What You Need to Know about Dopamine and Serotonin: Their Effects on the Brain

Have you ever felt the thrill of achieving a goal or the overwhelming feeling of happiness after a great meal or a workout? Or have you ever felt depressed or anxious for no apparent reason? All these feelings and emotions can be attributed to the two main neurotransmitters in our body – dopamine and serotonin.

In this blog post, we will dive deeper into what dopamine and serotonin are, their effects on the brain, how to test and increase their levels naturally, and much more. We will even debunk some myths including whether depression is a lack of serotonin or dopamine.

Introduction to Dopamine and Serotonin

Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters that help us regulate our emotions, motivation, pleasure, and reward. They play a critical role in various bodily functions, including our mood, sleep, appetite, and cognition.

When we experience something pleasurable, like eating a piece of cake, dopamine is released in the brain, which signals pleasure and reward. Similarly, when we feel happy, serotonin is released, which regulates our mood and promotes feelings of well-being.

Both of these neurotransmitters can be found in various areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens.

Dopamine vs. Serotonin

Although both dopamine and serotonin are critical to our emotions and the brain, they have different roles.

Dopamine is responsible for our motivation, reward seeking, and pleasure experiences. It’s also involved in learning, memory, and motor control. A lack of dopamine can cause symptoms of depression, low motivation, and fatigue. On the other hand, an excess of dopamine can cause impulsivity, addiction, and even psychosis.

Serotonin, on the other hand, is responsible for our moods, happiness, and well-being. It helps regulate our body temperature, blood pressure, and digestion. When there is a lack of serotonin, it can cause symptoms similar to depression, including low mood, anxiety, and sleep problems. An excess of serotonin can cause agitation, confusion, and even serotonin syndrome.

What Stimulates Dopamine and Serotonin?

There are many ways you can naturally stimulate dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain. Below are some proven methods:

Dopamine Boosters

  • Exercise: It can increase dopamine by up to 40%. Get moving to experience the mood-boosting benefits of exercise and movement.

  • Listening to music: Music has the ability to stimulate the reward center of the brain and increase dopamine.

  • Eating dopamine-rich foods: These include fish, eggs, lean protein, beans, and nuts.

  • Setting goals and achieving them: When you set and achieve goals, your brain releases dopamine, which can help increase motivation and drive.

Serotonin Boosters

  • Sun exposure: Exposure to bright sunlight can increase serotonin and boost your mood. Try to spend at least 10-15 minutes in the sun each day.

  • Eating tryptophan-rich foods: These include turkey, salmon, eggs, cheese, and nuts.

  • Mediation: Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can increase serotonin levels and reduce anxiety and depression.

  • Socializing: Interacting with others can increase serotonin levels and reduce loneliness.

How to Test Dopamine and Serotonin Levels?

Although there is no definitive way to measure dopamine or serotonin levels in the brain, some tests can measure the metabolites of these neurotransmitters in your urine or blood.

These tests include:

  • Urinary catecholamines: These test the metabolites of dopamine and adrenaline.

  • Serotonin blood test: This test measures your serotonin levels in your blood.

However, these tests only provide a snapshot of your brain’s neurotransmitters and may not be a reliable indicator of how your brain is functioning.

Is Depression a Lack of Serotonin or Dopamine?

One of the most common misconceptions is that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin. While some medications act on increasing serotonin in the brain to treat depression, it’s not the only cause.

Depression can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, environmental stressors, and even a lack of dopamine or other neurotransmitters.

Antidepressants That Increase Dopamine and Serotonin

Antidepressants can help increase dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain to treat depression and other mood disorders.

Some examples of antidepressants that increase dopamine and serotonin include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These are a class of antidepressants that block the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, leading to an increase in serotonin levels. Examples of SSRIs include Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Sertraline (Zoloft).

  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): These are another class of antidepressants that block the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Examples of SNRIs include Venlafaxine (Effexor) and Duloxetine (Cymbalta).

  • Dopamine-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (DNRI): These are a class of antidepressants that block the reuptake of both dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, leading to an increase in dopamine levels. Examples of DNRI include Bupropion (Wellbutrin).

Can You Take Serotonin and Dopamine Supplements Together?

Taking supplements for both serotonin and dopamine can be safe, as long as it’s done under medical supervision. However, it’s essential to note that taking supplements shouldn’t be a substitute for treating mood disorders.

Some supplements that can help increase dopamine and serotonin levels include:

  • L-Tryptophan: This is an amino acid that helps increase serotonin levels in the brain.

  • L-Tyrosine: This is an amino acid that helps increase dopamine levels in the brain.

  • 5-HTP: This is a supplement that helps increase serotonin levels in the brain.

Dopamine vs. Serotonin ADHD

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of children and adults worldwide. One of the main characteristics of ADHD is a lack of dopamine in the brain.

Studies have shown that medication that increases dopamine levels, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), can help improve ADHD symptoms. On the other hand, the role of serotonin in ADHD is less established.

Oxytocin and Endorphins

Oxytocin and endorphins are two other neurotransmitters that play a vital role in regulating mood and emotions.

Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” and is released during social bonding. It can also help improve trust, reduce stress, and promote feelings of relaxation.

Endorphins are natural painkillers that can help improve mood and reduce stress. They are often released during exercise, laughter, and other enjoyable activities.


Dopamine and serotonin are critical neurotransmitters that regulate our emotions, moods, and behaviors. Understanding how to keep them at healthy levels and identifying when they might be out of balance is essential to our well-being.

While medication can help treat mood disorders, natural approaches to increasing dopamine and serotonin levels, such as exercise, sunlight exposure, and socialization, can be a safe and effective way to improve our mental health.