Dr. Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist and assistant professor at Stanford School of Medicine. His podcast, Huberman Lab, explores brain states like stress and fear as well as the capacity of the brain to adapt structurally and functionally.
In episode 39 of the Huberman Lab, Dr. Andrew introduces the audience to the science of the brain chemical dopamine. He discusses what dopamine is and isn’t, how to use habits to control dopamine levels, and much more!
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is the deciding factor in the human body that governs motivation, drives, and cravings. It is a neuromodulator present in the brain.
Neuromodulators are different in function than neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters govern the dialogue between two neurons. However, neuromodulators control larger neural circuits, i.e., they influence more than one neuron.
There are two pathways in the brain that dopamine uses to exert its influence. One of them is responsible for reward, motivation, and craving. This pathway gets disrupted in case of substance abuse and addictions. The other path influences movements.
The effect of dopamine on the body takes longer to click in. Furthermore, it can stay for long periods and affect gene expression.
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Tonic and Phasic Levels of Dopamine
The tonic level of dopamine is an optimum level of dopamine circulating continuously in the human body. Phasic levels highlight the peaks of dopamine release.
Generally, the level of baseline dopamine in different people is regulated by gene components to some extent.
While craving and experiencing something desirable, the dopamine levels in the body come down. Drugs and supplements that induce phasic levels of dopamine make it harder to sustain it over long durations. This is because they increase the baseline levels.
Modulating Levels of Dopamine
According to Dr. Andrew, the core concept is the baseline and peak dopamine. The key is to avoid chasing dopamine peaks while performing certain activities. Expectations drive actions toward undesirable behavior (e.g., gambling).
To modulate dopamine levels, try changing the flow of activities. If the action is performed in groups, try doing it alone. Reduce the usage of stimulants like pre-workouts, energy drinks, etc., before participating in an activity.
Dopamine controls the perception of time. If the only pursuit for engaging in an activity is a reward, the time will feel longer as no dopamine is released during the effort. Associating rewards with actions is an excellent way to modulate dopamine levels.
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The Huberman Lab podcast stresses how dopamine lies at the center of all types of addictions. Dr. Andrew defines dopamine as a currency used to measure success and pleasure. Every motivation and drive is relative to the amount of dopamine associated with that particular activity. The podcast also discusses cold water therapy to increase dopamine levels. However, proper consultation with professionals is required to begin with it.
The key takeaway is that a person’s dopamine history is vital in deciding their ability to experience pleasure and happiness. Let us know your takeaways from the podcast in the comment section.
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