12 Facts About Dopamine You Didn’t Know | Dopamine Infographic
Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter which is a chemical released in our brain that helps communication between other cells in our body, most notably in our brain.
Dopamine is produced by the body in times of motivation such as when someone gets a promotion, buys their first house, but also in times of negative excitation like danger. Our bodies also feel rewarded and produce dopamine when we eat certain foods, take some drugs, and have sex.
Dopamine also plays an important role in various functions within our body
Motor Control is How We Control Our Body
This includes actions such as moving our limbs, our heart beating, and the use of our limbs. Dopamine also regulates the control of motor functions via the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia depend on a certain amount of this neurotransmitter to perform at peak efficiency. The lack of dopamine in the brain gives way to delayed and uncoordinated motor functions. On the flip side, excess dopamaine causes the body to make unnecessary movements, as repetitive tics.
Depending which pathway dopamine takes effects it’s response in the body.
The most important pathway for dopamine to effect motivation in particular is through the mesolimbic pathway to various places such as the cerebral cortex. An animal study on rats who were given the choice of one pile of food or another pile of food twice the size but behind a small fence. The rats with lowered levels of dopamine almost always took the easy way out, choosing the small pile instead of jumping the fence for greater reward.
A lack of dopamine in the brain leads to uncoordinated movements throughout the body, while excess dopamine causes uncontrollable movements such as body tics.
Dopamine Controls Our Focus, Cognition, and Learning
Selective lesions of dopaminergic neurons show a negative effect on someone’s cognitive processes. Cognition refers to the activities of thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering. The dopamine system is a group of nerve cells in our mid and front brain area. In our mid brain there three main branches that work there to way to other parts of the brain.
- There’s a branch that goes all the way to the frontal lobe, where it modulates cognitive function and enhances the efficiency of certain forms of thinking and working memory
- There is a very famous branch which goes to a structure called the striatum, which is implicated in Parkinson’s disease. Here dopamine is involved in facilitating movements. So in Parkinson’s disease, when you lose dopamine, your movements become rigid and rather reduced in number and amplitude
- The third important branch of the dopamine system is that it goes to structures in the limbic system of the brain, which is the emotional center of the brain, including the nucleus accumbens, which has often been called the reward center.
Dopamine Helps Regulate Our Sense of Feeling Awake and Alert
Sleep deprived people have less dopamine as this hormone helps us feel awake and alert. Diseases like Parkinsons that decrease dopamine levels are known to cause daytime sleepiness which obviously makes sense considering dopamine’s effects. For this same reason it is not surprising that dopamine boosting drugs like Adderall, Cocaine, and Methamphetamine are known as energy boosting that stimulate people. The reason that drugs like heroin and opioid painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin increase dopamine but are more well known for tiredness as the opioid receptor in the brain overpowers the dopamine boost that users of drugs like heroin use. Stimulating drugs like cocaine work by a more direct function of releasing dopamine through the flood of the hormone into our brain while heroin works in a more indirect way through opioid receptor.
Various Over the Counter Supplements and Drugs Boost Dopamine
Stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine are both OTC stimulants that naturally boost dopamine levels in the brain. Three non stimulant supplements that boost dopamine are tyrosine, phenlyalnine, and mucuna periens. Both of the stimulant supplements increase dopamine while leading to addictive issues, while mucuna preriens is not a stimulant and is less likely to cause any issues with addiction. In fact some some people actually take L-Dopa to help with addiction issues. Because L-Dopa is not like drugs similar to Adderall in that it causes a high or energy boost similar to this prescription stimulant, it is usually not known for addiction, although it is possible. Instead of directly releasing dopamine L-Dopa instead works by enhancing dopamine from it’s ability to convert into the hormone.
Drugs that increase dopamine include legal prescription medications like Adderall, Ritalin, Selegline, Vicodin, and Percocet. Illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana also boost dopamine in the brain as well. These prescription and street drugs are specifically known for their addictive properties because of the large amounts of dopamine that is flooded into the brain. For this reason they must be handled with absolute care with the understanding of the dangers that they pose.
Eating the Right Foods Boosts Dopamine Levels
Foods that contain the amino acids L-Tyrosine and L-Phenylalanine most boost dopamine levels as they eventually convert into this hormone. Beets contain betaine which also boosts dopamine from it’s ability to regulate it as betaine works as a cofactor methylation. Methylation is a process that happens in all mammals to synthesize and donate methyl groups for other processes in the body such as in the synthesis of neurotransmitter cells such as dopamine and serotonin.
DOPAMINE AND MASSAGE:
Studies show that getting a massage boosts dopamine and serotonin while also reducing the stress hormone cortisol. One study showed that a massage raised serotonin 28% and Dopamine 31% in the participants who took part. The researchers of this study believe that these effects were achieved from the bodies ability to change hormone levels from massages ability to reduce the stress hormone cortisol which is turn raises other neurotransmitters. This would lead someone to believe that reducing stress in other ways would also lead to this positive outcome.
DOPAMINE AND SEX
As dopamine rises so does our sex drive. With this can come unwanted side effects when there is an overabundance of dopamine like sexual addictions, fetishes, and risky behavior. Conversely when someone is lacking the necessary amounts of this neurotransmitter it leads them susceptible to having a low libido. It is important to note that the hormone prolactin has an inverse relationship in our body with dopamine. When we have high prolactin levels we therefore then have low dopamine levels throughout our body. Side effects of increased prolactin include loss of libido, depression, headaches, and weight gain.
Dopamine And Addiction
Dopamine controls the reward and motivation functions of our brain. These functions are normally helpful in terms of survival as dopamine release can reward someone in times of need like when acquiring something important like food or making an accomplishment like getting a job promotion. By taking illegal and prescription drugs drug addicts cause a dopamine release that the body feels rewarded looking for more. This short circulating of our brain is extremely dangerous as the user’s body sees this as normal behavior for survival.