Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and a hormone. As a neurotransmitter, it transmits nerve signals through a synapse. Like other hormones, dopamine helps to send messages throughout the body. This means that it plays a key role in the brain's ability to send certain nerve signals.
Dopamine plays an important role in many functions such as motivation, reward, learning, movement, memory and much more. Lack of dopamine is associated with numerous diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and addiction. However, dopamine deficiency itself is not a medical diagnosis. In addition, there is no evidence that supplements that promise to increase dopamine levels offer any measurable benefit.
Lack of dopamine is associated with numerous diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and addiction.
Dopamine: How it works, what it does
Dopamine, like other neurotransmitters, helps to transmit nerve signals to a synapse. It sends messages that can support feelings of pleasure and motivation. It also supports learning and working memory, allows for coordinated movements and can play a role in attention and concentration.
Dopamine is produced in the middle brain, in two separate areas called the segmental region and nigra. Damage to these areas of the brain can affect dopamine production. A person may also develop symptoms of low dopamine when their body does not respond properly to dopamine. Drugs that inhibit dopamine uptake allow the brain to access more dopamine, possibly reversing some forms of dopamine deficiency.
Bupropion, a noradrenaline and dopamine reuptake inhibitor, raises dopamine levels in the brain. It is a popular smoking cessation therapy that doctors also prescribe for the treatment of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Dopamine is included in the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines. It can cure several life-threatening conditions, including dangerously low blood pressure and heart failure, especially in newborns.
Signs of low dopamine
Dopamine affects many brain functions and physical symptoms, so low dopamine signs can be very different. Some of them include:
- Problems with motivation or concentration
- Working memory issues, such as the difficulty of remembering the first part of a phrase, once a person has spoken
- Restless legs syndrome
- Shaking hands or other terrors
- Changes in coordination
- Low sexual drive
- Unable to feel pleasure from past activities
- Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hearing voices or believing things that may not be true
- Symptoms of dementia, such as problems with executive function, short-term memory, managing daily tasks or solving simple cognitive problems
Depending on the affected brain systems, one's lifestyle, genetics and myriad other factors, low dopamine may manifest very differently from person to person. For example, addiction, depression and dementia are associated with low dopamine.
Age, health status, brain injuries and chronic medical conditions can change dopamine levels. Thus, a person who has normal dopamine at one point in his life may later be affected by health problems associated with dopamine.
Low dopamine is not a medical diagnosis, and doctors rarely check dopamine levels. To treat low dopamine, doctors first examine the symptoms and then evaluate a person to determine the correct diagnosis. The treatment is based on the specific condition a person has. Even when a person has low dopamine, raising dopamine levels is not always the right treatment. People with Parkinson's disease may take some form of dopamine to help with movement disorders, while those with depression may use serotonin-targeted antidepressants.
Dopamine and mental health issues
Many mental and neurological health conditions are associated with dopamine issues. Drugs and alcohol temporarily flood the brain with dopamine. The pleasant sensations that cause this can encourage a person to continue searching for addictive substances. Over time, however, the person increasingly needs the addictive substance to get the same dose of dopamine. When stopped, their brains may temporarily produce less dopamine, increasing the risk of relapse.
Other mental health and neurological problems that may occur in people with low dopamine include:
- ADHD and executive dysfunction
- Parkinson's disease
Too much dopamine can also damage the brain. Mental health researchers have long believed that excessive dopamine in the brain can lead to schizophrenia. Research at this point is mixed and has in no way been proven to cause the situation. Because both an overdose and a very small dose of dopamine can be harmful, however, it is important not to self-medicate or self-diagnose a dopamine-related issue.
How to increase dopamine
Diagnosis of dopamine deficiency is difficult. Although a blood test can measure dopamine levels in the blood, it cannot assess how the brain responds to dopamine. Some diseases can cause a person's body to not produce dopamine transporters. Thus, most doctors do not control dopamine levels, and instead diagnose a person based on symptoms.
A person who thinks they may be deficient in dopamine should see a doctor, as the undesirable dopamine causes are treatable. If a person does not have a diagnosis of the disease, they may wish to try natural remedies that increase dopamine. There is no documented evidence that a supplement, food or other preparation may increase dopamine. Some small studies have found a link between vitamin D, omega-3 supplements or magnesium and dopamine, but more research is needed to prove this theory.
Some healthy lifestyle strategies can help to safely increase dopamine. They include:
- Activities that one enjoys, such as gardening, reading or playing with a pet
The treatment can help a person manage the symptoms of low dopamine. In treatment, a person can learn to better manage the symptoms of an illness such as Parkinson's disease, support their needs, and manage challenges such as low motivation and depression. Find a therapist to start the healing process.
- Brisch, R., Saniotis, A., Wolf, R., Bielau, H., Bernstein, H., Steiner, J., Bogerts, B., Braun, K., et al. (2014, May 19). The role of dopamine in schizophrenia from a neurobiological and evolutionary perspective: Old, but still in fashion. Borders in Psychiatry, 5, 47. doi: 10.3389 / fpsyt.2014.00047
- Cadman, B. (2018, January 17). Dopamine Deficiency: What You Need to Know. Medical news today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320637.php
- Dopamine. (n.d.). US National Library of Medicine Retrieved from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Dopamine
- Dopamine reuptake inhibitors. (n.d.). Science Direct. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/dopamine-reuptake-inhibitors
- Dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome. (2019, September 10). US National Library of Medicine Retrieved from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/dopamine-transporter-deficiency-syndrome
- How addiction threatens the brain. (2011). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain
- Martorana, A., & Koch, G. (2014, September 25). Is dopamine involved in Alzheimer's disease? Borders in aging neuroscience, 6, 252. doi: 10.3389 / fnagi.2014.00252
- Symptoms of dopamine deficiency. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.anftherapy.com/brain/symptoms-of-dopamine-deficiency
- List of WHO basic drug models. (2017). World Health Organisation. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/medicines/publications/essentialmedicines/20th_EML2017.pdf?ua=1
© Copyright 2019 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The previous article was written only by the author named above. Any opinions and opinions are not necessarily expressed by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the previous article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.