Dopamine not only plays a major role in controlling movement. The so-called happiness hormone also has a significant influence on our feeling of happiness. It is responsible for the anticipation of pleasant events and is released when there are rewards and pleasant experiences. It is therefore all the more important to prevent a lack of dopamine at an early stage.
In this article we explain the term dopamine deficiency and show you the causes, symptoms and long-term consequences of this deficiency. After reading you will also know how to optimally increase your dopamine levels.
the essentials in brief
- Dopamine is a chemical messenger that relays instructions from the central nervous system. Dopamine is responsible for passing information from one neuron to the next.
- If there is a lack of dopamine, the brain can no longer regulate movements and their extent. However, a lack of dopamine also affects the brain's reward system, memory and other important brain functions.
- There are a few ways to increase dopamine levels naturally. These include protein-rich foods, regular intense exercise, high sleep quality, music, meditation and sunlight.
Glossary entry: The term dopamine deficiency explained in detail
So that you are fully informed, we have picked up the most important questions about dopamine deficiency for you in the following sections. So you know about the causes, symptoms and consequences and learn what options there are to remedy the defect.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter of the central nervous system. It is used for the communication of the nerve cells with each other. Dopamine is also popularly known as the happiness hormone because it mediates motivational and drive-enhancing effects.
As a messenger substance, dopamine is responsible for important control processes in the brain. It controls all of our movements and also plays a major role in motivation and drive. (Image source: unsplash.com / Garon Piceli)
All movements are controlled by dopamine because it is responsible for transmitting the excitation from nerve cells to muscle cells. However, dopamine not only plays an important role in the regulation of motor functions, but also of non-motor functions such as motivation, cognition and emotions. (1)
What is a dopamine deficiency?
A dopamine deficiency means that there is a reduced concentration of dopamine in the blood. Since dopamine is a very important messenger substance, a dopamine deficiency has various consequences.
Dopamine ensures a targeted control of movements. When dopaminergic neurons die off or too little dopamine is produced, the movement impulses are not transmitted or only transmitted very slowly. The brain can no longer regulate movements and their extent.
A lack of dopamine also affects the brain's reward system, memory and other important brain functions. When the dopamine receptors are no longer sufficiently stimulated, motivation, drive and attention suffer.
What Causes Dopamine Deficiency?
A dopamine deficiency can be caused by the death of dopaminergic neurons in the brain, reducing the production of dopamine. The first symptoms appear as soon as more than half of the neurons have died.
Drugs can also cause dopamine deficiency. Drug use overstimulates the dopamine receptors. If the dopamine level drops again, the receptors need a larger amount to be stimulated, resulting in a lack of dopamine.
A lack of dopamine can also have psychological reasons. Stress, physical and emotional strain can cause decreased dopamine production.
Malnutrition or fasting can also lead to a lack of dopamine. Adequate dietary intake of amino acids is important to prevent dopamine deficiency.
What are the symptoms of a dopamine deficiency?
If there is a lack of dopamine, the brain can no longer regulate movements and their extent. The following symptoms can therefore occur:
- muscle stiffness
- Unsteady gait and instability
If dopamine receptors are no longer stimulated enough, this also has negative effects on mental health. The following symptoms may occur:
- Decreased motivation
- attention disorders
- lack of concentration
- sleep disorders
- mood swings
In the stomach and kidneys, dopamine causes the blood vessels to widen and promotes blood flow. It also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. Possible symptoms of a dopamine deficiency are therefore also:
- bladder emptying disorders
What long-term consequences can a lack of dopamine have?
Over the long term, low levels of dopamine can lead to degenerative decline in motor skills and Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's has been shown to be inextricably linked to a lack of dopamine. In people with Parkinson's, dopamine levels are up to 90 percent lower.
In Parkinson's disease, the death of the dopaminergic neurons cannot be stopped. The movement disorders can therefore be joined by depression and dementia as the disease progresses. The lack of dopamine must be compensated for in patients with special medication.
It is believed that dopamine deficiency is also partly responsible for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Whether artificial dopamine can help those affected is still unclear.
How can I increase my dopamine levels?
Normally, dopamine levels are well regulated. But there are some ways to increase it naturally and thus positively influence your well-being:
- High-protein foods: Foods like eggs, dairy, legumes, turkey, and beef are particularly high in tyrosine and phenylalanine. These amino acids are necessary for dopamine production. (2)
- Regular high-intensity exercise: Studies show that regular high-intensity exercise several times a week increases dopamine levels. (3.4)
- Improving the quality of sleep: When there is a lack of sleep, the availability of dopamine receptors in the brain is drastically reduced. (5) Good quality sleep helps regulate the body's natural dopamine rhythm.
- Sounds and Music: Music increases brain activity in the reward and pleasure areas, which are rich in dopamine receptors. (6) One study found a 9 percent increase in brain dopamine levels when people listen to songs that give them goosebumps. (7)
- Meditation: Recent research shows that the benefits of meditation are due to increased levels of dopamine in the brain. One study found a 64 percent increase in dopamine levels after a one-hour meditation. (8th)
- Sunlight: Sunlight not only promotes the production of vitamin D, but also the production of dopamine. One study shows that people who received the most sun exposure had the highest density of dopamine receptors in the reward and motor regions of their brain. (9)
Which foods contain a lot of dopamine?
The amino acid tyrosine is required for the production of dopamine. Tyrosine can also be made from the amino acid phenylalanine. Both amino acids are found in protein-rich foods such as turkey, beef, legumes or eggs.
Protein-rich foods like eggs are particularly high in tyrosine and phenylalanine. These amino acids are necessary for dopamine production. (Image Source: pexels.com / Andie Cumber)
Increasing the amount of tyrosine and phenylalanine in the diet can also increase dopamine levels in the brain. (2.10"> Conversely, low levels of phenylalanine and tyrosine can lead to decreased levels of dopamine in the body. (11)
Ripe bananas are also good for increasing dopamine because they contain a high concentration of tyrosine. Other foods that increase dopamine include almonds, apples, watermelons, cherries, yogurt, and beans. The phenylalanine contained in these foods is converted into tyrosine in the body.
In addition to the two amino acids, all B vitamins, especially B6, as well as iron and magnesium also play an important role. When one of these factors is lacking, the production of dopamine from tyrosine is disrupted. Fish, such as salmon or mackerel, meat and liver are particularly good sources of vitamin B6.
Iron plays a major role in dopamine metabolism, as iron deficiency negatively affects dopamine functions. (12) Iron is found primarily in red meat, beetroot, sauerkraut, and cabbage.
What medications should I take for dopamine deficiency?
Dopamine cannot simply be replaced in the brain. Ingested or injected, it would not cross the blood-brain barrier and would not get to the right place. Therefore, the active ingredient levodopa (L-Dopa) is administered. This precursor of the body's own dopamine reaches the brain, is converted into dopamine and compensates for the deficit for a short time.
These drugs can only be purchased from clinics and doctors. They are not prescribed by prescription and cannot be obtained by the patient in any other form.
Dopamine is mainly used in emergency medicine. Since the drugs have a high potential for side effects, the doctor will clarify individually whether a patient may receive the drug.
When is the dopamine level too low?
Dopamine can be measured in urine, collecting urine volume over 24 hours. Certain foods such as bananas, coffee, cheese, nuts, tea and vanilla should be avoided during the urine collection period.
The following normal values apply to the 24-hour urine collection:
|Old||Optimal Dopamine Level (in micrograms per day)|
|Under 1 year||≤ 85|
|1-2 years||≤ 140|
|2-4 years||≤ 260|
|4-18 years||≤ 450|
Dopamine can also be measured in blood plasma. A value of less than 50 picograms per milliliter is optimal here. Alcohol, coffee, tea and nicotine should be avoided in the 12 hours before blood collection. In addition, the patient should lie still for 20 minutes beforehand.
By whom and how is a dopamine deficiency diagnosed?
A lack of dopamine is usually detected in 24-hour urine. The value in adults is normally 190 to 450 micrograms per day. The value can also be determined in the blood.
Dopamine levels vary greatly from person to person. This explains why some people tend to be calm and sluggish and others excited and active. The measurement of the dopamine value is therefore not part of a standard examination.
The doctor only determines the dopamine value if there is a suspicion of tumors in the adrenal medulla, because these tumors often produce more dopamine.
All of our movements are controlled by dopamine because it is responsible for transmitting excitation from nerve cells to muscle cells. When dopaminergic neurons die off or too little dopamine is produced, the movement impulses are not transmitted or only transmitted very slowly. In the long term, low levels of dopamine can lead to Parkinson's disease.
Dopamine is also popularly known as the happiness hormone because it mediates motivational and drive-enhancing effects. If the dopamine receptors are no longer sufficiently stimulated, motivation, drive and attention also suffer. There are a few ways to increase dopamine levels naturally. These include protein-rich foods, regular intense exercise, high quality sleep, music, meditation and sunlight.
- Mishra, A., Singh, S., & Shukla, S. (2018). Physiological and Functional Basis of Dopamine Receptors and Their Role in Neurogenesis: Possible Implication for Parkinson's Disease. Journal of Experimental Neuroscience, 12.
- Kühn S, Düzel S, Colzato L, Norman K, Gallinat J, Brandmaier AM, Lindenberger U, & Widaman KF (2017). Food for thought: association between dietary tyrosine and cognitive performance in younger and older adults. Psychological Research, 83(6), 1097-1106.
- Fisher BE, Li Q, Nacca A, Salem GJ, Song J, Yip J, Hui JS, Jakowec MW, & Petzinger GM (2013). Treadmill exercise elevates striatal dopamine D2 receptor binding potential in patients with early Parkinson's disease. NeuroReport, 24(10), 509-514.
- Petzinger GM, Holschneider DP, Fisher BE, McEwen S, Kintz N, Halliday M, Toy W, Walsh JW, Beeler J, & Jakowec MW (2015). The Effects of Exercise on Dopamine Neurotransmission in Parkinson's Disease: Targeting Neuroplasticity to Modulate Basal Ganglia Circuitry. Brain Plasticity, 1(1), 29-39.
- Volkow ND, Tomasi D, Wang GJ, Telang F, Fowler JS, Logan J, Benveniste H, Kim R, Thanos PK, & Ferre S. (2012). Evidence That Sleep Deprivation Downregulates Dopamine D2R in Ventral Striatum in the Human Brain. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(19), 6711-6717.
- Blood, AJ, & Zatorre, RJ (2001). Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(20), 11818-11823.
- Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, & Zatorre RJ (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience, 14(2), 257-262.
- Kjaer TW, Bertelsen C, Piccini P, Brooks D, Alving J, & Lou HC (2002). Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness. Cognitive Brain Research, 13(2), 255-259.
- Tsai HY, Chen KC, Yang YK, Chen PS, Yeh TL, Chiu NT, & Lee IH (2011). Sunshine exposure variation of human striatal dopamine D2/D3 receptor availability in healthy volunteers. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 35(1), 107-110.
- Fernstrom, JD, & Fernstrom, MH (2007). Tyrosine, Phenylalanine, and Catecholamine Synthesis and Function in the Brain. The Journal of Nutrition, 137(6), 1539S-1547S.
- Montgomery, AJ, McTavish, SFB, Cowen, PJ, & Grasby, PM (2003). Reduction of Brain Dopamine Concentration With Dietary Tyrosine Plus Phenylalanine Depletion: An [11C]Raclopride PET Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160(10), 1887-1889.
- Kim, J., & Wessling-Resnick, M. (2014). Iron and mechanisms of emotional behavior. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 25(11), 1101-1107.