Enhancing Dopamine for Resilience

by Jodi Cohen

Your biochemistry can impact your resilience.

More specifically, neurotransmitters, like dopamine, help spark the chemical messengers that keep you alert and on task. Dopamine in particular has a biological connection to motivation, focus and resilience.

Dopamine is known as the pleasure-and-reward neurotransmitter that helps create a feeling of enjoyment and a sense of reward and accomplishment when we get something done in order to motivate performance and build positive habits.

It’s the chemical messenger that supercharges your brain’s ability to create, stay focused, pay attention and complete projects with extreme efficiency.  It helps you feel motivated, energized, happy, alert, and in control. Dopamine helps fuel resilience and support pleasure, arousal, movement, mood and executing activities.

As you are likely to repeat behaviors that lead to dopamine release, it can also play a role in addictive behaviors.  On the flip side, low dopamine correlates with feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and depression.

A deficiency in dopamine has been found to present as difficulty handling stress, focusing and finishing tasks, a lack of concentration, poor motivation, and general apathy.  Other indications including self-isolation and self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.  Research found that long-term, low dopamine or poor dopamine signaling can result in hand tremors, slowness of movement and pre-Parkinson’s symptoms.

Drugs like cocaine or amphetamines elevate brain dopamine levels by inhibiting dopamine reuptake or increasing the activity of dopamine neurons.   This dopamine enhancing activity is the underlying mechanism by which these drugs produce heightened arousal and attention in addition to euphoric feelings of well-being.

How Dopamine Works in the Brain

Dopamine begins kicking in before you obtain rewards, meaning that its real job is to encourage you to act, either to achieve something good or to avoid something bad.

Essentially, dopamine affects how brain decides whether a goal is worth the effort.  If  your brain recognizes that something important is about to happen, dopamine kicks in.  Researchers found that spikes in dopamine occur during  moments of high stress — like when soldiers with PTSD heard gunfire.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University correlated dopamine levels with resilience by mapping the brains of “go-getters” and “slackers.” They found that people willing to work hard had higher dopamine levels in the striatum and prefrontal cortex — two areas known to impact motivation and reward. Among slackers, dopamine was present in the anterior insula, an area of the brain involved in emotion and risk perception.

Similar research from Brown University assessed the role of dopamine in influencing how the brain evaluates whether a mental task is worth the effort by measuring natural dopamine levels while choosing between memory tasks of varying difficulties. More difficult mental tasks were rewarded with more money and those with higher dopamine levels in a region of the striatum called the caudate nucleus were more likely to focus on the benefits (the money) and choose the difficult mental tasks. Those with lower dopamine levels were more sensitive to the perceived cost, or task difficulty.

The participants next completed experiments after taking an inactive placebo, methylphenidate, or sulpiride—an antipsychotic medication that, at low doses, increases dopamine levels. Increasing dopamine boosted how willing people with low, but not high, dopamine synthesis capacity in the caudate nucleus were to choose more difficult mental tasks. It did this by changing their cost/benefit sensitivity.

The results from these experiments reflected the findings for natural varying dopamine levels.

To gain more insight into the decision-making process, the researchers tracked the participant’s eye movement as they reviewed information about task difficulty and the amount of money they would receive. Their gaze patterns suggested that dopamine didn’t alter their attention to benefits vs costs. Rather, it increased how much weight people gave to the benefits once they were looking at them.

These finding suggests that Ritalin and similar drugs may work by acting on motivation rather than directly boosting cognitive function. For those with lower dopamine levels, boosting dopamine can affect the mental cost-benefit analysis so that they focus more on reward than cost. That, in turn, increases their willingness to attempt harder tasks.

How Dopamine Makes You Feel

Dopamine helps you know exactly what you want and how to get it. It helps you access your most self-confident, rational, self-aware, critical thinker

Dopamine helps you focus intently on the task at hand and take pride in achievement. It enhances your strategic thinking, masterminding, inventing, problem solving, envisioning, and pragmatism.  You may feel overly alert or need less sleep than other people. Dopamine also support the following:

  • Reward and pleasure centers.
  • Attention and Learning
  • Sleep and Overall Mood
  • Behavior and Cognition
  • Movement and emotional responses.
  • Enabling us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.
  • Voluntary movement, motivation and reward.
  • Inhibition of prolactin production (involved in lactation).

Dopamine also plays an important part in morning wakefulness.  Research finds that dopamine inhibits norepinephrine’s melatonin producing effects and shuts off melatonin production in the morning when the brain needs to awaken

Excessive dopamine can lead to excessive risk-taking behaviors and impulsive actions, like reckless driving, shoplifting, violence or over-control of others.

A dopamine deficiency may present as mental challenges like distractibility, lack of follow-through, memory loss or forgetfulness, poor abstract thinking, slow processing speed. Attention issues,  like ADD/ADHD, decreased alertness, failure to finish tasks, hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, poor concentration, may also correlate with low dopamine.

A dopamine deficiency can also contribute to physical issues like low energy, fatigue, sluggishness anemia, balance problems, blood sugar instability, carbohydrate cravings, decreased strength, or digestion or thyroid problems.  Dopamine deficiency can present as emotional challenges like anger, aggression, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, depression, pleasure-seeking behavior, stress intolerance, social isolation, mood swings, procrastination, self-destructive thoughts.

Low dopamine levels that occur when trying to kick an addiction contribute to the challenge.  Research finds that the more severe the addiction is the more blunting of dopamine receptors is present.


Signs of Poor Dopamine Function

Depleted dopamine can result in a variety of issue in various systems in the body. Early warning signs are loss of energy, fatigue, sluggishness, memory loss, or depression.  Other early symptoms include:

  • Hard time self-motivating
  • Cravings for chocolate
  • Easily distracted
  • Shiny object syndrome (easily distracted)
  • Not feeling fulfilled when you accomplish a task
  • Looking for quick fixes
  • Addictive tendencies (Alcohol, drugs, work, exercise, emotional eating, social media, gambling, shopping)
  • Having a hard time focusing and staying on task
  • Self sabotage
  • Self-isolation
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Feeling tired in the morning
  • Having a shorter temper than usual
  • Don’t feel like going out but feel good when you do

You can find a full list of dopamine and other neurotransmitter attributes at Braverman Personality Test.


Essential Oils to Enhance Dopamine for Resilience

Plants and their concentrated essential oil essences have been shown to help support healthy levels of neurotransmitters, like dopamine.

In a 2013 article, researchers at Xiamen University, China, reported, “Most studies, as well as clinically applied experience, have indicated that various essential oils, such as lavender, lemon and bergamot can help to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. Most notably, inhalation of essential oils can communicate signals to the olfactory system and stimulate the brain to exert neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin and dopamine) thereby further regulating mood.”

Inhaling the appropriate essential oils can communicate signals to the olfactory system and stimulate the brain to release neurotransmitters that help regulate your mood. For example, research explained in an article in Current Drug Targets entitled “Aromatherapy and the Central Nerve System” found that smelling bergamot, lavender, and lemon essential oils help to trigger your brain to release serotonin and dopamine.

Essential oils which help to balance the dopaminergic system include immune modulating essential oils such as oregano, thyme, lavender, rosemary, and lemon which are contained in Immune Support™ blend. Research found Lemon™ oil to reduce anxiety and boosts both serotonin and dopamine. Other essential oils that positively impact dopamine and/or serotonin include clary sage, cedarwood, eucalyptus globulus, roman chamomile and orange.

Remedies must be able to cross the blood-brain barrier to modify your brain’s neurotransmitter response. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin lack the necessary transport mechanisms to cross the blood-brain barrier, while lipid-soluble essential oil molecules do not.


Which Essential Oils Enhance Dopamine?

Research touts essential oils like Rosemary, Oregano and Thyme for increasing brain dopamine and Clary sage for modulating of dopamine.   The research “findings indicate that clary oil could be developed as a therapeutic agent for patients with depression and that the antidepressant-like effect of clary oil is closely associated with modulation of the dopamine pathway.”

Clove Oil, one of the key ingredients in the Parasympathetic™ blend, may enhance dopamine.  Research suggests that the chemical compound eugenol, found in clove oil, enhanced dopamine in animal trials.  The benefit of “eugenol treatment” was powerful that its “usefulness for the treatment of Parkinson disease” was noted.

Parasympathetic™, applied behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone, can help improve gut motility and combat biofilms.  Similarly, applying the oils on the small intestine point located in the right hand at the heel of your palm, straight across the bottom.

You can also use Vibrant Blue Oils to support the areas that deplete dopamine.  More specifically, essential oils can be used to support:

Blood Sugar Imbalance: Healthy and balanced blood sugar levels support heathy levels of dopamine in the brain.  Since dopamine is too big a molecule to cross the blood–brain barrier, it must be manufactured in the brain. What this means is that tyrosine needs to be shuttled across the blood–brain barrier. This transport mechanism depends on balanced insulin and blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance and low insulin levels, in particular, are known to throw dopamine levels out of balance.  Blood Sugar Support Kit and Pancreas™ blend in particular, can help balance blood sugar.

Stress:  When you are under stress, your body requires fight or flight chemicals known as adrenaline and noradrenaline (catecholamine’s). These chemicals are derived from dopamine (dopamine is a precursor to make the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and epinephrine). This means that when you are under stress, you break down dopamine in order to make stress hormones.

Over time, high stress can deplete dopamine reserves.  This happens when dopamine secreting cells get overwhelmed with stimulus to produce dopamine and begin to shut down, effectively reducing your ability to produce stress hormones on demand. Stress Support Kit, and Adrenal™, Hypothalamus™ and Parasympathetic™ blends can help support stress. (More here) https://vibrantblueoils.com/3-ways-to-re-wire-your-brain-to-reduce-stress/

Protein Digestion: In order to produce dopamine, you need to both consume adequate amounts of protein in your diet and good stomach acid and digestive function to supply your body with the building blocks it needs to make dopamine. When you consume (and properly digest) dietary protein, it is broken down into amino acids. Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine, which converts into dopamine through a series of biochemical steps. Tyrosine can also be made from the amino acid phenylalanine.

Other essential nutrients like iron, copper, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin B9 and magnesium are required to make dopamine. If you are deficient in these nutrients you will not be able to produce adequate amounts of neurotransmitters.  Parasympathetic blend can be supportive in supporting protein digestion.

Restful Sleep:  Sleep improves neurotransmitter production and receptor activity.  When we sleep, our brain flushes out the neurotransmitters, repairs receptor sites and regenerates neurotransmitters to be used the next day.

Healthy Gut Microbiome: Stealth infections and bacterial overgrowth, like Clostridium difficile, contributes to poor dopamine metabolism.  Essential oils like peppermint and ginger help improve the overall constitution of the gut microbes.

Digest™ blend contains not only Ginger and Peppermint, but also Anise, Fennel, Juniper and Tarragon, all of which are known to calm the digestive track.  Rub clockwise around the belly button as needed.  In addition, studies show that several of the oils in the Immune Support™ blend, including oregano, thyme and Eucalyptus, have antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties. These attributes help protect the gastrointestinal system, which houses the majority of the immune system.   For example, studies show that thymol, an active component found in thyme oil, provides exceptional protection against bacteria associated with biofilms. Thymol is believed to disrupt biofilm formation and reduce infection intensity by limiting chemical communication between specific microorganisms in a large collection of biofilms. A study also found that thymol can bind with a key gene that supports the strength and resiliency of biofilms, helping to reduce the virulence of biofilms.

Similarly, Oregano oil, which contains carvacrol, which significantly inhibits biofilm formation without inhibiting immune function.  Carvacrol has been shown to inhibit antibiotic resistant bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi and may help reduce the strength and mobility of biofilm-related substances, helping to prevent the spread of biofilms. This research has inspired patients to consume oregano essential oil internally.  I do not advise taking essential oils internally, unless you are under the care of an experienced practitioner.

Immune Support™, when applied on the bottom of the feet or diluted over the small intestine may help alleviate biofilms and support your immune system in healing from recurrent and difficult to treat infections.


Featured Oils:

Ready to get started? Click the links below to order today:


Boost The Brain Book Promotion

About The Author

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.

Leave a Reply

to Vibrant Blue Oils

Subscribe to Vibrant Blue Oils and receive weekly information on oils and how to use them. As a bonus, we’ll send out Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils to your inbox immediately!

to Vibrant Blue Oils

Subscribe to Vibrant Blue Oils and receive weekly information on oils and how to use them. As a bonus, we’ll send out Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils to your inbox immediately!