Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical that sends signals between nerves in the body. A dopamine deficiency may have links to several medical conditions, including depression, Parkinson’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Dopamine plays a part in controlling the movements a person makes, as well as their emotional responses. The right balance of dopamine is
Some of the other critical functions that dopamine influences include mood, sleep, memory, learning, and concentration.
A deficiency may occur due to a drop in the amount of dopamine the body makes, or an issue with dopamine receptors in the brain.
Experts have linked various health conditions to lower dopamine levels.
The main cause of Parkinson’s disease is the
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that begins in childhood but can continue to adulthood. People with ADHD may have difficulty focusing, paying attention, or controlling impulsive behavior. Experts do not know exactly what causes ADHD, but some think low dopamine levels may contribute.
People with ADHD seem to have different dopamine levels in the brain than others. The difference may be because the neurons have
People who misuse drugs also have significant decreases in dopamine D2 receptors and dopamine release, making it more difficult for a person to experience the positive effects of dopamine.
Diets may affect dopamine levels. For example, some
A lack of protein in a person’s diet could also mean they
Humans have a gene that researchers call the “fat mass and obesity-associated (FTO) gene.” People with certain variants of this gene are more likely to develop obesity. Some scientists believe this may be because the FTO gene affects dopamine and the brain’s reward system.
An older 2015 study looked at the behavior and brain scans of people with these gene variants and found evidence that it may alter reward processing, affecting impulse control. They speculate this may also play a role in addiction.
The symptoms of a dopamine deficiency depend on the underlying cause. For example, a person with Parkinson’s disease will experience very different symptoms from someone with low dopamine levels due to drug use.
Some general signs and symptoms that may indicate low dopamine include:
- feeling less motivated
- difficulty thinking, or “brain fog”
- sadness or apathy
- cold hands and feet
However, it is worth noting that these symptoms can be due to many conditions.
Does dopamine deficiency cause mental health conditions?
However, scientists are still learning the role that dopamine plays in these conditions. It is unclear if low dopamine itself is the cause, or whether something else leads to dopamine dysregulation in different regions of the brain. Other neurotransmitters may also be involved in the development of these conditions.
There is no reliable way to directly measure the levels of dopamine in a person’s brain, but there are some indirect ways.
Some blood tests measure the levels of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. However, these do not represent the levels of neurotransmitters in the nervous system itself.
Scientists can also measure the density of dopamine transporters that correlate positively with nerve cells that use dopamine. This test involves injecting a radioactive material that binds to dopamine transporters, which scientists can measure using a camera.
However, doctors do not use this test to diagnose conditions. If a person has signs of a condition that has links with low dopamine, they will test for that specific condition instead.
Treatment of dopamine deficiency depends on the underlying cause.
Lifestyle and diet changes
Performing physical activity can
Dietary changes may also stimulate dopamine. Although eating foods high in saturated fat and sugar initially activates the dopamine system, it can cause inflammation over time, which may gradually affect dopamine signaling.
However, early animal studies suggest that unsaturated fat may not have the same effect. A diet that contains more unsaturated fat, as well as a range of nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, and protein sources, may be beneficial.
The amino acid l-tyrosine is particularly important, as the body needs this to make dopamine. Some foods that contain l-tyrosine include:
Bananas and avocados are also
Some supplements may help increase dopamine levels, such as:
- Vitamin D3: A
small 2019 studyof 86 children with ADHD found that supplementing with vitamin D3 daily increased dopamine levels. They received 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day. However, the scientists do not report if this impacted the children’s well-being or ability to focus.
- Velvet bean: This tropical bean is high in levodopa, which is a substance the brain needs to produce dopamine. An
older 2014 studysuggests it may have an antidepressant effect in mice. It is also popular in traditional medicine as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
- Psychobiotics: This new concept involves using probiotics and prebiotics to treat mental health conditions. Certain species of bacteria, such as Bacillus,
produce dopaminein the gut. Therefore, scientists think they may have potential as a medical therapy.
The research for all of these supplements as a means of increasing dopamine is still in the early stages. It is unclear if any of them can improve or treat any dopamine-related medical condition.
Be aware that substances that alter brain chemistry can have unwanted side effects and may interact with other medications. People should always speak with a doctor before introducing a new supplement.
Doctors may prescribe these drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease or disorders that cause unwanted movement, such as periodic limb movement disorder.
A dopamine deficiency may play a role in several conditions, including ADHD, MDD, addiction, and obesity. The loss of dopamine-producing cells also causes Parkinson’s disease.
Scientists are still learning how this impacts people and how to address it, but there is evidence that exercise and a balanced and nutrient-dense diet may help. There are also medications that increase dopamine for people with specific conditions.
A person should speak with a doctor if they are concerned about their dopamine levels or have questions about how they can improve them.