Can You Boost Your Dopamine And Serotonin With Food?

Neurotransmitters are a class of chemicals that are naturally produced in the body and serve a wide range of essential functions (via StatPearls). By enabling communication between neurons in the body, neurotransmitters play a role in health, development, and many essential day-to-day functions in the nervous system. For example, neurotransmitters help the brain regulate attention, breathing, digestion, hunger, and sleep — among many other functions (per Medical News Today).

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in several critical bodily functions that range from emotion and learning to reward and motor control (per StatPearls). Dopamine may also contribute to processes of attention, motivation, and even sleep (per Cleveland Clinic). Serotonin plays a role in the regulation of anxiety, mood, sexuality, and pain, among other essential functions. For example, serotonin influences gastrointestinal activity (per American Psychological Association). Astoundingly, nearly 95% of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut. While there is no foolproof way to optimize your neurotransmitters, some habits — like diet — may play a role (via Medical News Today).

Dopamine and serotonin diets

In 2006 doctor Judith Wurtman published the book "The Serotonin Power Diet." Since then, other neurotransmitter-focused diets — like the dopamine diet — have entered media coverage. These types of diets work by focusing on foods that are rich in certain amino acids that may contribute to the product of a given neurotransmitter.

Healthline says that the dopamine diet works by focusing on the consumption of food rich in tyrosine or phenylalanine — two amino acids that play a role in dopamine production. As such, foods rich in those amino acids — like beef, eggs, turkey, and soy — help make up the dopamine diet. On the other hand, the serotonin diet promotes foods rich in tryptophan — like salmon, spinach, and seeds — the amino acid that contributes to the production of serotonin (via Medical News Today). Notably, carbs are an essential part of the serotonin diet, as they may help the tryptophan become available in the brain. Both diets share some common foods like eggs, soy, and turkey. 

But do these neuro-diets actually work? While a 2007 study in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience says that high-protein foods alone will not boost serotonin, a 2022 study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that low doses of a hydrolyzed egg protein dietary supplement can "positively impact mood or stress." On the other hand, a 2019 study published in Psychological Research found a correlation between the consumption of tyrosine-rich foods and cognitive performance.