Dope on Dopamine


Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals involved in transmitting signals from one neuron to the next across synapses.

 Without the proper balance of these, your mental well being including happiness, alertness and memory are affected. In short they are in the communication business – transmitting and communicating instructions for cells.

Until recently, psychiatric medicine focused on medications that would counteract problems associated with a particular low level of a certain chemical.  Newer approaches centre more on the”why” that particular neurotransmitter is low in the first place. So far over 100 neurotransmitters in the human brain alone have been identified and evidence suggests there are likely more.  But for the sake of our purposes, common ones such as dopamine, serotonin, Acetylcholine and GABA will be discussed.

Dopamine is the pleasure and reward transmitter and is responsible for attention and focusing. Low levels of this neurotransmitter is common among people with ADHD, Parkinson’s Disease and also found in addicts and people with low-energy types of depression.  Traditionally stimulant drugs such as Ritalin (used often for ADHD) are designed to mimic dopamine.  Other drugs that do this include  cocaine, speed and the common morning liquid drug – coffee!

Dr. Mark Hyman, in his book The UltraMind Solution, says that any of the above drugs  over time will deplete your ability to make your own dopamine as well as its cousins epinephrine and nor epinephrine.  Furthermore, he believe that if a dopamine receptor isn’t good at listening to the signals, then any stress or toxic influence will interfere with the receptor’s ability to listen to messages. What this means is you could have enough dopamine in your system but if the receptors are not functioning well, this could lead to ADHD, autism and mood disorders.

Diet can certainly help with levels of dopamine and or improve its receptors.  Supplementing the diet by eating high quality proteins such as nuts, seeds, lean poultry, fish and eggs help. Supplements include good fats (from fish oils), vitamin supplementation such as folate, B6 and B12. Adding the amino acid tyrosine will increase dopamine levels and the amino acid phenylalanine can help with the other neurotransmitter responsible for focusing – nor epinephrine.

While we know what to increase in the diet, we also need to decrease other things and that is namely sugar.  When we eat these foods in large amounts, the dopamine receptors start to down-regulate leaving fewer receptors for the dopamine.  Unfortunately, supplementing won’t work alone and it comes down to avoiding the sweet white powder, commonly known as sugar.

To quote Avril Lavigne, “I was eating bad stuff. Lots of sugar and carbs, junk food all the time. It makes you very irritated.”

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