What’s the deal with Dopamine & Diet?

So, is dopamine responsible for your chocolate addiction?

The reality is dopamine has something to do with this but it’s not that simple, in fact dopamine affects how the brain decides whether a goal like chocolate, is worth the effort!

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) best known for its role in helping us to feel good. It is released during pleasurable situations and motivates us to seek out more pleasure.  So, you won’t be surprised to know that we release dopamine when we exercise, fall in love, eat sugar, drink alcohol or have sex.
However, dopamine isn’t just ALL about the good times. It has a diverse range of functions that include moderating mood, emotions and impulses, helping us to learn and pay attention, developing new motor skills as well as regulating blood flow, motility and gastrointestinal function.

This is one of the reasons that looking after your gut health, can also have a positive impact on your mental health and also why so many people get gastro-intestinal upset when they are stressed. Ever had the feeling of butterflies in your stomach?  These sensations from your belly are due to a communication system between your gut and brain. It’s called The Gut-Brain Axis.

The vagus nerve is a large nerve connecting your gut and brain, with the signal travelling in both directions, so stress can cause gastrointestinal problems and gastrointestinal issues can result in brain chemical imbalance.
You may be able to optimise your dopamine production through diet and exercise.

A well-balanced diet with adequate protein and not skipping meals are key factors to enhance dopamine levels.
Protein is necessary both for the production of dopamine and for dopamine transporters. These may include – Milk, cheese, unflavoured natural yoghurt, unprocessed meats, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Other healthy brain foods like those seen in a Mediterranean style diet are also beneficial – omega-3 rich fish such as salmon and mackerel, eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and dark chocolate.

As usual, it’s always best to reduce processed foods. Many of these choices are designed to keep you addicted to eating them.
While these suggestions are good in theory sometimes our personal situations are more complicated.  Addictions associated with dopamine (or with any other chemical or part of the brain) are often difficult to understand and manage alone.

Our experienced health care practitioners can support you in your journey.


Article written by: Lisa Strauss – Dietitian & Dr Judith Warner – Clinical Psychologist

To discuss managing your diet or lifestyle needs including mental health relating to food, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our health care professionals.