of water with home-ground linseed in the morning. You can see why and how I do that here:
3. Provide healthy fats?
Indeed. Eating healthy fats is important not only for your gut but also for your brain. Your brain is mostly made up of fat. Did you know that your largest cholesterol store is located in your brain? You really don’t want to lose it!
Note: not all fats are healthy. It is important to know this distinction well. Healthy fats are as natural as possible: unroasted nuts, seeds and kernels, avocados, coconut products, fatty fish, olive oil, and olives. What makes fats unhealthy is heating or storing them incorrectly. Cold-pressed olive oil is, therefore, healthier than olive oil that has been heated during the process. Butter and egg yolks are also healthy fats.
Only ghee and coconut oil remain healthy at high temperatures. Do not heat other oils.
4. Variation of gut bacteria; many small mouse snacks
So make sure you have a lot of variety on your plate. Start by eating as many colors as possible on a daily basis. That’s why I love bowls: a colorful collection of small snacks. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Some green salad, a few pieces of red cabbage, an egg, a grated carrot, slices of avocado, pieces of apple, a pluck of broccoli sprouts, some leftover quinoa, various seeds, and a sauce of olive oil and orange. Do you understand what I mean?
My fridge is regularly full of small containers with leftovers from yesterday that I make another colorful meal today
Healthier eaters are always curious about new, fresh products and vary a lot
5. Exercise and sports
Healthy food for your brain isn’t just what you put in your mouth. Movement is an essential part. You have probably experienced how good it feels when you have taken a long walk and athletes know the thrill of an hour of sweating. Research shows that 10 to 20 minutes of exercise already gives a good feeling!
Not ready for sports yet? Then start with less sitting. Do you have a sedentary job? Set your timer to 40 minutes and then get up. Move for a few minutes, stretch, jump up and down a few times. A few minutes is enough. I promise you that in just those few minutes you will find the solution to a problem you were just struggling with.
We often get brilliant insights when we move and relax at the same time.
It makes sense: by exercising your brain gets more oxygen and waste products are removed. So more brainpower. Movement in itself increases the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. A brilliant idea can make you completely happy!
6. Give your brain regular rest
Just as you regularly rest your body, your brain also needs rest to keep feeling good. Today, however, our brain hardly gets any rest. Even in the toilet we keep texting or watching what is happening on Facebook. This seems relaxing, but for our brain, it really isn’t.
The fact that many young people today end up with a burnout is attributed to the fact that they are constantly active on social media and give their brains far too little rest.
Even watching television or reading a book is an effort for our brain. Actually, there are only three ways to really give your brain a rest: sleep, meditate and stare out the window. Put these three sufficiently on your daily menu. Scoop up on your plate!
7. Daylight is food too
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get a portion of daylight every day. Daylight is food too! Not only for your body but also for your brain. There is plenty of research indicating that daylight increases our dopamine levels.
For a healthy portion of daylight, you really have to go outside. Even if you are behind large windows that let in daylight: certain UV rays that your body needs are filtered out by the windows. Your body knows the difference between daylight outside and daylight behind windows. Don’t wait for the sun to shine: even on a dark day, your brain gets the nutrition it needs when you’re outside.
Sufficient daylight is an essential part of a healthy diet.
8. Listen to happy music
Try this. You feel a sniff coming on. Then put on music that always makes you happy. See if you can feel that this also gives you a dopamine peak.
Various studies have shown that uplifting music, music that gives you pleasant shivers, can raise the dopamine level in your brain at least 10%. You have probably experienced this: the ecstasy of dancing to certain music.
Listening to music has also been shown to have a positive influence in people with Parkinson’s disease.
Use this. Make an anti-binge playlist and collect music that makes you feel good. Use this when you feel a binge coming on. Are you in the office? Then put in earphones or go to the toilet and go crazy!
9. Some extra support: magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B
Your body needs a wide variety of nutrients for the production of neurotransmitters. That is why eating unprocessed, preferably as fresh as possible, food is so important! But even if you eat healthily, your body can still lack nutrients. That’s why I’m in favor of using some good supplements.
See supplements, even if it’s a capsule, not as a medicine but as food.
To start with, use a good multivitamin that also contains minerals. We often become deficient in minerals rather than vitamins. In any case, supplement this with magnesium and vitamin D. For an extra boost of dopamine, you can supplement this with a vitamin B complex. Vitamins B in particular play an important role in the production of dopamine (9).
10. In addition, a special supplement: Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens)
Have you tried everything above and need one last push? The velvet bean is a tropical climbing plant whose beans have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for Parkinson’s symptoms, where dopamine production is disrupted.
Mucuna pruriens contains high levels of L-dopa, the precursor molecule of dopamine. It is available in powder form or in capsules.
A lot of research has been done on this supplement in people with Parkinson’s. Several double-blind studies have shown that taking this supplement has better and longer-lasting effects than drugs. Of course without the annoying side effects that medicines often have. Never stop taking the medication without consulting your doctor. Use this supplement only after consultation.
We can do much more ourselves than we think
I cannot emphasize it enough: food is truly our first medicine. Even when it comes to our brain. I am convinced that in the coming years more and more research will show that nutrition plays a very important role in complaints such as binge eating, addictions, anxiety disorders, depression, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease, to name but a few.