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What Is Dopamine and Why Is Dopamine So Important?
By definition, dopamine is a simple neurotransmitter with the classification of the catecholamine and phenethylamine families. That statement makes this oh so important hormone seem so simple and small.
But, it’s not. If your body and brain are without dopamine, we can live in a dull grey world. Dopamine depression is horrible and pervasive.
On top of that, if you are low in dopamine, your body does not function right. Dopamine controls the start of motion and speech. The dopaminergic system regulates our pleasure and pain, reward and punishment, and motion. Other than depression and fatigue, dopamine effects our muscles most. If our dopamine levels are low, it leads to depression, pain, additional risks, and many other health problems.
Fortunately, it is fixable and we’re going to show you what dopamine can do and what options are out there to fix it.
Chemical Structure of Dopamine
Dopamine only works when the dopamine receptors are working as well. The dopamine pathways lead from the production sites to the receptors via the blood and lymph. If there is too much dopamine in your system, or it is in a form that is not usable, then the receptor sites close off and become less sensitive to dopamine. If there is too little, receptor sites could either atrophy and cause further problems, or increase their sensitivity causing dangerous spikes and drops.
Parkinson’s disease is a problem with dopamine. The dopamine precursor Levodopa is a medication that is helping Parkinson’s patient as it helps to increase dopamine in the brain.
The Role of Dopamine
Dopamine is produced in primarily two centers of the brain: substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area. Additionally, most endocrine organs, the kidneys, and most cells throughout the body have the ability to produce dopamine, but at a much lower rate.
Transported by the blood in the body dopamine facilitates the start of motion and speech. In the brain, it is responsible for the reward centers: high levels of dopamine equal feeling euphoric. These are the primary functions of dopamine. Dopamine receptors are located throughout the brain in heavy concentrations and throughout the rest of the body in moderate concentrations.
The hardest part of dopamine is that it is so short lived in people. Dopamine synthesis is a matter of seconds. It can affect the body in a matter minutes, with 5 minutes being average. Dopamine is metabolized in 2 minutes to nothing, although dopamine antagonists and blockers can stretch this to an hour. Some of the medications used to help people with deficiency are dopamine reuptake inhibitors and antagonists. These dopamine antagonists are safe, but may be addictive.
Fortunately, you have control over your levels naturally. While your level of dopamine is partially determined by your family history, your long term production of dopamine is not genetic. You can control them with diet, herbs, and lifestyle habits.
One of the odd questions we received is about dopamine crossing the blood brain barrier (BBB). Technically, dopamine cannot cross the barrier because of its structure. However, because it is a hormone and the precursor is an amino acid, the protein channels move the molecule across the barrier through active transport. Additionally, dopamine is produced in the brain, so there is no need to cross the barrier.
Deficiency is much more common than overload. Some of the low dopamine symptoms include:
Just like there are many symptoms, low dopamine has many causes. The top among them are:
In the brain, dopamine affects memory, learning, mood, ADHD, and anxiety through not providing the excitability and stimulation the body needs. As dopamine is depleted, the body has a difficult time beginning motion. This includes all motion, but most felt upon when a person moves after a period of rest. The body just doesn’t seem like it want to go.
Serotonin can affect the body and brain in the same ways. Depending on your issues, it is difficult to determine whether dopamine or serotonin is better. This is why we don’t recommend supplementing on your own. We have a great article here on serotonin. Keep reading below on how to increase your dopamine levels.
Dopamine feels good and we can become addicted to anything that causes our dopamine levels to rise. Dopamine causes addiction by needing more and more of the stimulus in order to get the same high.
This chemical is making us happy by stimulating the pleasure centers of our brains. Dopamine works on addiction by causing the high, which we enjoy, and its lack causes depression, which we don’t enjoy. Over time, the dopamine no longer makes you happy, and it causes an obsession with being happy. And that’s not happy at all.
The addiction to the dopamine rush affects behavior by driving the addict to stronger and more potent forms of the addiction. Withdrawal is hard because of the depression.
Dopamine Affecting Appetite
There is no doubt we take pleasure in food. It was the first pleasure. Dopamine plays a part in both hunger and satiety.
When we are hungry, our blood sugar gets low, or we lose weight too fast, ghrelin and neuropeptide Y stimulate the body to seek out food. These hormones also stimulate dopamine production. Eating is pleasurable and the types of food we eat are pleasurable.
Conversely, insulin and leptin suppress appetite and dopamine production. Being too full or having high blood sugar creates non-pleasurable sensations.
Unfortunately, when people eat poor foods (sugar, grain, and chemical rich) and are overweight or obese, these hormones are thrown out of balance. We could become too addicted to food and eat too much.
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Proper dopamine production is necessary for weight loss. Focusing more on fruits, vegetables, and non-processed foods is key to balancing dopamine and losing weight. Eating enough to feel full without over eating is key to trigger dopamine production in order to feel satisfied.
How Dopamine Affects Sleep
Dopamine isn’t necessary for sleep, but it is necessary for waking up properly and feeling awake during the day. If you are half asleep during the day, chances are you won’t sleep well at night.
Studies have found that one of the dopamine receptors that are responsible for wakefulness and alertness are blocked or inhibited in people who are fatigued and depressed. Antipsychotic drugs (used in mania cases) do the same thing. By removing the inhibition, people are able to sleep better.
Dopamine production in the morning is slightly higher as people wake up. In people who do not experience this boost, waking can be difficult.
A poor diet that is overloaded with processed foods and too much sugar have been named as culprits of this issue.
Dopamine and the Heart
Dopamine directly stimulates the heart to beat faster and harder. This means that dopamine can increase low blood pressure, increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels and stimulate a heart that is failing.
During an episode of heart failure or cardiac arrest, dopamine is among the mix of medications that are given. This can stimulate the heart long enough for normal function to be restored. Because dopamine has a short half-life, it does not cause long term effects.
Dopamine is used in hypovolemic shock, as well. In this case, there is not enough blood in the body to sustain normal function. The dopamine and other chemicals constrict blood vessels and cause the heart to beat harder. It helps emergency workers sustain a person long enough for a blood or IV transfusion to raise the volume of blood.
Conversely, a lack of dopamine can cause hypotension. The body and heart can become too relaxed. If your dopamine production is balanced, it will not cause your pressure to be too high or too low. But, with a poor diet, it could exasperate already existing problems.
Mental Disorders and Problems and Dopamine
As primarily a brain based hormone, dopamine can affect schizophrenia, anxiety, your emotions, depression, and especially Parkinson’s disease.
Dopamine controls the start of the motor function. The shaking and controlled motions in Parkinson’s patients is directly related to low dopamine production. These people are unable to start or control the proper muscles needed for movement. Some muscles work and others don’t.
People who have schizophrenia and anxiety are characterized by inhibited dopamine receptors rather than low dopamine levels. Medications that reduce the inhibition help stabilize mental states. While long term and heavy use of marijuana decreases dopamine production, it seems that the cannaboid receptors in the brain help utilize dopamine and can stabilize mood and anxiety. More research is needed before this possible link is confirmed.
When it comes to depression, dopamine controls the happiness and reward centers of the brain. With low levels, a person is not able to feel happy, which is depression. More often, it is not low dopamine that is the problem, but an imbalance of all the hormones in the brain. That is why it is necessary to be under a doctor’s supervision before using supplements that stimulate any particular hormone production.
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Dopamine and Sex
Low dopamine = low libido. Dopamine effects testosterone and testosterone controls dopamine. When the system functions normally, both are at effective levels. When one is low, the other is low.
This applies to men and women. Women, who have naturally lower levels of testosterone, seem to be affected more. The depression that occurs with low dopamine levels has a great impact on sex. There is just no desire and when there is desire, there is a physical lack that can cause dry vagina, dulled or hypersensitive nipples, flagging erection, and a distracted mind.
Dopamine’s Influence on the Renal System
The kidneys produce some dopamine in order to inhibit the reuptake of sodium from the urine. This is important since high levels of sodium cause many health problems. Dopamine is also used in the treatment of renal failure and renal perfusion. Both of these conditions require a doctor’s supervision.
Dopamine affects the kidneys more than that. It helps to increase the blood flow through the kidneys and facilitates the removal of water products into the urine.
In excessive quantities, dopamine can cause kidney failure and excessive electrolyte removal. Do not supplement dopamine or tyrosine if you have kidney issues without the supervision of a doctor.
Dopamine and Other Hormones
We’ve mentioned a few times that dopamine levels are dependent on other hormone levels. This is very true. Dopamine directly impacts:
In most cases, when dopamine is increased, so are many of these hormones. But, when disease hits, the body reacts in abnormal ways. An increase in dopamine could decrease others. For example, supplementing the precursor of dopamine tyrosine can cause hyperthyroidism and in the long term the opposite hypothryroidism.
Because it effects hormones, dopamine can reduce pain. The happy feeling can cancel out pain, but doctors warn that this is one of the fastest methods of addiction. Self-medication, even natural, is highly addictive.
Too Much Dopamine
In our society, too much dopamine is not a common problem. Generally, it comes from already existing neural problems or over-supplementation. If your dopamine levels are too high, that generally signals that levels of other hormones are too low. This is one of the reasons we recommend talking to your doctor about taking supplements; you could overdose and make things worse.
If you are looking to decrease high levels of dopamine, doctors usually prescribe antipsycotic drugs. They work well, but have nasty side effects. Antipsycotic drugs are correlated with violence, including being a part of over 90% of all mass shooting and violent attacks.
Natural methods work much better without the side effects. Foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates stimulate the production of serotonin, which counters dopamine production. We want you to be careful of this: too many carbohydrates for too long will cause diabetes.
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The supplements 5-HTP *, l-tryptophan, melatonin *, and St John’s Wort * have been known to reduce the production of dopamine. Be sure to talk to a nutritionist or herbalist before taking these supplements, as they have their own problems if not taken correctly.
Some of the high dopamine symptoms and side effects include:
We need good levels of dopamine. One of the reasons manufacturers place tyrosine (dopamine precursor) in supplements is that good levels of dopamine enhance mental acuity, memory retention, and learning abilities. However, these good effects are negated when levels become too high and the delusions and anxiety do not allow learning to take place.
What Effects Dopamine Levels
Everything you do and eat effects your levels of dopamine, but there are some things that are more effective than others.
First, as we mentioned in previous sections, your level of serotonin will conversely effect the level of dopamine in the body. You can have both high and low levels of both, but more often you will have one at a normal level and the other depressively low. Unfortunately, trying to stimulate the one neurotransmitter without knowing your levels, cause of the problem, or which one is even low could lead to your symptoms getting worse.
Nicotine increases dopamine by 200%, cocaine affects dopamine raising it 400%, and amphetamines affect dopamine the best raising it 1,000%. This is why people become addicted to things that are clearly bad for the body.
Marijuana affects dopamine by causing it to rise. However, some versions barely change your levels, like medical marijuana, while illegal street versions could double and triple your levels. We do not recommend using marijuana without a doctor’s supervision because of the chances of contamination and inconsistent stock.
Caffeine also affect dopamine positively. It raises the level of dopamine in the brain, although we have found that addiction to caffeine inversely correlates to the levels of dopamine. Also, withdrawal from caffeine could cause a drop in dopamine that makes a person very cranky, but is not dangerous.
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Alcohol both increases and decreases the effects of dopamine. It depresses the long-term production of dopamine. However, the immediate effects of alcohol stimulate dopamine production for a short period of time. This is why some people become violent, obnoxious, or outgoing when they drink. The effects are amplified in people under the age of 25 and become worse the younger a person is.
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Medications can both stimulate and depress the effects of dopamine. Antidepressants fall under the categories of dopamine promoters, inhibitors, and uptake promoters and inhibitors. There are too many interactions to name. If you have questions about whether your medication is affecting your dopamine levels, contact your doctor or pharmacist.
Adderall effects the dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters in the brain differently. It increases all neurotransmitters, acting as a stimulant for those with hyperactivity disorders. In people without hyperactivity, it acts as a depressant, lowering the values.
And, of course, foods and herbs will affect dopamine levels. For the most part, natural fruits, vegetables, and herbs will stimulate the correct production of dopamine and help balance the levels of serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters.
Some will stimulate some neurotransmitters more than others, which is why we recommend rotating your food choices to include as many different foods as you can. That way, you make sure you are not overdoing any particular one.
Dopamine Deficiency Treatment
Treating a dopamine imbalance is a tricky undertaking and should only be done under the guidance of a doctor.
If you try increasing your dopamine without drugs, you could cause a more serious imbalance. However, beginning to eat a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables will only increase your health and begin to balance your levels.
Most doctors will recommend a good diet as a foundation. Then, they will determine who needs dopamine supplementation or other medications. Most of the medications will not increase dopamine, but will block reuptake or balance out the other neurotransmitters.
Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine
Like we’ve been saying, start with eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to balance out your dopamine and other neurotransmitters. It is better for the body to produce its own dopamine, than get it through supplementation. It is also better to gently stimulate production.
First, you should test your dopamine levels prior to any supplementation. If the problem is not with dopamine, you could make the problem worse by stimulating dopamine production.
Then, work with your foods and drinks. Drink only pure water, with lemon or lime juice added for flavor. By reducing your sugar intake, you help stabilize your serotonin and dopamine levels. Then, add in 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
There are no foods that contain dopamine, but many of them contain the precursors. Food that are higher in protein stimulate the production of dopamine. Meats, nuts, whole grains, leafy greens, and fatty fruits and vegetables (avocado, etc) are best. Of the herbs, oregano, rosemary, and turmeric are good.
We don’t recommend direct supplementation of dopamine. These enhancing supplements are not proven safe. Yes, they can increase dopamine levels, but you should only do this under the direction of a doctor.
Fortunately, using herbs and foods is safe for everyone and will allow your body to adjust naturally.
Exercise and yoga have been shown to balance and stabilize dopamine. Activity in general helps promote dopamine production, and exercise that raises your heart rate balances dopamine and serotonin.
Music, meditation, and art are also activities that promote serotonin production and balance dopamine production. You get a dual boost in mood enhancement with these activities.
Sunlight is an important part of dopamine production. Vitamin D * is produced from sunlight and important in the synthesis of dopamine. Also, research is showing that just being in the sunlight can increase our production of dopamine and serotonin.
Where to Buy Dopamine Supplements
You may not be able to get pure dopamine in supplement form. The biggest problem will be that the stomach acids destroy this molecule, so you don’t get any benefit.
What you will find is L-Tyrosine *, a precursor to dopamine. There are also many herbs and medications that can stimulate the body to produce more dopamine naturally. We recommend talking to your doctor before you take any of these supplements.
There are dozens of manufacturers online to buy dopamine precursor supplement. We recommend this source: