Deficient levels of dopamine can cause depression characterised by lack of energy, enthusiasm, motivation and joy
Dopamine Deficient Depression (DDD)
Deficient levels of dopamine activity in the brain can cause depression. this dopamine deficient depression (DDD) is characterised by a low energy, demotivated state, as opposed to the intensely painful character of serotonin deficient depression (SDD). A severely dopamine deficient depressed person may wish they were dead, but wouldn’t have the motivation or energy to do anything about it. The tortured, antsy serotonin deficient depressed person is a much higher risk of suicide. Suddenly increasing energy and motivation in a person with DDD by boosting dopamine can temporarily increase suicide risk. This is also a known and common side effect with antidepressant drugs. The DDD state can look very similar to hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroxin, and careful differential diagnosis has to be made. In fact both the neurotransmitter dopamine and the thyroid hormone thyroxin are made from the same amino acid, tyrosine. Taking tyrosine can actually help both conditions, one would just take different cofactors (vitamins, minerals and herbs) to emphasise either dopamine or iodine, selenium, iron, zinc, vitamin A thyroxin production.
Depression due primarily due to a deficiency of phenylethylamine (see PEA deficient depression chapter) also looks the same as DDD, and the best way to distinguish between them is personal experimentation with appropriate combinations of remedies to find the prescription that helps you.
Dopamine gives the brain energy, motivation, a switched on feeling and excitement about new ideas. A surge in dopamine can give a high and pleasurable feeling. The increased energy and talkativeness a coffee can cause is mainly due to the effect of increased dopamine levels. If you’ve ever felt sluggish first thing in the morning or afternoon for example and found a coffee gave you mental energy, sharpness and renewed enthusiasm that was a dopamine boost. (1-2 coffees a day gives you multiple health benefits by the way).
Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter involved in the feeling of pleasure, feeling high and euphoric. Dopamine is involved in the pursuit of pleasure. It is often said that anything you do that feels really good has just given your dopamine levels a boost.
To little dopamine can also cause: depression coupled with significant fatigue, real apathy, maybe slowed thinking, drowsiness, the inability to feel enthusiastic about anything, no motivation and excessive sleep. It can also be involved in ADD/ADHD.
Both dopamine and serotonin elevate ones psychological mood producing an antidepressant effect.
Serotonin primarily influences feelings of happiness, optimism, contentedness, seeing the cup half-full so to speak.
Dopamine on the other hand influences feelings of, excitement, pleasure, euphoria, which can be addictive, dopamine gives one the feeling on reward that creates motivation and drive.
In a single word serotonin gives us happiness, dopamine gives us pleasure.
Many things can increase dopamine levels in the brain including: drugs, thrill-seeking activities, gambling, sex and food. Which of these –if any- produce a significant dopaminergic effect in an individual varies according to their individual physiology. So for some people sugary foods will produce pleasurable dopamine feelings, but for others it will have little or no dopamine effect and instead they may peruse cocaine or sex to obtain feelings of pleasure and reward.
Some peoples brains experience a dopamine euphoria in response to danger, other people dislike danger finding it stressful. This effect is a continuos spectrum from very timid risk-averse people who would find a rollercoaster to unpleasant and scary, through to ultimate thrill-seekers who peruse danger rushes though extreme sports or even war.
These things feel good –to some people- because they create a surge of dopamine, adrenaline and possibly serotonin. There is a scientific theory called the dopaminergic theory of human evolution that, were it not for the pleasure and euphoria that some people get from the experience of danger we humans would not have evolved the way have. To colonise the four corners of the earth from the plains of the North African savannah where humans originated to high mountain settlements and the Inuit living in snow and ice we needed dopamine driven thrill-seekers that enjoyed the danger of exploring new territories. All non-domesticated animals run away in terror from fire, even if early humans had the intelligence to control fire we needed the danger seeking dopamine driven individuals to play with fire and master of it. By contrast the GABA driven brain (see GABA) is more sensible and the GABA deficient brain is typically anxious and worried. If all like that we would have never discovered fire, however if we were all extreme danger dopamine thrill seekers we might have killed ourselves off. So we all have a place, we need some people to discover fire and possibly sacrifice themselves in the process and we need more anxious risk averse people to stay at home and keep the home fires burning.
The euphoric high state induced by drugs, especially cocaine, crack-cocaine and meth-amphetamine, is principally due to increased levels of dopamine in the brain and is almost certainly involved in driving addiction to these substances. When you think on cocaine think of wanting to get high, heroin and alcohol on the other hand are anaesthetics, they numb pain (the pain of life) quite different physiology and psychology. Low serotonin levels may also be involved in addictive behaviour.
Its now official, junk food containing sugar can give you a hit of dopamine. It has now been scientifically proven that refined sugar gives some people an addictive hit of dopamine in the same way that you can get by taking drugs, albeit not as strong. Not everyone that eats sugar becomes addicted to it in the same way that not everyone that drinks alcohol becomes an alcoholic. However the poor individuals that do become addicted to sugar will quite likely have their health completely ruined though over eating junk foods. They can become morbidly obese and have diabetic complications, high heart disease and cancer risk. They will likely loose years off their unhealthy and perhaps miserable life due to a dopamine driven sugar addiction. I remember hearing a twenty-two stone twenty year old man saying imagine being a heroin addict in a would where heroin was legal, cheap and sold all over the high street, that’s the world I live in as a junk food junkie. What percentage of obesity this is responsible for I do not know.
Your physiology determines which things can increase your brain dopamine levels, but after that your psychology influences which if any of these things you may use, abuses or become addicted to. So for example in one individual it may sex or gambling or cocaine that strongly counters a low dopamine state, but becoming a sex or gambling or drug addict may not be at all compatible with their individual psychology.
Another way of putting this is that here are also psychological forces that may work independently to the dopamine effects in addictive behaviour and balancing brain chemistry alone will not be enough to stop the behaviour. It is however a very useful adjunct to psychotherapy, helping to take the physical edge off the craving. Anyone that observes they experience addictive cravings at regular times in the day could take dopamine-producing remedies ahead of this time to offset the physiological cravings. Please share your stories with me if you have some success with this technique, think of it particularly for food and drug cravings.
Rapid weight gain especially if coupled with low energy and depression is very characteristic of a falling dopamine levels.
Physically dopamine affects the processes that control movement and is involved in Parkinson’s disease (which I have no clinical experience with).
Increasing Dopamine with Diet, Supplements and Exercises.
Dopamine DietEat lots of tyrosine and phenylalanine rich foods: cottage cheese, ricotta, wild game, turkey, chicken, duck, walnuts, oats, yoghurt and dark chocolate.
Supplements to boost Dopamine:Tyrosine and L-phenylalanine make dopamine, use them for low-energy type depression, addictive behaviour, including (depressed) low mood food craving and overeating phases.
L phenylalanine >> Tyrosine >> (l-Dopa) >> Dopamine >> Norepinephrine
(Phenylalanine also makes PEA important in atypical depression and cholecystokinin CCK with potential weight-loss benefits, see PEA chapter).
CAUTION with dopamine boosting supplements in bipolar see bipolar syndrome below.
- Tyrosine 800-1500 mg (up to 5000 with severe depression or addiction) on an empty stomach in the morning. Or
- L-phenylalanine 1000-1500 mg on an empty stomach in the morning. Or
- DL-phenylalanine 2000-3000 mg on an empty stomack in the morning
- B Complex 50-100 mg
- B6 50-150 mg (keep the total B6 less than 250 mg/day unless you have pyroluria).For simplicity you could just take your high dose B6 by taking 100-250 mg B complex.
- Rhodiola 500 mg (3% standardised) 1-3 times per day. (I use Now Foods).
Which is best, tyrosine or phenylalanine?To find out which one is right to you requires personal experimentation.
Try the tyrosine first, you are looking for an anti depressant effect and a lift in energy. If the results are satisfactory stick with it. If not try the L-phenylalanine, if it causes rushing and racing thoughts you don’t need the affects of L-phenylalanine and you should discontinue. For some people the L-phenylalanine works as an antidepressant where tyrosine has no effects. This is because L-phenylalanine is not only metabolised into tyrosine but is also metabolised into PEA (phenylethylamine) which has a proven powerful antidepressant effect,
see PEA and the Exercise Treatment for Depression.
Dopamine is a stimulatory neurotransmitter and so you may prefer to take tyrosine and L phenylalanine only in the mornings. An alternative way of taking them however is to take a 500 mg capsule half an hour or so before each meal. This ‘all-day’ coverage approach may be more helpful for a person who is trying to control addictions and food cravings. If you notice you regularly have a time in the day when you feel low, a bit fatigued and depressed and end up succumbing to some cravings for drugs or food you could try taking 1000 mg of tyrosine or L phenylalanine 30-40 minutes before that time of day.
[ADD APPETITE CONTROL AND LPA UNDER CONSTRUCTION]
It is well worth watching out for these repeating and predictable daily cycles or even weekly cycles where one experiences a low phase in one of your neurotransmitters. For example if every day at five o’clock you experience a low depressed phase and hit chocolate bars try boosting your dopamine an hour before. Or if you observe that you wake with a significant depression on the same day each week you could take the amino acid tryptophan to boost your serotonin levels the night before.
with the amino acids:Monitor your blood pressure if you have hypertension.
Do not combine with MAOI or tricyclic antidepressants.
Do not take with schizophrenia, an overactive thyroid, malignant melanoma
Consult your doctor if pregnant.
Do not take phenylalanine with PKU (phenylketonuria).
- Boosting dopamine may induce mania in bipolar people, see managing bipolar syndrome LINK?.
- Increasing dopamine can give so much raw energy to the brain it can cause a surge in motivation before it relieves the pain of depression, this may temporarily actuallyincrease the risk of suicide. This is a common phenomena with antidepressant drugs also.
- If you overdo it, taking too much tyrosine or phenylalanine everyday you can become ‘wired’ then crash like overdoing coffee. Just stop, rest for a couple of days and start again at a lower dose. It’s like flooding an engine with too much gas and stalling it. Find the minimum dose that works for you or take a day off every second, third or fourth day.
Dopamine LoadingNeurotransmitters seem to ‘pool’ or accumulate in the brain. So if the first day you take tyrosine or L phenylalanine you get a strong effect you should probably cut back the dosage the next day as your dopamine levels will still be elevated from the previous dose. For example if you take 1500 mg on the first day and feel you have more energy, motivation and less depression you should probably take 1000 mg the following days. Whether or not you should take 1000 mg every day, or alternate between 1000 and 1500 the next day, or even take 1000 mg most days and miss out the occasional day will require personal experimentation as people are so different.
It took me six weeks of experimentation to find the correct regime of tyrosine to stabilise a long period of dopamine deficiency.
The concern about not overdoing it only really applies the neurotransmitter dopamine, because of the small risks that increasing energy could cause mania and increasing motivation may increase the suicide risk.
Boosting deficient GABA tranquillises an anxious mind, so no dangers there.
Boosting deficient serotonin anaesthetises painful depression and aids deep sleep
Boosting deficient acetylcholine sharpens a dull mind.
Dopamine Life Style, Meditation and ExercisesIn terms of exercise vigorous aerobic exercise in general is good for dopamine but intensive strength-training (weight-training) is especially beneficial. For beginners the risk of injury from heavy-weights is high so seek instructions from a personal trainer. If you’re out of shape consider couple of months of Pilates to tone/stabilise your core before you start.
Fast passed pranayama (breathing) meditations that especially that emphasise the right nostril boost dopamine (uni-polar depression), alternate nostril breathing balancesdopamine (manic-depression).
Kundalini yoga has it all, aerobic, stress poses and vigorous breathing. It is great for keeping dopamine levels up after you have kick-started them with supplements. Recovering addicts could try transferring their addictive personality to kundalini yoga. Done intensively enough it can make you high!
Addiction: drugs/sexUsing tyrosine and L-phenylalanine to increase dopamine levels can take the edge off the need to boost dopamine through drugs and other addictive behaviours. This may reduce relapses.
[UNDER CONSTRUCTION Add: Kudzu root and niacinamide for alcohol addiction. Add methionine for heroin withdrawal.]
Mastering your blood sugar is an essential part of recovery from addiction; study Enter the Zone book.
It is debatable whether one could ever truly change and give up an addictive personality. Personally I believe one probably can’t give up ones’ addictive nature, however it’s definitely possible to ‘soften’ it, to lessen its control over you and to lessen painful issues that one may carry from the past that contribute to self-destructive addictive behaviours.
I remember a recovering heroin addict I was once treating who didn’t want to take supplements because she was afraid that she would approach the supplements in the fanatical and obsessive way that she approached other things. I felt that this was attempting to block, repress and disallow the addictive part of her personality, rather than trying to work with it. This powerful, energetic and driven part of the personality is very hard to stop, and could be better managed by using it and channelling it into things that aid recovery.
Balancing one’s brain chemistry and boosting dopamine levels in particular can take the desperate edge off the needs to get ‘loaded’.
In the beginning of recovery I believe it is perfectly OK to allow yourself to unreservedly transfer any addictive personality patterns onto healthy things like health-foods, supplements, kundalini yoga etc. From this healthier platform you can work on softening your addictive personality with therapy and counselling.
Recovering addicts should choose intense, very fast-paced, high-energy meditations like kundalini Yoga or Tantra to try and induce a safe and natural daily endorphin high.
Tantric practices may, or may not be appropriate for sex addiction.
It may enable the person to fulfil their addictive needs in a non-destructive, safer and more balanced way. It might be a useful stepping stone on the path to recovery allowing them to indulge their addiction on a non-destructive behaviour while they work in therapy on their addictive psychology.
However if learning Tantric sexual practices increase a sex addicts capacity for self-destruction by adding fuel to an already out of control fire then clearly it would be best avoided By far the best books on this subject are by Mantak Chia.
ThyroidLow thyroxin and low dopamine can look very similar. Tyrosine is used to boost both dopamine and thyroxin, but the rest of the prescription differs. To distinguish the two problems perform a Dr Barnes thyroid temperature test:http://dl.dropbox.com/u/20996241/Barns%20Basal%20Temp%20Test.pdf
Talk to your doctor about having your thyroxin levels tested, but blood tests can fail to reveal thyroid problems. Consult a practitioner trained in nutrition and herbal medicine such as myself. Inadequate levels of thyroxin will result in every single cell in the body being under-active including the cells in the brain that make neurotransmitters. So potentially it can contribute to deficiency in any neurotransmitter.
Bipolar SyndromeCautionBoosting dopamine in the bipolar brain requires being able to manage the manic side to this condition, because boosting dopamine for the depressive side of bipolar may encourage the manic side of bipolar.
See Managing Bipolar Syndrome:http://dl.dropbox.com/u/20996241/Link%20Managing%20Bipolar%20Syndrome.pdf
Seek experienced professional help for bipolar syndrome. Be safe
Protein-oil CombinationA special dopamine boosting, antidepressant and immune boosting combination is to blend essential oils with cottage cheese. Using a stick blender mix a couple of desert spoons (or more) of Flax/ Udo’s choice oil with the cottage cheese. Add a dash of liquid (milk, soya milk or cider vinegar for a savoury flavour) to prevent curdling mixture. Add a little garlic, black /cayenne pepper or fresh herbs for flavour, coriander and a whole de-seeded chilli are my favourites. The end product turns out like an instant healthy mayonnaise. You can make a thick gloopy version for baked potatoes, dipping carrot sticks or mayonnaise on a salad. Alternatively use more liquids and less solids to produce a thinner more runny version for pouring over steamed vegetables like a cauliflower/broccoli cheese dish.
Tip: if you struggle with yeast overgrowth or cholesterol use plenty raw garlic.