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 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 activity in the brain.
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 changes in dopamine activity may contribute.
In animal studies, blocking dopamine transporters and receivers also helps increase the amount of available dopamine and is associated with lower hyperactivity.
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
Some researchers hypothesize that obesity lowers the activity of dopamine receptors in humans. This could change neural reward pathways that are usually activated by eating. In turn, some experts believe this could lead to an increase in compulsive eating.
They speculate that similar pathways may also play a role in addiction.
The symptoms of low dopamine depend on the underlying cause.
For example, a person with Parkinson’s disease may experience:
- slow or effortful movements, known as bradykinesia
- shuffling or interrupted steps
- postural instability, or problems with coordination and balance
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 or symptoms 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 affect dopamine. Although eating a high fat diet initially activates the dopamine system, over time this type of diet may lower dopamine signaling.
However, early animal studies suggest that unsaturated fat may not have the same effect.
Consuming foods that contain the amino acid l-tyrosine may help the body
Bananas and avocados are
However, experts do not yet know if dietary dopamine intake leads to changes in the brain or other bodily systems. It is also unclear whether food sources of dopamine have any effects on dopamine-related disorders or symptoms. More research is needed.
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 restless legs syndrome.
Decreased dopamine activity may play a role in several conditions, including ADHD, 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. Medications are available 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.