Controlling Your Dopamine For Motivation, Focus & Satisfaction | Huberman Lab Podcast #39

Controlling Your Dopamine For Motivation, Focus & Satisfaction | Huberman Lab Podcast #39

Introduction & Tool 1 to Induce Lasting Dopamine (00:00:00)

  • The podcast focuses on the molecule dopamine, its importance in motivation, craving, satisfaction, and wellbeing.
  • Dopamine is related to addiction, driving our actions and decisions.
  • The podcast aims to debunk myths about dopamine often associated with dopamine hits.
  • The discussion includes information on the biology and psychology of dopamine, dopamine schedules, and how various substances and activities can change our dopamine levels.
  • An experiment from the European Journal of Physiology involving exposure of participants to different water temperatures revealed significant increases in dopamine. Increases were sustained post-exposure, emphasizing the power of behavioral activities in manipulating our dopamine levels.

Upcoming (Zero-Cost) Neuroplasticity Seminar for Educators (00:09:10)

  • An upcoming event, 'Rethink Education: The Biology of Learning – Reimagining Learning through Neuroscience,' sponsored by Logitech, is announced.
  • The free seminar focuses on neuroplasticity and its applications for teaching and learning. It is designed for educators of all kinds and occurs on September 30th, 2021.

What Dopamine (Really) Does (00:09:58)

  • Dopamine does not have hits. It, instead, has a baseline level that circulates continually in our body, influencing our mood and motivation.
  • Highly desirable experiences can cause dopamine levels to peak, but also lead to a reduction in the baseline level of dopamine afterward, not an increase as often believed.
  • Dopamine is the primary determinant of a person's level of motivation, energy, and their willingness to pursue things. It is called a neuromodulator as it influences many neurons at once.
  • Besides inducing pleasure, motivation, drive, and craving, dopamine modulates time perception, mindset, and feelings of accomplishment. It also plays a vital role in movement, the depletion of which can lead to shaky movements and associated psychological challenges, as seen in diseases like Parkinson's and Lewy bodies dementia.
  • Correct treatment for these diseases can lead to some recovery in movement and an uplift in mood and motivation due to the influence of dopamine.

Two Main Neural Circuits for Dopamine (00:15:30)

How Dopamine Is Released: Locally and Broadly (00:18:14)

  • Dopamine can be released in two different manners, locally and broadly.
  • Dopamine can influence a neuron at a very local scale via synaptic release or on a broader scale through volumetric release.
  • Dopamine's ability to function at both local and broad scales is crucial to understanding how increasing dopamine levels through drugs or supplements impacts both these types of release and influences motivation levels.

Fast and Slow Effects of Dopamine (00:22:03)

  • Dopamine communicates in a slower manner than most chemicals in the brain through G protein-coupled receptors. This type of communication results in a cascade of effects that can even influence gene expression.
  • This characteristic of dopamine underscores its two pathways and two spatial scales of operation, as well as its capability to have slow but long-lasting effects.

Dopamine Neurons Co-Release Glutamate (00:25:03)

  • Dopamine does not work alone. Dopamine neurons also release glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that stimulates other neurons to become electrically active.
  • Dopamine increases alertness and the desire to pursue external targets and ventures.
  • Dopamine is a crucial component in motivation, drive, and success tracking and can influence the quality of life. High levels of dopamine are associated with excitement and motivation, while low levels are associated with lethargy and lack of drive.

Your Dopamine History Really Matters (00:28:00)

  • Dopamine hit is often wrongly described as any enjoyable event or stimulation.
  • The effect of dopamine on motivation and enjoyment depends on individual's baseline level of dopamine and previous dopamine peaks.
  • Continuous engagement in enjoyable activities elevates our threshold for enjoyment.
  • The understanding of dopamine kinetics or schedules can help individuals enhance, control, and modulate their dopamine release for optimal motivation and drive.

Parkinson’s & Drugs That Kill Dopamine Neurons. My Dopamine Experience (00:30:30)

  • The illicit drug MPTP can lead to paralysis by disrupting dopamine transmission and destroying dopaminergic neurons; this effect is irreversible.
  • Personal experience of low dopamine levels due to Thorazine (an antipsychotic drug that blocks dopamine receptors) clarified the importance of maintaining balanced dopamine levels.
  • The health of dopaminergic neurons can impact motions, mood, and motivation, making fluctuations in dopamine levels a key influencer on our perception of life and capabilities.

Tool 3 Controlling Dopamine Peaks & Baselines (00:36:58)

  • Genetic factors and other neurotransmitters such as epinephrine influence baseline levels of dopamine.
  • Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is made from dopamine and drives energy levels in the brain and body.
  • Release of dopamine increases the pleasure and desire associated with an activity, while epinephrine influences the energy level. Together, they tend to influence our seek-out behaviors.

Chocolate, Sex (Pursuit & Behavior), Nicotine, Cocaine, Amphetamine, Exercise (00:40:06)

  • Different activities and substances increase dopamine levels in our body.
  • The average increase measured in dopamine after ingesting chocolate is 1.5 times the baseline level.
  • Both the pursuit of sex and the act of sex increase dopamine levels by two times the baseline.
  • Nicotine, specifically when smoked, increases dopamine 2.5 times above baseline.
  • Cocaine also increases dopamine levels to 2.5 times the baseline, while Amphetamine increases dopamine by a significant 10 times the baseline.
  • Exercise impacts dopamine levels depending on how much an individual enjoys the activity. Enjoyable exercise can double dopamine levels, while disliked exercise may result in no increase.
  • Engaging more with an activity, thinking about it, or assigning a subjective experience to something could increase its dopamine-releasing properties.
  • Rewards given after the activity could undermine the dopamine release that would otherwise occur for that activity.
  • Subjective activities like exercise, studying, working through a challenge depend on personal perception for their degree of dopamine release.

Tool 4 Caffeine Increases Dopamine Receptors (00:46:46)

  • Caffeine modestly increases dopamine to some extent, less than substances like chocolate, sex, nicotine, cocaine, and amphetamine.
  • Regular ingestion of caffeine increases the density of dopamine receptors, making the body able to experience more of dopamine's effects.
  • Combining different substances or behaviors leads to bigger dopamine increases.
  • Consuming energy drinks before workout for increasing dopamine, however, if overdone, could result in a significant drop in motivation, drive, and overall energy.

Pursuit, Excitement & Your “Dopamine Setpoint” (00:49:54)

  • Dopamine had an integral role in human evolution as the driving force behind the need to seek essential resources for survival, such as food, water, and social connections.
  • Dopamine functions in two primary ways: it provides a baseline level which is the normal state of the individual, and it causes peaks or increases which motivate the individual to perform or seek activities for satisfaction.
  • After achieving a goal or a satisfying a seeking behaviour, dopamine levels do not remain at their peak; they return back to baseline levels, often reducing to a level lower than before.
  • This temporary decrease in dopamine level below baseline is proportionate to the peak increase, causing a dip in mood and motivation - an effect observed after achieving significant milestones or engaging in activities of enjoyment repetitively.
  • Continued indulgence in activities resulting in significant dopamine peaks can lead to a decrease in the derived enjoyment due to a reduced dopamine response - this phenomenon is also associated with addiction.
  • The key factor in maintaining motivation and joy from activities is to manage the dopamine setpoint, which ensures a healthy, consistent level of dopamine in the system.

Your Pleasure-Pain Balance & Defining “Pain” (00:56:46)

  • Addiction expert Dr. Anna Lembke's books "Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence" and the "Molecule of More", explains the concept of a pleasure-pain balance driven by dopamine levels.
  • The pleasure from an activity or substance results in a dopamine surge. The subsequent 'pain' or withdrawal feeling is actually caused by a drop in dopamine levels, as the dopamine reserve depletes post-activity.
  • Dopamine release relies on synaptic vesicles, which contain the readily releasable dopamine. This ready reserve gets depleted after a surge in dopamine, resulting in a drop in dopamine levels and creating the sensation of pain or longing.
  • Therefore, the pleasure-pain balance does not solely hinge on the amount of dopamine release, but also on how much dopamine is readily available for release in the system.

Addiction, Dopamine Depletion, & Replenishing Dopamine (01:00:00)

  • Huge increases in dopamine lead to severe drops in baseline dopamine, which can initiate addictive patterns. These patterns can range from substance abuse to excessive video game playing, which constantly seek dopamine release by repeating the same behavior.
  • As dopamine levels decrease, it usually leads to loss of interest in other life aspects such as school, relationship, fitness and eventually inducing depressive states.
  • Dopamine levels can also be depleted subtly through engaging in various activities throughout the week that evoke dopamine release, such as work, intense exercise, food, and alcohol. This "work hard, play hard" lifestyle may lead to generally low energy levels and difficulty deriving pleasure from anything.
  • To replenish dopamine levels, it's necessary to disengage from constant dopamine-elevating activities. An example provided was a young adult addicted to video games who achieved better concentration and overall mood after fasting from all digital platforms for 30 days.
  • Misdiagnosis of ADHD can occur due to this type of dopamine depletion, demonstrating the importance of understanding the relationship between dopamine levels and lifestyle choices.
  • Limiting interactions with dopeamine-triggering activities or substances, potentially with the help of a tapering plan, will prevent further drops in dopamine baseline and promote its replenishment.

Tool 5: Ensure Your Best (Healthy) Dopamine Release (01:07:50)

  • Engaging with dopamine-releasing activities in a healthy way is crucial.
  • Frequent high levels of dopamine release from activities should not be the aim, intermittent reward schedules are healthier.
  • Casinos and social media platforms follow intermittent reward schedules to keep users engaged.
  • The principle of intermittent reinforcement should be implemented in regular activities like sports, relationships, work, etc.
  • Avoiding frequent high peaks in dopamine helps to prevent crashes and maintains a healthy baseline level.
  • Activities should sometimes be carried out without adding extra dopamine enhancers; this helps to prevent developing an excessively high dopamine release condition.
  • To sustain motivation for activities of any duration, the key is to ensure the dopamine peak doesn’t occur too often, and the dopamine level varies with each engagement with the activity.
  • The amount of dopamine and excitement achieved from engaging in activities should be modulated intermittently.
  • A possible method for modulating dopamine release is to flip a coin to decide if other dopamine-inducing elements will be included in the activity.

Smart Phones: How They Alter Our Dopamine Circuits (01:15:28)

  • Digital devices, like smartphones, can disrupt or lower baseline dopamine levels.
  • Constant interaction with digital technology while doing other activities not only leads to distraction but also depletes the baseline dopamine enjoyment level.
  • The reduction in motivation and pleasure from activities can be reversed by limiting use of such devices during those activities.
  • It might be hard to not use phones during activities, but the practice will lead to increased appreciation and enjoyment of those activities.
  • The practice of avoiding multiple sources of dopamine release during specific activities not only enhances the enjoyment from the activity but also imparts a deep satisfaction of understanding the biological mechanism.

Stimulants & Spiking Dopamine: Counterproductive for Work, Exercise & Attention (01:19:45)

  • Caution is advised against using stimulants every time one studies, works out, or engages in an activity that they want to continue enjoying and staying motivated at.
  • Caffeine is an exception as it can upregulate D2, D3 dopamine receptors, making dopamine more accessible and functional within the brain and body.
  • Energy drinks and pre-workouts can cause substantial dopamine release, which over time depletes the dopamine levels and reduces satisfaction and joy from activities engaged in under their influence.
  • Continual use of stimulants can lead to challenges with motivation and drive related to those activities.

Caffeine Sources Matter: Yerba Mate & Dopamine Neuron Protection (01:22:20)

  • Use of caffeine can upregulate dopamine receptors.
  • Yerba mate, a source of caffeine, has been shown in a few studies to be neuroprotective, specifically for dopaminergic neurons; it has favorable effects on managing blood sugar levels and is high in antioxidants.

Caffeine & Neurotoxicity of MDMA (01:24:20)

  • While caffeine has benefits, it can also be dangerous when used with MDMA (ecstasy); It has been shown to increase MDMA receptor toxicity.
  • This effect is due to caffeine's ability to increase the density and efficacy of dopamine receptors, which MDMA significantly boosts.

Amphetamine, Cocaine & Detrimental Rewiring of Dopamine Circuits (01:26:15)

  • Amphetamine and cocaine, which both greatly increase dopamine, can cause long-term issues with dopaminergic pathways.
  • A 2003 study showed amphetamine and cocaine limit the ability of subsequent experiences to promote structural plasticity in the brain, impairing the brain’s ability to learn and modify itself.

Ritalin, Adderall, (Ar)Modafinil: ADHD versus non-Prescription Uses (01:27:57)

  • Drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, Modafinil, and Armodafinil, which lead to large increases in dopamine, can improve symptoms for people with ADHD.
  • Non-prescription, non-clinical use of these compounds might block neuroplasticity in a similar way to cocaine and amphetamine due to the significant dopamine increase they trigger.

Tool 6 Stimulating Long-Lasting Increases in Baseline Dopamine (01:28:45)

  • Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, plays a crucial role in feelings of pleasure, motivation and overall satisfaction.
  • In addition to consumable items that can increase dopamine, there are activities that can promote sustained increases in this neurotransmitter without the negative effects tied to those consumable items.
  • Among these activities are so-called cold exposures, a trend popularized in recent years by Wim Hof, better known as the "Iceman". This involves subjecting oneself to cold water in various forms like cold showers or ice baths, which can increase dopamine levels.
  • Cold water exposure as a form of therapy dates back to the 1920s and possibly long before, intended to enhance the immune system and boost feelings of wellbeing.
  • Safety parameters must be considered, such as avoiding water temperatures that could induce cold water shock. Acclimating to colder water temperatures gradually is recommended.
  • Various physiological changes are triggered by immersion in cold water, including immediate increases in adrenaline and noradrenaline. Dopamine levels, on the other hand, rise slowly but can reach levels as high as 2.5 times above the baseline, and it may take up to three hours to return to baseline.
  • The temperature of the water will determine the extent of stress hormones released, like cortisol. Techniques to manage stress may include relaxation techniques or distracting activities.
  • Importantly, the dopamine release continues even after you get out of the cold water.
  • Extended periods of very cold exposure (e.g., an hour) need to be approached with caution due to risks of hypothermia.
  • Research corroborates that cold water exposure can stimulate norepinephrine release immediately, along with a sustained dopamine release, which can elevate dopamine baseline for substantial periods of time.
  • The frequency of cold water exposure can vary according to personal preference—daily, thrice a week, or occasionally.
  • Over time, as a person becomes acclimated to cold water, the novelty wears off and it can cease to trigger increased dopamine release.
  • Notably, cold water exposure is a nearly cost-free activity, requiring only access to water, and offers a safe, non-pharmacological method to trigger long-term increases in dopamine. However, it's important to proceed with caution and safety in mind.

Tool 7 Tuning Your Dopamine for Ongoing Motivation (01:37:55)

  • Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, plays a significant role in our perception of rewards and motivation. Its regulation can impact the way we approach hard work and discipline.
  • A classic experiment conducted at Stanford showed that when children, who enjoyed drawing for its own sake, started receiving rewards for drawing (like gold stars), they began to associate less pleasure with the actual activity. Once the reward was removed, their desire to draw reduced considerably. This highlights the difference between intrinsic motivation (drawing for pure enjoyment) and extrinsic motivation (drawing for a reward).
  • This principle also extends into our adult lives, with dopamine affecting our perception of time and how we associate rewards with effort. When a reward or goal is placed at the end of a task, we tend to focus less on the effort and enjoyment of the task itself, and more on the end goal.
  • This mindset not only makes the task appear more difficult and less enjoyable, but it also can lead to a decreased efficiency at the task, and a reduced inclination to return to it in future.
  • The 'Growth Mindset', a concept developed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, encourages the focus to be on the effort itself, and sees striving for betterment as the end goal. Achieving this mindset involves learning to access rewards from effort and doing.
  • Training the brain to associate friction and challenge with an internal reward system, focusing on the effort rather than the end goal, can lead to an increased release of dopamine during the task. This, in turn, can enhance our energy and focus, and make the task more enjoyable.
  • Spiking dopamine before and after engaging in effort can disrupt this process. Instead, it's recommended to train oneself to derive the dopamine spike from the effort itself.
  • Notable figures such as David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL, are recognized for being able to turn effort into reward, demonstrating the practical application of this concept.
  • This ability to derive pleasure from effort and challenge is a powerful aspect of our dopaminergic system, which can be harnessed to improve our propensity for hard work, discipline, and motivation.

Tool 8 Intermittent Fasting: Effects on Dopamine (01:47:40)

  • Intermittent fasting is a way to associate dopamine with effort and deprivation rather than food reward.
  • Fasting increases dopamine levels, as the brain responds more strongly to the reward of food after a period of deprivation.
  • Frequent fasters often report mental clarity and enjoyment during fast periods, suggesting they have learned to derive dopamine release from the act of fasting itself.
  • This is in line with the concept of dopamine being linked not only to primitive rewards like food and sex, but also to what each individual decides is good and beneficial to them.

Validation of Your Pre-Existing Beliefs Increases Dopamine (01:53:09)

  • Hearing something that reaffirms one's pre-existing beliefs can trigger dopamine release, showing how subjective interpretation impacts our dopamine pathways.

Tool 9 Quitting Sugar & Highly Palatable Foods: 48 Hours (01:53:50)

  • Our sense of pleasure from food is influenced by dopamine, and can be affected by our prior consumption of sweet or savory foods.
  • Consuming highly palatable processed food can desensitize our dopamine receptors, making whole foods taste bland.
  • However, refraining from highly palatable food for as little as two days can make humble foods like broccoli taste delicious – this reinstates dopamine's "baseline."

Pornography (01:55:36)

  • Accessibility and intensity of pornography can negatively influence real-world romantic and sexual interactions due to its high dopamine release.
  • An overindulgence in activities that heavily stimulate dopamine can reduce the relative dopamine reward received from subsequent, less intense activity.

Wellbutrin & Depression & Anxiety (01:56:50)

  • Some people with depression find relief with Wellbutrin (bupropion), a drug that increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels - offering an alternative to serotonin-boosting drugs, which can have undesired side effects.
  • However, Wellbutrin can increase anxiety due to dopamine and norepinephrine's stimulating effect, and may disrupt healthy eating habits due to elevated alertness.
  • Dosages of Wellbutrin should be carefully determined with a doctor.
  • The drug is also useful for those aiming to quit smoking.

Tool 10 Mucuna Pruriens, Prolactin, Sperm, Crash Warning (01:58:30)

  • Macuna Pruriens, a supplement available over the counter in the U.S., is a direct precursor to dopamine.
  • Consuming it can cause large, intense spikes in dopamine levels.
  • Studies have shown it can reduce Parkinson's disease symptoms similarly to l-DOPA and can blunt prolactin, a hormone.
  • It has been shown to improve sperm concentration and quality.
  • While it can lead to desirable effects like increased motivation and alertness, it can also cause a decrease in dopamine levels after its initial effect wears off.

Tool 11 L-Tyrosine: Dosages, Duration of Effects & Specificity (02:01:45)

  • L-tyrosine, an amino acid precursor to l-DOPA, is another way to increase dopamine levels without prescription drugs.
  • Consuming L-tyrosine can increase energy, alertness, and focus.
  • The effect of increased dopamine peaks around 30 to 45 minutes after ingestion and then decreases to the baseline.
  • L-tyrosine should be avoided by individuals with pre-existing dopaminergic conditions such as schizophrenia, psychosis, and bipolar disorder.

Tool 12 Avoiding Melatonin Supplementation, & Avoiding Light 10pm-4am (02:05:20)

  • Maintaining healthy dopamine levels might require avoiding supplementation of melatonin and bright lights between 10 PM to 4 AM.
  • Melatonin can decrease dopamine levels around 60 minutes after consumption.
  • Looking at bright lights during the late-night hours can decrease dopamine levels for several days.

Tool 13 Phenylethylamine (with Alpha-GPC) For Dopamine Focus/Energy (02:07:00)

  • Consuming Phenylethylamine or PEA, found in foods such as chocolate, can increase synaptic levels of dopamine.
  • It's often used as an aid for intense work or focus sessions.
  • Consumed with Alpha-GPC, it causes a sharp but transient dopamine increase lasting 30 to 45 minutes.

Tool 14 Huperzine A (02:08:20)

  • Huperzine A is gaining popularity as a supplement that increases transmission of acetylcholine and dopamine in the medial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.
  • While the host of the podcast has not tried it personally, Huperzine A is predicted to become more popular for stimulating dopamine release along with L-tyrosine, PEA phenethylamine, and Alpha-GPC as non-prescription alternatives to stronger dopamine-boosting drugs.

Social Connections, Oxytocin & Dopamine Release (02:10:02)

  • Behaviors and social interactions directly stimulate the dopamine pathway, establishing a connection between oxytocin and social connection.
  • For many years it was understood that oxytocin belonged to the serotonergic pathway, which is associated with feeling good with what we have in the present moment.
  • A paper published in 2017 showed that oxytocin, social connection, and pair bonding trigger dopamine release.
  • It is important for the evolution of species to seek social connections, and this realization makes sense in light of these new findings.
  • Social connections that evoke oxytocin release could be romantic, parent-child, friendship related or even distant friends.
  • It is not necessary to have skin contact to release oxytocin.
  • Engaging in quality, healthy social interactions is important as it stimulates the dopamine pathways.

Direct & Indirect Effects: e.g., Maca; Synthesis & Application (02:12:20)

  • The focus has been on things directly related to the dopamine pathway and the stimuli that directly stimulate these pathways.
  • There are also things that indirectly serve the dopamine pathways, such as Maca root and the gut microbiome, which create an environment for dopamine circuits to thrive.
  • Examples such as Maca root indirectly increase dopamine levels through reducing cortisol.
  • While these are indirect effects and rather subtle compared to direct methods, they are nonetheless important.
  • Other methods like cold water exposure can lead to significant and sustained increases in dopamine.
  • The most important takeaway is that these dopamine pathways are under your control and influence future levels of dopamine.
  • Understanding these mechanisms and tools can help you gain control over your dopamine system and modulate your dopamine levels to serve you best.

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