Dopamine: What It Is & What It Does
Have you ever heard someone say ‘I’m getting the feel-good’ moment here?’
It actually has a scientific name and explanation.
Your good mood, relax-feeling, pleasures and rewards are all relating to a specific neurotransmitter.
It is all associated to something called ‘dopamine’.
This blog will look into dopamine’s many roles and how we know when its levels are off.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is basically a neurotransmitter of the brain. It acts as a chemical messenger.
This chemical releases in the brain when you feel good, you expect an award or you feel completely content and at ease.
Sometimes when you are looking forward to something exciting happening in life, dopamine releases.
This can be looking forward to meet-ups, shopping, sex or anything that pleases you.
It plays a major part in how we sense moments of pleasure.
Your body spreads this chemical in four major ways in the brain.
And if this flow of passage is affected in some way, it can lead to health issues.
Dopamine In Movement
There is a part of the brain which is called basal ganglia. This regulates movement.
However for this organ to work properly, it needs to have a good amount of dopamine to function. The action of dopamine occurs via dopamine receptors, D1-5.
So How Does Dopamine Play a Role?
It reduces the influence of the indirect pathway.
While doing so, it then increases the actions of the direct pathway within the basal ganglia.
If your body is facing dopamine decline, the movements will become delayed and uncoordinated.
However if the opposite holds true, which means there is excess of dopamine, the brain will cause the body to make unnecessary movements, such as repetitive tics.
While it doesn’t act alone as it works with other neurotransmitters and hormones, there are many effects of dopamine:
- Maintains stable blood flow
- Helps in digestion
- Aims at executive functioning
- Focuses on proper heart and kidney function
- Strengthens your memory and focus
- Stimulates good mood and feel-good emotions
- Motor control
- Manages pain processing
- Pancreatic function and insulin regulation
- Pleasure and reward seeking behaviour
- Defines sleep patterns
- Looks into stress response
How Does Dopamine Make You Feel?
You need the right amount of dopamine to get into a good mood. It has many benefits of boosting your productivity and planning.
It can be thought of as a reward system that gives a strong boost to feelings of:
- Having Alertness
- Focus and Vision
- Motivational Insights
- Happiness and Excitement
The symptoms of a dopamine deficiency depend on the underlying cause. For example, a person with Parkinson’s disease will experience very different symptoms from someone with low dopamine levels due to drug use.
Since we now have a good understanding of the importance of dopamine in the body, let’s talk about how we can measure it in the brain to know if it’s in the right levels or no, as it impacts our mental health too.
A simple way to carry the diagnosis is by measuring the density of dopamine transporters that correlate with the nerve cells of dopamine.
A radioactive material is injected that binds to dopamine transporters.
Having low levels of dopamine can cause problems. Let’s look into all the signs and symptoms
Do You Have a Dopamine Deficiency?
A doctor will look into the symptoms, lifestyle issues and other factors which are associating to your low levels of dopamine.
Here are some signs and symptoms which relate to dopamine deficiency:
- Muscle cramps, spasms, or tremors
- Aches and pains
- Stiffness in the muscles
- Loss of balance
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Frequent pneumonia
- Trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep
- Having Low energy
- Inability to focus
- Moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- Feeling fatigued
- Feeling inexplicably sad or tearful
- Mood swings
- Having swings of hopelessness
- Feeling low self-esteem
- Getting a guilt-ridden state
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
- Low sex drive
- Getting hallucinations
- Lack of insight
How to Tell if you have Dopamine Deficiency?
Low dopamine is one of the reasons you may not be in the best mood
Therefore, you might have reduced alertness, difficulty concentrating, less motivation, poor coordination, and movement difficulties.
Lack of Sleep
Lack of dopamine can make you sleepy, however, not sleeping may also cause a reduction in the levels of dopamine.
According to a study, sleep deprivation can lead to a noticeable reduction in the availability of dopamine receptors in the morning.
Some of the conditions that occur due to low levels of dopamine are:
Parkinson’s disease: Symptoms are tremors, slow movement, and in some cases, psychosis.
Depression: Causes sadness, sleep problems, and cognitive issues.
Dopamine transporter deficient syndrome: Also known as infantile parkinsonism-dystonia.
This condition causes movement abnormalities, just like those of Parkinson’s disease.
What Happens When You Have Too Much Dopamine?
Where having very low levels of dopamine can be harmful, the opposite also holds true.
This means you may for a short period feel you are in a great state; you would feel you are on top of the world but this can also lead to putting you in serious overdrive.
It can lead to serious and harmful state of:
- state of constant alertness, not letting body to calm down
Also, too much dopamine can cause:
Effects of Drugs on Dopamine Levels
Certain drugs can interact with the levels of dopamine that become habit-forming.
These drugs include nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs with addictive qualities that activate the dopamine cycle.
These substances can cause a quicker and ar more intense dopamine rush that you will get from those double chocolate chip cookies.
It is such a powerful rush that you will be left wanting more and soon.
As a result, you will develop a habit, your brain responds by toning down the dopamine and you will need more of the substance to get the same pleasure.
Moreover, overactivation can also affect the dopamine receptors in the way that you lose interest in other activities and make you act more compulsively.
Thus, you are less and less able to resist using these drugs.
When it becomes more of a need than a want, it becomes an addiction and even if you try to stop, you might go through physical and emotional symptoms of withdrawal.
In some cases, exposure to the same substance again can trigger your desire and put you at risk of relapsing.
It is important to note that dopamine alone is not responsible for creating addiction, some other factors like genetics and environmental factors also play a role.
Ways to Boost Your Dopamine (Naturally)
We now hold a good understanding of what dopamine is.It is extremely important for our bodies for many functions.
Even for giving a boost to our motivation and good mood, it is essential.
While Dopamine levels can be well-regulated in the system itself, do you know there are a few things you can do to naturally increase its levels in the body:
Increase Protein Intake
Proteins are made of smaller building blocks called amino acids.
The amino acid ‘tyrosine’ is extremely important for dopamine production.
Did you know that enzymes within your body can very quickly turn tyrosine into dopamine?
Tyrosine comes from amino acid called phenylalanine.
And both of these super are naturally found in protein-rich foods.
Consume more of turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy and legumes.
Cut Down on Saturated Fat
If you consume certain saturated fats in large quantities, it affects the body heavily. It causes for the disruption of dopamine-signaling in the brain.
If you cut down on butter, animal-fat, palm oil and coconut oil, the results will be impactful.
According to certain research diets high in saturated fat may increase inflammation in the body, leading to changes in the dopamine system, but more research is still being done on this.
Consume More Probiotics
Recent studies are showing the amazing link between the gut and the brain.
Called the ‘second brain’, the gut consists of many neurotransmitters molecules which includes dopamine.
It has also been confirmed that there are species of bacteria in the gut which produce dopamine.
A study published by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that Alzheimer’s patients who took milk made with four probiotic bacteria species for 12 weeks scored better on a test to measure cognitive impairment compared with those who drank regular milk.
It has also been found that consuming in good amount, certain strains of bacteria help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in both animals and humans
Dopamine production also plays a role in how probiotics improve mood.
Work Out Often
To get your body in working mode has plenty of benefits. It is known that exercising helps to boost endorphin levels and improves mood.
You should aim to workout at least half an hour every day. According to research, it is has been proven that the working out boosts dopamine levels in the brain.
It has also been determined that regular exercise regime is also advantageous to people who have Parkinson’s disease
Music & Mediate
This will come as a pleasant surprise but music helps plenty. It stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain.
Listening to music can be a fun way to stimulate dopamine release in the brain.
According to a study, the effects of music on dopamine found a 9% increase in brain dopamine levels when people listened to soothing tunes that made them feel good.
Another simple yet helpful activity is meditation.
This means you clear your mind of negative, heavy thoughts.
It can be done by standing, sitting or simply by walking. It also helps to regulate ‘feel-good’ thoughts and put you in a better mood.
One of this chemical’s main advantages is that it gives you a feeling of alertness. It is released in high amounts when you wake in the morning.
And naturally so, these levels will drop at night.
But if you are experiencing lack of sleep, it causes to disrupt this natural cycle.
So if a person is forcefully staying awake at night, the next morning the available dopamine receptors are in less numbers.
It is therefore important that you have a regular and healthy sleeping schedule.
This will help to maintain the dopamine levels.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7–9 hours of sleep every night for optimal health.
Do you know there is actually a condition called SAD?
This is seasonal affective disorder condition in which people feel sad during the winter season as they are not getting enough sunlight.
Having low sunshine exposure causes for you to have limited levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
People who get the most sunlight exposure will get higher dopamine levels.
This improves your mood and overall well-being.
However, you need to make sure that the sun exposure doesn’t escalate to dangerous levels which can cause skin damage and risk of skin cancer.
In this blog, you have learned the many benefits and how crucial this chemical is to our existence.
Dopamine is extremely important in our lives.
It has a huge impact on our mood and pleasure.
This chemical plays the key role in the motivation-reward-reinforcement cycle.
While its benefits and uses are still being discovered, there is still so much to learn and understand about this chemical and how it’s impacting the body.
Stay tuned as we provide you the latest insights and discoveries about this chemical.