Fixing Your Brain: Dopamine
This writing is one in a series called “Fixing Your Brain.” For the full guide, check out Fixing Your Brain: A Guide to Balancing Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are signaling chemicals in our brains. They are responsible for our moods, motivation, energy, learning ability, and much, much more. When our neurotransmitters become unbalanced, we experience some of the worst states of being known to man.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is most associated with motivation. It is our “achievement” molecule, and we feel powerful, on top of things, and capable when we have enough of this neurotransmitter. Low levels of dopamine are associated with lack of motivation, and is the cause of Parkinson’s. On the flip side, schizophrenia sufferers often display far too high levels of dopamine, and this may explain the prevalence of paranoia in the disease.
Identifying Low Dopamine
Low dopamine levels are the culprit behind the major disease Parkinson’s, while too-high levels of dopamine is theorized to be a factor in schizophrenia. Dopamine is associated with motivation, and is considered our “achievement” molecule.
Symptoms of low dopamine include
- Feelings of hopelessness or dread
- Low self-esteem/self-worth
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty starting and finishing projects
- Easily losing one’s temper from minor setbacks
- Difficulty managing stress
- Anger, aggressiveness, and irritability when stressed
- Tendency towards isolation
- Apathy towards friends and family
- Weight gain
Answers of “Yes” to the following questions may indicate a dopamine deficiency
- Do you smoke cigarettes or tobacco products? Y / N
- Have you gained more than 20 lbs since you were 20 years old? Y / N
- Do your drink 3 or more alcoholic beverages 2 or more times a week, or exceed 6 alcoholic beverages per week? Y / N
- Do you rely on coffee or stimulants to get going in the morning? Y / N
- Do you find it difficult to exercise due to lack of energy, even though you know you should? Y / N
- Do you have low (or no) sex drive? Y / N
- Have you been diagnosed with or have you ever experienced the symptoms of heart disease, poor circulation, or cardiovascular problems? Y / N
- Do you eat compulsively, or when you feel stressed? Y / N
- Do you have trouble focusing at home or at work? Y / N
- Do you have difficulty sleeping at night, or feeling refreshed in the morning? Y / N
Conditions like schizophrenia not-withstanding, it is rare to have too-high levels of dopamine. However, it is possible and sometimes can be brought on by improper supplementation. Many of the symptoms of too-high dopamine can resemble the symptoms of low levels of other neurotransmitters, so keep that in mind. That said, the most common and unique symptoms of too high dopamine include:
- Feelings of mania or insanity
- Pleasure seeking, including sexual promiscuity or thrill seeking
- Hyper-focus, a feeling of being “locked in” and that others are operating in slow motion
- Organization of thoughts
Root Causes of Low Dopamine
Once we have identified potential neurotransmitter imbalances, it is time to treat them. However, you should know this needs to be a careful process, and if you suspect multiple neurotransmitter deficiencies, be sure to educate yourself thoroughly and if possible: work with a professional. That said, first we’ll discuss a few major causes of neurotransmitter imbalances that you should address right away, regardless of which ones you think are low.
Treat the gut.
You may not know this but your gut is actually a sort-of second brain. It contains over 300 million neurons, and affects our mood and behavior, and is considered to be the source of intuition (gut feelings are actually valuable input.) Furthermore, damage to our gut biomes: the colonies of bacteria that live inside us and keep us healthy, has been implicated in many mental diseases, including autism. Poor gut health is a major factor in neurotransmitter imbalances for two main reasons.
- Neurotransmitters are made in the gut! Most of the serotonin in our bodies is made in the gut first, and the other neurotransmitters are no exception. If your gut health is poor, then your body is less capable of converting amino acids from food into the neurotransmitters in your brains.
- Gut inflammation leads to brain inflammation. This bit is a little more nerdy. There is an epidemic condition called leaky gut, which occurs because the cell wall of our intestines begin to rip and allow foreign molecules into our bloodstream. This process is driven by inflammatory foods such as gluten, pesticides such as glyphosate, and environmental factors such as over-sterile birth environments, etc. As bad as leaky gut is, what is worse is that it directly contributes to leaky brains. Our brains are housed inside something called the blood-brain barrier, a membrane which keeps foreign molecules from causing inflammation. Glyphosate, which is a chemical in the pesticide round-up, is on many of the foods we eat and causes both leaky gut and leaky brain problems. The inflammation from this damage directly contributes to neurotransmitter programs.
So, what do we do? Well, gut health is a topic that is extensive and intricate and deserving of it’s own long article, but you can start by addressing gut dysbiosis and leaky gut. For the sake of keeping this article on-topic, I suggest strongly that you look into the product Restore by Biomic Sciences. Restore directly heals leaky gut and heals the tight junctions which are damaged in leaky gut and leaky brain. I’ve written about it more extensively in my article about glyphosate, but you should also check out the work of Dr. Zach Bush,who is a genius triple Ph.D who helped create the product.
I know it may seem hokey, but stress is a major factor in neurotransmitter imbalances that we can actually control for. Lack of sleep, over-working yourself, too much exercise, and negative relationships and thoughts all affect your neurotransmitters. As you continue to stress yourself and push towards burnout, the more you’ll gamble with creating neurotransmitter problems. Thankfully, there are great, free tools you can use to de-stress your life. Here are my number one methods for managing stress:
- Prioritize quality sleep above everything else
- Implement yoga, or meditation into your daily routine
- Practice daily gratitude, preferable every morning before the day starts and every night before retiring
- Read books about self improvement, such as Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Malts, Way of the Seal by Mark Divine(has several meditations too,) or 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
- Implement saunas and cold exposure into your weekly routine. I recommend infrared or dry saunas, and the work of Wim Hof for the cold exposure therapy.
With all of that said, addressing your lifestyle can be a long road to fixing major neurotransmitter problems that are affecting you right now. This is why I want you to start on these lifestyle changes now, so that you can address the cause while we also work to address the symptoms. Now we can get into supplements that target specific neurotransmitters directly.
Dopamine Raising Supplements, Prescriptions, and Hormones
- Mucuna Dopa or L-dopa(herb)
- Tyrosine (amino acid)
- L-Phenylalanine (amino acid)
- Rhodiola rosea (herb)
- Methylfolate (b-vitamin)
- Ginkgo (herb)
- Guarana (herb)
- Wild green oat extract (herb)
- ADHD Medications: Ritalin, Adderal, (Methylphenidate and an amphetamine, respectively)
- Modafonil aka provigil (nootropic drug)
- DHEA (hormone)
- HGH (hormone)
- Thyroid hormones T3 & T4
- Bioidentical testosterone
- Selegiline (depranyl)
Dopamine may also be raised by sunlight exposure, optimal vitamin d levels. Methods which increase testosterone may also by extension increase dopamine. Dopamine is increased by MAO-B inhibitors. The last drug on the list: Selegiline, has shown particular effectiveness for this purpose. If you have a family history of Parkinson’s, it may be worth occasional dosing as a preventative measure.
Resources & Links
Due to the extensive nature of this post, I am not including the links that were listed as supplements under each neurotransmitter. Otherwise I’d just be repeating those lists here in an unorganized fashion. The resource list is a way to quickly find the links that were interspersed throughout the article, and since the neurotransmitter supplements are already organized into lists anyway, I do not see the need to add un-necessary clutter by having them again here.
- Restore Gut Health by Biomic Sciences
- My Article on Glyphosate and it’s dangers to the gut biome
- Dr. Zach Bush Website and Research
- Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Malts
- Way of the Seal by Mark Divine
- 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
- Wim Hof Method
- Kalish Institute Website
- The Kalish Method by Dr. Daniel Kalish
- Anti-anxiety food solution (Trudy Scott’s Work)
- Wellness Mama Interview of Trudy Scott on Amino Acid Therapy
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Originally published on keenanerikssonfitness.com