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Dopamine is a very ubiquitous neurotransmitter that regulates memory, motor control (physical movement and coordination), and of course, pleasure/reward circuits. IT can be either excitatory or inhibitory, depending on the location in the brain and the types of dopamine receptors it is binding to. It’s basic building block, the amino acid tyrosine, is also a building block for other neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and epinephrine. They are all part of a group called catecholamines. They are stored in the vesicles of the axon terminal of the nerve cell.
We need adequate dopamine amounts in order to be able focus, especially in the moment and on the task in hand (attention deficit is at least in due to low dopamine levels, remember). Dopamine is also the main player in keeping our reward circuitry and pleasure center in check (hence the possible addiction from dopamine level abnormalities).
Both too much and too little of dopamine can cause significant clinical issues. Greatly elevated levels are called a “dopamine storm”, and can be associated with hallucinations, delusions, agitation, mania, and frank psychosis. Fortunately this state is quite rare, but it constitutes a clinical emergency. Having too little dopamine, oppositely, is quite common and one can go years without it being identified, let alone treated.
When you have low dopamine levels, it can lead to depression, loss of motor control, loss of satisfaction, addictions, cravings, compulsions, low sex drive, and poor attention and focus. Now when dopamine levels are too elevated, you can end up having anxiety, paranoia and hyperactivity.
Here are symptoms of too little dopamine:
If you have quite a few of these symptoms, you may have low dopamine; we suggest you test your dopamine levels with the NeuroAdrenal Profile test. All it is is a simple urine test.
For our office-based patients, we usually will recommend the NeuroAdrenal Profile test. It is a very comprehensive assessment of your neurotransmitter levels as well as your general adrenal function. We may use this panel if your clinical picture (such as profound fatigue and foggy thinking) or personal history (such as trauma, chronic stress, pain, fibromyalgia, PTSD, chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammation) suggest a likely component of adrenal fatigue or exhaustion.
Related Products (always talk with your primary care physician first)
Stress, certain anti-depressants, drug use, poor diet and sleep can all deplete dopamine. Dopamine activity in the brain seems to be increased from alcohol, caffeine, and sugar (though these are often incredibly temporary increases).
Food sources that can increase tyrosine, and thus dopamine, include almonds, avocados, bananas, dairy products, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
Dopamine is a chemical that oxidizes very easily. You may want to eat foods that are high in antioxidants to help protect the dopamine-using neurons from free radical damage. Many healthcare professionals recommend supplementing with vitamin C and E, and other such antioxidants.
Foods like sugar, trans fat, cholesterol, and refined foods interfere with proper long-term brain function, and (while they may seem to increase dopamine levels very temporarily) they will lower dopamine levels overall. Reducing trans fat and cholesterol is also a good idea as it can clog the arteries leading to the brain, heart and other organs.
People with depression may also benefit from lowering or eliminating caffeine. It is a temporary stimulant that will only increase neurotransmission, serotonin levels, and thus mood in the short-term. But it may inhibit it overall.
The precursors to dopamine consist of many different types of specific amino acids. Because of our modern diet or our brain just not best being able to utilize them to the best they could, neurotransmitters may not be supplied in sufficient amounts. Stress then can further deplete the supplies. In addition to an improved diet, dopamine supplements may be helpful to creating a healthy balance in the brain. Dopamine supplements can increase dopamine naturally with little to no side effects (always talk to your doctor though before taking any supplement).