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Lack of dopamine: which supplement should you take?

Dopamine is a hormone that affects motor control, pleasure, motivation, the desire to move forward … In what circumstances might you be lacking in it, and what can you do to boost your levels?

Lack of dopamine in the brain

Dopamine: what role does this hormone play in the body?

Synthesised from the amino acid tyrosine, dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in motor control, attention, pleasure and motivation, as well as sleep, memory and cognition (1-3).

It’s also known as the ‘pleasure chemical’ or ‘motivation hormone’.

Dopamine, reward circuit and addictions

Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter involved in the ‘reward circuit’.

Operating via several brain structures, this system is responsible for rewarding the accomplishment of vital functions (eating, drinking, reproducing…) by delivering a feeling of pleasure (4-5).

The reward circuit thus reinforces certain types of behaviour, motivating us to return to what is good for us.

However, dopamine also plays a role in the mechanism of addiction. Smoking, alcohol and heroin all have the ability to increase dopamine in the brain’s synapses and thus encourage the user to repeat this kind of harmful behaviour. The same goes for addictions to gambling or ‘likes’ on social media.

What causes a lack of dopamine?

We can sometimes suffer a shortfall in our levels of the ‘motivation hormone’. There are several potential reasons why we might experience a dopamine deficit:

  • an unbalanced diet low in tyrosine, vitamins B6, B12, and C, and omega-3;
  • psychological stress, since production of cortisol (the stress hormone) inhibits the conversion of tyrosine into dopamine;
  • genetic predisposition;
  • an imbalance in the ratio between dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline which adversely affects dopamine levels;
  • excessive use of stimulants such as drugs or gambling (dopamine secretion then occurs only via these stimulants and natural production starts to decline);
  • Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative brain condition primarily characterised by the death of dopamine-secreting neurons. This disease is usually related to advancing age but may also be linked to genetic and environmental factors (oxidative stress, energy deficit, inflammation, significant exposure to pesticides, etc). It can cause a slowing down of movements, muscle stiffness, tremors, cognitive problems, depression, etc. It goes without saying that if you think you may be suffering from this disease, you should consult your doctor and follow his or her recommendations;

Dopamine deficiency: symptoms

A lack of dopamine usually manifests in one or more of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty concentrating;
  • lack of motivation and confidence;
  • memory lapses;
  • prolonged or restless sleep;
  • low sex drive;
  • lasting fatigue;
  • negative thoughts;
  • cravings for sugar and snacks;

How can you increase your dopamine levels naturally?

The first thing to do for a natural dopamine boost is to engage in some kind of sports activity. Exercise is an excellent way of raising dopamine levels naturally.

In a similar vein, it’s a good idea to deliberately put yourself outside your comfort zone (by taking cold showers for example) as it will help you move forward.

Numerous studies have shown that the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) helps to lower levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and increase those of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins (the happy hormones) (8-9).

Likewise, massage, meditation and stroking a pet can all reduce stress and thus help restore adequate dopamine levels.

Last but not least, restful nights and exposure to the sun, are also known to boost dopamine.

The best diet and supplements for countering a lack of dopamine

To correct low dopamine levels, you should try and eat more tyrosine-rich foods, as dopamine is synthesised from this amino acid. Make sure you regularly include eggs, meat, fish, dairy products, green vegetables, fresh fruit and pulses in your diet.

To boost your intake, you can also take the tyrosine supplement N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, which offers maximum absorption and bioavailability.

Vitamins B6, B12 and C are also cofactors of dopamine and should therefore be consumed at sufficient levels to support its action (10). Ensure too that you obtain enough omega-3.

Lack of dopamine: other supplements worth considering

For neurodegenerative problems that cause dopamine levels to fall, doctors routinely prescribe a treatment containing the neurotransmitter precursor L-DOPA. One of the best natural sources of L-DOPA is an Ayurvedic plant called Mucuna pruriens.

Another approach is to inhibit the compound that breaks down dopamine in the brain, the enzyme monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B), concentrations of which increase with age. Studies have shown that a type of oat is able to inhibit this enzyme. This plant (an extract of which features in the supplement Natural Dopamine Support) is thus recognised for contributing to hormone balance by supporting dopamine levels in the brain (12-13).

Just remember that certain supplements can interact with medicines. We’d therefore encourage you to seek medical advice before beginning any supplementation.

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References

  1. DAUBNER, S. Colette, LE, Tiffany, et WANG, Shanzhi. Tyrosine hydroxylase and regulation of dopamine synthesis. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, 2011, vol. 508, no 1, p. 1-12.
  2. EVANS, Andrew H. et LEES, Andrew J. Dopamine dysregulation syndrome in Parkinson's disease. Current opinion in neurology, 2004, vol. 17, no 4, p. 393-398.
  3. DAVIS, Kenneth L., KAHN, René S., KO, Grant, et al.Dopamine in schizophrenia: a review and reconceptualization. The American journal of psychiatry, 1991.
  4. ROUTTENBERG, Aryeh. The reward system of the brain. Scientific American, 1978, vol. 239, no 5, p. 154-165.
  5. ARIAS-CARRIÓN, Oscar, STAMELOU, Maria, MURILLO-RODRÍGUEZ, Eric, et al.Dopaminergic reward system: a short integrative review. International archives of medicine, 2010, vol. 3, no 1, p. 1-6.
  6. RADEMACHER, Lena, SCHULTE-RÜTHER, Martin, HANEWALD, Bernd, et al.Reward: from basic reinforcers to anticipation of social cues. Social behavior from rodents to humans, 2015, p. 207-221.
  7. COSTALL, B., DOMENEY, A. M., et NAYLOR, R. J. Behavioural and biochemical consequences of persistent overstimulation of mesolimbic dopamine systems in the rat. Neuropharmacology, 1982, vol. 21, no 4, p. 327-335.
  8. KONDO, Teruhiko, TAKEDA, Atsushi, KOBAYASHI, Isao, et al.Positive healthy physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku in human. The Journal of The Japanese Society of Balneology, Climatology and Physical Medicine, 2011, p. 169-177.
  9. LI, Qing. Effets des forêts et des bains de forêt (shinrin-yoku) sur la santé humaine: une revue de la littérature. Santé publique, 2019, vol. 1, no HS, p. 135-143.
  10. MENNITI, F. S., KNOTH, J., et DILIBERTO JR, E. J. Role of ascorbic acid in dopamine beta-hydroxylation. The endogenous enzyme cofactor and putative electron donor for cofactor regeneration. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 1986, vol. 261, no 36, p. 16901-16908.
  11. Rutledge RB, Smittenaar P, Zeidman P, Brown HR, Adams RA, Lindenberger U, Dayan P, Dolan RJ. Risk Taking for Potential Reward Decreases across the Lifespan. Curr Biol. 2016 Jun 20;26(12):1634-1639. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.05.017. Epub 2016 Jun 2. PMID: 27265392; PMCID: PMC4920952.UPPALA, Praveen Kumar, LATHA, M. Swarna, REDDY, R. Shashidhar, et al.Evaluation of anti-depressant activity of Methanolic Seed Extract of Avena sativa L. In Mice. Research Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacodynamics, 2013, vol. 5, no 4, p. 212-217.
  12. KENNEDY, David O., BONNLÄNDER, Bernd, LANG, Stefanie C., et al.Acute and chronic effects of green oat (Avena sativa) extract on cognitive function and mood during a laboratory stressor in healthy adults: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in healthy humans. Nutrients, 2020, vol. 12, no 6, p. 1598.
  13. Kumar MJ, Andersen JK. Perspectives on MAO-B in aging and neurological disease: where do we go from here? Mol Neurobiol. 2004 Aug;30(1):77-89. doi: 10.1385/MN:30:1:077. PMID: 15247489.

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