On the Dopamine System
Dopamine is the chemical in your body and brain that is responsible for the feeling of “being rewarded”. It is a catecholamine, which is derived from tyrosine. Catecholamines are also responsible for hunger signaling — when you have a lot of catecholamines in your system, you feel less hungry. Thus when a lot of dopamine floods your system, you also feel less hungry. That may be a problem — when you can spend 8 hours playing a PC game and you seriously do not feel any hunger, because you have overstimulated brain.
A problem occurs when you have too many rewards for not doing anything (i.e. playing games, watching Game of Thrones, listening to music, eating sugar, drinking coffee…) — essentially anything low effort, high reward. Then your brain adapts to it, and it no longer accepts anything that is high effort and low immediate reward, like studying or paying the bills. In your brain’s “priority list” those tasks get shoved literally to the bottom.
The reward system controls everything. If you don’t feel rewarded for doing something then you just don’t like doing it, that is simple biology.
Dopamine is also important in emotion processing. One thing you could do to reset your dopamine system is to go through a dopamine challenge. For one month, do not do anything rewarding and nothing that is not productive. No music, no movies, no Youtube, no reddit, no games, no masturbation, no sex…. Just dull your life down. Then the brain dopamine receptors start to grow again and you will start to feel that even the previously dull tasks are rewarding. And the food starts to taste better.
Ways to help your dopamine system
L-Tyrosine is a supplement, a precursor from which is the dopamine created in the body. I am not sure if it can cross the hematoencefalic barrier (blood/brain), but the L- in the front hints as much. You need the vitamin B6 for it to work tho — it acts as a bottleneck. If you don’t have enough B6, you can’t use the tyrosine properly. Spirulina is an awesome source of B6. So if you chug a glass of spirulina potion in the morning, and take 1g of L-tyrosine at noon, you should feel some effects.
Coffee also helps the dopamine system, but a crash comes after. Also it messes up your stomach acids, effectively crippling your digestive system, which in turn harms your brain in the long term — because the body adapts to the elevated acid in your stomach and starts creating less of it. When it creates less of it, your digestion gets worse => undigested food in the large intestine => leaking through the gut into your body => liver has to take care of it => filtering toxins creates bilirubin which then slows your neural pathway signaling, slowing the speed of your thinking. So careful with that. The caffeine in coffee also binds to your adenosine receptors, so you feel less sleepy.
Matcha tea is a great alternative to coffee. It contains both caffeine and L-theanine, which carry each other to greater lengths. And they don’t crash!! Matcha tea is a form of green tea, which is about 5 times more potent than classic green tea. You can also buy the L-theanine in pill form and safeguard yourself from the coffee crash with it and also prolong coffee’s effects.
Rhodiola Rosea is a good enhancement of matcha tea — it is a Himalayan root that when coupled with matcha tea makes wonders for your mind. Sometimes it even may feel like weak effects of Ritalin.
Physical activity is one of the most effective dopamine system renewal methods. You are evolutionary wired to be a hunter, thus to enjoy physical activity (after the “startup period of suck”). Same goes with cold showers — just willingly step out of your comfort zone, and the hidden and cowardly receptors will step out of their comfy homes, and you will start to feel the life more vibrantly again.
Meditation is another awesome way to fix your broken dopamine receptors. Maybe the second most effective after physical activity. Ask Thuch Quang Duc if he screamed or even moved when he self-immolated in Saigon in 1963. Nope, he did not. Years of meditation made his mind so focused and detached from the physical pain of his body, that he was able to do this without feeling the flames.
Note on the Mind-Body connection and other psychological aspects
Now let’s dive into the psychosomatic aspect of the dopamine system. Recently I read a very interesting thought about the dopamine receptors being modulated by real life circumstances.
See, if you have very little rewards in your life, or you are doing something that you hate (therefore you have no rewards from it) — be it school, your job… Then your body, of course, adapts. Your DNA is constantly changing (it is a myth that DNA is static throughout life), and if your brain sees that you do not get any big rewards, why would it keep the reward system depleting the energy it can use elsewhere?
You would need to go through some pretty drastic changes to revert this way of thinking and make yourself to enjoy life. And make the dopamine receptors grow again — they will starts to grow in proportion to how much you are enjoying your life.