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What is Dopamine and how it fixes Depression, Anxiety, Insomnia and other Mental Health problems

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

What is Dopamine?

There are around 80 billion neurons in your brain, all are working together in communicating basic bodily functions with one another. To send signals from one neuron to another, neurotransmitters are required, one such neurotransmitter is dopamine. Dopamine is associated with the pleasure feeling in our body, it is also known as the ‘feel good hormone’. Whenever you feel rewarded or pleasured, your body secretes dopamine in the space between neurons to give you that feeling.

To make dopamine, an amino acid called tyrosine changes a precursor dopa (a compound found in our nervous tissue) into dopamine. Dopamine constitutes to only 1% of all the neurotransmitters, yet its role is pivotal in keeping our mental health in check.

Role of Dopamine in Mental Health

The ‘feel good hormone’ is responsible for all the reward seeking activities that we do, whatever we do that gives us pleasure is associated with secretion of dopamine in our body. Normally you wouldn’t notice but as the levels get too high or too low you’d notice the difference. As it is associated with the reward system of our body, healthy amounts of secretion gives us motivation and a feeling of satisfaction which in turn helps us focus. However if there’s too much dopamine secretion, the receptors eventually get less sensitive and you need more dopamine than required to achieve pleasure. This is when problems like addictive behavior causing mental issues start to take in place, like:

  • Eating disorders

  • Self-injury

  • Compulsive sex behaviors

  • Any kind of addiction

There is also a direct relation between depression and dopamine deficiency, people having lower dopamine levels may feel the following issues:

  • Fatigue

  • Trouble focusing

  • Mood changes

  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances

  • Anxiety

  • Lack of motivation

  • Feeling of guilt and hopelessness

Prolong abnormal dopamine levels can also cause these chronic mental illness

  • Schizophrenia

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Autism

  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

  • Drug Abuse

Precautions and remedy

To keep your mental health in check, maintaining proper levels of dopamine is of prime importance, too low or too high levels can impact your health impacting the way you feel, learn and behave. Here are a few ways you can keep dopamine levels in check.

1. Eat Food rich in Tyrosine

Tyrosine is an amino acid which acts as a precursor to make dopamine in your body. Study has shown us that eating foods rich in tyrosine helps in producing dopamine in your body, reversing the effects of deficiency. Some of the food rich in Tryosine are:

  • pastured eggs

  • organic dairy products

  • nuts and seeds

  • beans and legumes

  • whole grains (like quinoa and oats)

  • some protein powders

2. Getting Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep promotes the production of this neurotransmitter in our body. When we get up in the morning our dopamine levels are high promoting us to get up and go on with our daily work. By night, the dopamine levels fall low, triggering us to sleep and recuperate the body with the some rest. Maintaining proper sleep cycle helps regulate healthy production of this neurotransmitter in our body.

Everyone requires different sleeping hours depending on their body. You must have noticed by now that you feel fresh the most when you sleep a particular amount of time, not less not more. Observe your sleep pattern to find when you feel most active, make a schedule and stick to it.

3. Exercise

Ever wondered why you feel so good about yourself after a workout, yoga or some cardio, well your body produces dopamine to make you feel more energetic, focused and happy. Induce some form exercise in your daily routine, not only it will keep your body health in check but will also make you happy and feel good about yourself.

4. Practice meditation and Act of Kindness

Our body produces more dopamine when we meditate or do yoga, this is because these activities reduces stress and elevates good feelings about yourself. Similarly, helping someone out or any act of kindness also makes you feel good about yourself, these activities improve dopamine regulation and maintains good mental health.

5. Use Supplements

There isn’t any supplement to increase your dopamine levels, however there are few supplements which can help boost dopamine levels in your body naturally. Here are some of them :

  • Vitamin D : Studies have shown that Vitamin D modulates the dopamine circuits in our brain, taking these supplements have shown to support treatments of Drug addiction and dopamine-dependent behaviors

  • Probiotics : Probiotics help you with digestion, the better digestion system you have, more active and productive you are throughout the day, thus it is important to have a healthy gut to promote healthy levels of dopamine in your body.

  • Curcumin : A compound found in turmeric is known to increase serotonin and dopamine levels in body. However turmeric contains only 2% curcumin by weight, that might not be much to make any profound effects. There are also curcumin isolates available in the market.

  • Mucuna Pruriens : Mucuna Pruriens aka kaunch ke beej (in hindi) or Velvet beans, are known to have high levels of L-Dopa (Compound to make Dopamine). It is used in Ayurveda to treat Parkinson’s Disease.

Health Benefits

Studies indicate that dopamine plays a role in many brain, behavioral and body functions, including:

  • memory

  • learning

  • attention

  • behavior and cognition

  • voluntary movement

  • pain processing

  • motivation

  • sense of reward and punishment

  • heart rate

  • blood pressure

  • sleep and dreaming

  • mood

  • lactation

  • electrolyte balance

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