The Most Common Symptoms of Low Dopamine

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Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical, that plays the important role of sending signals from the brain to the body. It is produced naturally in different key sections of the brain and is important for functions such as motor skills, cognitive abilities, and reproduction.

This neurotransmitter spikes in anticipation of something important which is about to happen, plays key roles in the body’s reward and motivation system, and also affects memory.

Dopamine performs these important functions despite making up only a small percentage—less than 1% —of the brain’s neurons. In the right amount, this neurotransmitter is crucial for brain function, but when this amount is lowered beyond a prescribed point, it can just as equally have an unintended consequence on the body. Dopamine deficiency has been linked to neurodegenerative conditions in the body.

To understand the effects of low dopamine, we’ll first examine the signs and causes of this condition. Then, we’ll learn about the conditions most commonly linked to dopamine deficiency for a keener understanding of its effects. Finally, we'll share the ways you can maintain your body’s production of this important neurotransmitter.

Symptoms of Low Dopamine

With links to conditions like schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease, dopamine deficiency can exhibit similar traits with these conditions. These traits include:

  • Chronic back pain
  • Persistent constipation
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing
  • Sleep disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Attention difficulties
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Low moods

Causes of Low Dopamine

A number of factors may be responsible for reduced dopamine in the body. These include sleep deprivation, obesity, drug abuse, saturated fat, and stress. Here's a closer look at each.

Sleep Deprivation

Besides your morning coffee, dopamine is one of the reasons you feel refreshed and alert most mornings. This wakefulness is promoted by dopamine receptors, in particular the D2 receptor. These receptors help to mediate the functions of dopamine in the body.

However, sleep deprivation can reduce the number of D2 receptors in important parts of the brain. Where this happens, the transmission and production of dopamine is impacted.

In fact, with a condition like Parkinson's disease which sustains low dopamine levels, most people feel excessive daytime sleepiness.

Obesity

Obesity has been linked to a number of health conditions, but one less known effect is the role it plays in downregulating or reducing the amount of dopamine in the brain.

Like the results of sleep deprivation, obesity can lead to a reduction in D2 receptors in the brain. This becomes especially obvious when comparisons are made with the number of receptors in people who are not obese.

Drug Abuse

During early usage, certain drugs may contribute to an increase in dopamine. Cocaine is one drug that has been known to produce euphoria and increased dopamine levels following usage.

However, long-term use of these drugs is certain to offer diminishing returns, especially where dopamine production is concerned.

Because of the sustained increase in dopamine production following drug use, the brain intervenes to reduce the number of dopamine receptors available.

Saturated Fat

When you have fried chicken, buttered bread, chocolate, and other foods high in saturated fats, your brain understandably lights up with dopamine at all the pleasure you're receiving from these foods.

However, while these foods only produce short-term enjoyment. Over time, persistently observing a high-fat diet disrupts central nervous system functioning, where dopamine is produced. When it is disrupted, this can lead to a dopamine deficit.

Stress

There are very few things stress is good for, and maintaining optimal dopamine levels isn’t one of them. When you are constantly exposed to stressors like financial difficulty, relationship troubles, workplace stress, and more, this can affect your body’s production of dopamine. Over time, this may also lead to a deficiency of the neurotransmitter in the body.

Conditions Linked With Dopamine Deficiency

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder is one of the most severe mental and behavioral disorders. It is characterized by prolonged depressive moods, or a lack of interest in activities that would ordinarily be appealing. This loss of interest is commonly referred to as anhedonia.

However, beyond a loss of interest, anhedonia is also related to a disruption in the mind's reward process. The usual anticipation, motivation, and decision-making stages involved in the reward system are greatly affected. This change has been linked to dysfunctions in the dopamine system.

Decreased levels of dopamine have been known to form the basis of the symptoms associated with major depressive disorders.

Schizophrenia

This disorder is linked with an abnormal interpretation of reality. Schizophrenia is a severe mental health condition that can affect a person’s ability to think, act, or express themselves.

Typically diagnosable by symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and abnormal physical gaits, these signs may also be attributed to an imbalance of dopamine in the body.

Lower levels of dopamine have been linked to other signs such as anhedonia, an inability to complete tasks, and demotivation to engage in social interactions.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s is a disorder of the nervous system. It is identifiable by tremors which may begin as barely noticeable, before progressing into obvious quivers, muscle stiffness, or delayed movement. This disorder may also cause problems with balance during motion.

Parkinson’s disease is the result of a number of factors, one of which is a reduction in the production of dopamine in the brain. When there is a dopamine deficit, this can cause the distinct movement difficulties associated with this condition.

How to Treat Low Dopamine Levels

Low dopamine levels can produce negative reactions throughout the body. To prevent and remedy this deficiency, the following methods can prove useful.

Exercise

Working up a sweat by running, swimming, dancing, or other forms of movement, can help with increasing dopamine levels in the body. Studies carried out on animals have shown that certain portions of the brain are flushed with dopamine during physical activity. It is why exercising may sometimes produce a high.

Natural Sources

Your body’s supply of dopamine may be supported by external sources. Natural sources such as bananas, plantain, and avocado have been found to contain high levels of dopamine. Apples, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes have also been recognized as dopamine sources. Proteins are also notable components in the dopamine production process.

Probiotics

Probiotics may get more notice for promoting gut health, but this bacteria is not only an important part of the body’s microbiome, it may also be useful for the production of dopamine and other neurotransmitters.

Music

It’s not 100% certain how music affects the brain, but there’s a reason why certain songs give you chills, make you mellow, and very notably, have the power to invigorate you while listening.

The last potential may be due to the ability of music to stimulate dopamine production in the brain. This leaves you with feelings of pleasure and excitement when listening to music, and can help to increase dwindling dopamine levels.

A Word From Verywell

In the right amount, dopamine can give you feelings of pleasure, excitement and motivation when carrying out activities. Things start to go south, however, when the  body runs low on this neurotransmitter. This can happen because of a genetic predisposition, obesity, stress, and other causes.

When this happens, it isn't uncommon for you to experience persistent tiredness, constipation, poor moods, sleep disorders, and other negative reactions.

Thankfully, the body's dopamine levels can be increased using the right diet that consists of fruits like banana, probiotics, as well as protein. You can also get your dopamine fix by listening to music and routinely engaging in exercise.

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