Dopamine is a chemical that is present in the human body, naturally. It is a neurotransmitter which means it sends signals to the brain from the body.
Dopamine plays a role in regulating a person’s movements and their emotional reactions. Dopamine ‘s right balance is important for physical as well as emotional health.
Vital brain functions that affect a person’s body’s mood , sleep, memory , learning, concentration, and motor control are affected by the dopamine levels. A deficiency in dopamine can be linked to certain medical problems , including depression and Parkinson’s disease.
A dopamine deficiency can be due to a reduction in the body’s amount of dopamine, or a problem with the brain’s receptors.
The signs of a dopamine deficiency depend on the cause that underlies it. For example , a person with Parkinson’s disease may experience very different symptoms due to substance use than those with low dopamine levels.
Some signs and symptoms of a dopamine deficiency disorder include:
- muscle cramps, spasms, or tremors
- aches and pains
- stiffness in the muscles
- loss of balance
- difficulty eating and swallowing
- weight loss or weight gain
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- frequent pneumonia
- trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep
- low energy
- an inability to focus
- moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- feeling fatigued
- feeling demotivated
- feeling inexplicably sad or tearful
- mood swings
- feeling hopeless
- having low self-esteem
- feeling guilt-ridden
- feeling anxious
- suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
- low sex drive
- lack of insight or self-awareness
Low dopamine is associated with various mental health problems but does not cause those conditions directly.
The disorders most often associated with a dopamine deficiency include:
- psychosis, including hallucinations or delusions
- Parkinson’s disease
In Parkinson’s disease, a loss of nerve cells occurs in a particular part of the brain and dopamine is lost in the same region.
Drug misuse is also thought to have an effect on the dopamine levels. Studies have shown that repeated drug use can alter the thresholds needed for the activation and signaling of dopamine cell.
Damage caused by drug addiction means that these levels are higher, and that the positive effects of dopamine are more difficult for a person. Drug abusers have also demonstrated major reductions in the dopamine D2 receptors and release in dopamine.
Diets high in sugar and saturated fats can suppress dopamine and a lack of protein in a person’s diet may mean that they don’t have enough l-tyrosine, an amino acid that helps develop dopamine throughout the body.
One study of interest showed that people who are obese and have a certain gene are more likely to be deficient in dopamine too.
There is no reliable way of measuring dopamine levels directly in a person’s brain.
There are some indirect ways of assessing an imbalance of dopamine levels in the brain. Doctors can measure the density of dopamine transporters which positively correlate with dopamine-using nerve cells. This procedure involves injecting a radioactive substance that binds to dopamine carriers, which can be measured by doctors using a camera.
A doctor may analyze the symptoms, lifestyle factors and medical history of a person to decide if they have a disorder that is linked to low dopamine levels.
Treatment of the dopamine deficiency depends on finding an underlying cause.
When a person is diagnosed with a condition of mental health, such as depression or schizophrenia, a doctor may prescribe medicines to help with the symptoms. These medications can contain antidepressants and mood stabilizers.
Ropinirole and pramipexole can increase dopamine levels and are often prescribed for the treatment of Parkinson disease condition. Levodopa is typically administered on diagnosis of Parkinson’s first.
Many Dopamine Deficiency therapies can include:
- changes in diet and lifestyle
- physical therapy for muscle stiffness and movement problems
Supplements to raise levels of essential fatty acids such as vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 can also help elevate levels of dopamine, but further work needs to be done on whether this is effective.
It is also thought that activities that make a person feel comfortable and secure would increase the dopamine levels. This may involve exercise, massage therapy, and meditation.
Dopamine vs. serotonin
Dopamine and serotonin are both naturally occurring chemicals in the body having roles in the mood and wellbeing of a person.
Serotonin influences the mood and emotions of a person, as well as the patterns of sleep , appetite, body temperature and hormonal activity such as the menstrual cycle.
Many experts suggest the low serotonin levels are leading to depression. The relationship between serotonin and depression and other mood disorders is complex, and a serotonin imbalance alone is unlikely to cause it.
In addition, dopamine affects how a person moves but there is no direct connection to serotonin ‘s role in movement.
Dopamine deficiency can affect a person’s quality of life significantly and affect them both physically and mentally. Many mental health disorders relate to low dopamine levels. Many medical problems have also been linked to low dopamine, including Parkinson’s disease.
There is limited evidence that diet and lifestyle can affect the dopamine levels that a person creates and transmits in his or her body. Some medications and some therapies can help alleviate symptoms, but if a person is worried about their dopamine levels, they should always speak to a doctor first.