Symptoms and Causes of Low Dopamine



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What is Dopamine?

Dopamine
Photo credit: AJC1

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is essential for proper functioning of the brain and central nervous system. It is an excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter contingent to the dopamine receptor that it binds to. It is derived from the amino acid tyrosine, which is the antecedent to norepinephrine and epinephrine. The function of dopamine is varied, but it plays a large role in memory, the pleasure/reward pathway (addictions and thrills), and motor control.

Diseases Resulting from Low Dopamine Levels

1. Parkinson’s Disease: This disease is a progressive condition, generally age related, in which there is a gradual loss of brain cells that produce dopamine. Symptoms include stiffness, trembling, and rigidity in the hands, face, and body.

2. Restless Leg Syndrome: Disease that interferes with one’s ability to rest or fall asleep and is characterized by a crawling, tingling, or itching in your legs. According to researchers the most common cause of this is a low dopamine level as well as an iron deficiency.

3. ADHD: Dopamine affects attention. Reduced concentrations of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex are thought to contribute to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

4. Depression: Dopamine has an influence on our feelings and mood and reduced neurotransmission of dopamine is said to be related to depression. According to a March 2007 issue of “Archives of General Psychiatry, “ two causes of this are diminished release of dopamine from brain cells and the impaired ability of brain cells to transmit dopamine throughout the central nervous system.”

Low Dopamine Symptoms

With low dopamine levels, symptoms that may result are depression, loss of motor control, loss of satisfaction, cravings, compulsions, addictions, low sex drive, and poor attention and focus.

As outlined in a 2010 article in the Journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, there is another symptom of low dopamine that ties into many of these listed and that is “sensation-seeking behavior”. Individuals with low dopamine may seek out situations that will elicit an increase in dopamine. These may involve risk taking through drugs, sex, or other behaviors that produce strong sensations and also includes pleasure involved with eating certain foods. This can be scary in that many of these things can lead to addictive behavior, including compulsive food intake.

What Causes Low Dopamine Levels?

There are several factors that can cause lower than normal dopamine levels in the brain including stress, certain antidepressants, drug use, poor nutrition, and poor sleep. Luckily, many of these causes are well within our control, especially when it involves what we put into our body.

For the most part, we have control over what we eat. Poor nutrition can play a large role in low dopamine level symptoms because many foods consumed such as sugars, saturated fat, cholesterol and refined foods, interfere with proper brain function and can cause low dopamine. Caffeine and coffee should also be avoided as they initiate a spike in neurotransmitters but then cause dopamine levels to drop. Alcohol also restricts neurotransmitter function and produces a fictitious sense of security the user comes to rely on.

Foods that raise dopamine levels naturally are those rich in antioxidants, as they protect dopamine-using neurons from free radical damage. These include almonds, avocados, dairy products, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds, as well as lean cuts of meat, fish, and poultry. Bananas, a bit on the ripe side, and even with brown spots, also play a big role in raising dopamine levels because the enzymes responsible for turning a banana brown when it is cut or bruised produce dopamine.

Diets like the Paleo diet seem like a close to perfect fit for those trying to raise dopamine levels as they encourage followers to consume a diet that includes a generous amount of lean proteins, (ideally grass-fed meat, free range fowl, and wild caught fish), seasonal fruits and vegetables, high in antioxidants and nutrients, and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil). And completely eliminate all dairy products, grains, cereals, starchy vegetables, processed and refined foods and sugars, as well as soft drinks and even alcohol. Those with low dopamine would likely see results of increased dopamine levels following these guidelines. In fact, a 1991 study done by Columbia University showed that a diet high in antioxidants (such as the Paleo diet) can help slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and possibly reduce tremors.

Conclusion

Dopamine levels play a significant role in the way we feel, learn, move, and largely how we stay motivated. Many causes of low dopamine can be managed by modifying a few aspects of our life such as getting a good night sleep, avoiding drug and alcohol use and abuse, eliminating and dealing with stress where possible, exercising (which has proven to raise serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain to a certain extent), and of course by eating a diet rich in antioxidants, focusing on those foods listed, that are proven to raise dopamine levels naturally, many of which are found in the Paleolithic diet. Finding healthier means for raising dopamine levels naturally is imperative to help curb the possibility of developing addictive behaviors. It is always a good idea to consult your physician if you have questions and concerns about low dopamine.

Aitchison, Steven.(October 28, 2008). Restless Leg Syndrome. Retrieved on February 4, 2012 from http://ezinearticles.com/?Restless-Leg-Syndrome&id=1625063

Dopamine: Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine Levels. (2012) Retrieved on February 3, 2012 from http://www.integrativepsychiatry.net/dopamine.html

Dopamine. Retrieved on February 4, 2102 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dopamine

Jordan, TS. Paleo Diet Reduces Parkinson Tremors. Retieved on February 4, 2012 from http://www.ehow.com/way_5635865_paleo-diet-reduces-parkinson-tremors.html

LaRenzie, Alyssa. What Foods Boost Dopamine? Retrieved on February 4, 2012 from http://www.ehow.com/way_5527080_foods-boost-dopamine.html

Scientists Find Link Between Dopamine and Obesity. (February 1, 2001). Retrieved on February 3, 2012 from http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/2001/bnlpr020101.htm

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