What is dopamine? It is called in different ways: the hormone of joy, happiness, pleasure, and they also say that it is he who controls our passions. Behavior, mood and even the character of a person largely depends on this hormone. He is responsible for attention and motivation, activates the craving for study. What of all this is true and what is an exaggeration, whether it is necessary to replenish dopamine reserves in the body and how to do it correctly – we will tell you about all this in the article.
Dopamine: what is it
Dopamine is a chemical substance (neurotransmitter) that is produced by the brain and adrenal glands, involved in the transmission of nerve impulses, as well as in the synthesis of another well–known hormone – adrenaline. The surge of the latter causes an increase in breathing and heart rate in the body, a rush of blood to the skin and muscles.
The release of dopamine also occurs in shock situations for a person, during severe stress or pain. In such cases, it helps to adapt to extremely difficult conditions – it does not let you die from pain or fear. In addition, the hormone is responsible for regulating sleep cycles and human cognitive abilities.
Neurophysiologists consider dopamine to be a group of transmitters – substances that are responsible for transporting signals between brain cells. That is, thanks to dopamine, the impulse is transmitted from neuron to neuron – such a kind of language of cells.
But why is this hormone attributed to such a wide range of actions? It turns out that the effect of dopamine on the body depends on a variety of factors, including what other transmitters dopamine contacts during the transmission of the pulse.
Dopamine is responsible for the incentive to do something and interacts closely with the so-called reward system, which scientists have found in the human brain. To understand how this system works, it is enough to recall the well-known carrot and stick method, when after praise a person has joy and a desire to do something even better. In addition, dopamine affects the brain centers responsible for memory, curiosity and learning ability.
Functions in the body
Experts are still continuing to study what functions dopamine performs in the human body. Below we will consider the most famous theories.
- Responsible for the feeling of pleasure. When dopamine interacts with the center of the reward system, a person experiences a feeling of joy, pleasure and relaxation.
- Forms motivation. Experts have found that dopamine not only activates the reward system, causing a feeling of pleasure as a result of some action, but also gives an impetus to this action itself. Thus, dopamine helps to create and maintain motivation. Therefore, if the body lacks a hormone, a person’s motivation decreases or anhedonia develops (a condition in which the ability to experience pleasure is lost).
- Improves cognitive function, learning and memory. Many experts believe that dopamine is one of the key factors responsible for memory and learning processes. It turns out that this hormone helps a person to remember new information more easily. And all because it is able to strengthen the connection between the nucleus accumbens and other centers of the brain responsible for memory. There is also another theory explaining the effect of dopamine on learning ability. It has been proven that some people (especially women) tend to remember information more easily if it causes certain emotions. And since dopamine affects the brain centers responsible for emotional state, this makes it useful for learning as well. In addition, it has been proven that dopamine is also the basis of associative learning.
- Arouses curiosity. Curiosity can be regarded as a kind of internal motivator, pushing to look for answers and learn more new things. In other words, thanks to healthy curiosity, a person has a craving for learning, research, and self-improvement. And dopamine is also responsible for this desire. Interestingly, curiosity is closely related to a person’s ability to remember. The fact is that in both cases, the hormone affects the same centers of the brain. Therefore, people, as a rule, easily and for a long time remember information obtained out of curiosity (even if it is not so important to them).
- Reveals the creative potential. Scientists have discovered a link between dopamine and creativity. Although it has also been found that in people with very pronounced creative abilities, dopamine receptors are in many ways similar to those of people suffering from schizophrenia. It turned out that in the first and second, the density of dopamine receptors in the thalamus (the area of the brain that filters the information received, as well as participating in the processes of reasoning and cognition) is lower. That is, due to less filtering, more information enters the brain of such a person. That is why, at the moment of decision-making, creative personalities offer many unusual options, and schizophrenics have associations that are strange for healthy people.
- Influence on character. According to the results of many studies, dopamine affects the level of impulsivity of a person, and is also responsible for the desire for new sensations. The higher the activity of dopamine receptors, the more impulsive a person is. Such people are more prone to risky behavior than others, as well as to various kinds of addictions.
- Helps to fight cancer. This opinion was expressed by specialists of the Ohio State University (USA). A group of scientists led by Sujit Basu found that dopamine slows down the growth of blood vessels within a malignant tumor. Since the vessels for cancerous formations serve as a source of nutrition, along with stopping the growth of capillaries, the growth of a malignant tumor also stops. In addition, scientists have stated that dopamine is able to alleviate the negative side effects of 5-fluorouracil, which is used in chemotherapy. In particular, the hormone prevents changes in the blood formula after therapy with the use of this substance.
- Prevents myopia. A few years ago, a group of specialists from Australia stated that the cause of myopia in modern youth may be a lack of dopamine. According to scientists, nowadays people spend more and more time on computers and smartphones, and are less and less on the street, and this is the main cause of myopathy. The fact is that under the influence of bright daylight, dopamine is produced in the retina of the eyes. When a person is less likely to be in the sun, the hormone is produced in insufficient quantities, which causes elongation of the eyeball and, accordingly, myopia.
What is dangerous about dopamine deficiency
With a lack of dopamine, people tend to increase anxiety, lose motivation, suffer from boredom and depression, stop feeling the pleasure of life, enjoy things that bring earlier pleasure. Such persons have a lack of ambition and a healthy drive, they are not characterized by the ability to long-term attachments. Against the background of dopamine deficiency, libido decreases, erectile dysfunction is possible, the risk of diabetes and obesity increases, sleep problems, forgetfulness, fatigue appear even in the absence of physical exertion.
Dopamine deficiency can be the cause of various diseases, including phobias, deep depression, hyperactivity and attention disorders, Parkinson’s disease and some other disorders associated with impaired cognitive abilities. But if the cause of Parkinson’s disease is the degradation of parts of the brain that are responsible for the production of dopamine, then the rest of the disorders are the result of a direct deficiency of the hormone itself. Therefore, therapy for such disorders involves taking drugs that increase the level of dopamines. But in medical practice, hormone increase is a strictly controlled process. Improper therapy can cause addiction in the patient and bring the amount of hormone in the body to toxic levels.
Excess dopamine is also harmful
It would seem that there is not much happiness, which means that the hormone that causes this feeling is useful in any quantities. But this is an erroneous opinion. Excessively high levels of dopamine can cause various mental illnesses. Most often these are schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. For the treatment of such patients, drugs that inhibit the activity of the hormone are used. In addition, an excess of this substance makes people excessively impulsive, aggressive, prone to mania, psychosis, fetishism, unhealthy craving for risk, sexual addiction.
Dopamine and addiction formation
The basis of any kind of addiction always lies in the brain and, in particular, in the activity of dopamine. It takes a certain amount of time to form a dependency. A person first performs some action, which is associated with a surge of dopamine, and he feels pleasure. If this chain is repeated several times, a person becomes addicted – he repeats the same actions that are a source of pleasure for him. Interestingly, this scheme was embedded in the human brain in the process of evolution as one of the mechanisms that promote self-preservation. For example, eating is necessary to maintain vitality, sex is necessary for procreation.
But if dopamine is synthesized in excess, the brain eventually stops responding to it. As a result, the pleasure of this or that activity decreases. Therefore, people with bad habits in the desire to experience pleasure of the same power should constantly increase the dose of the source of joy. But what is important to understand is that dopamine itself does not cause dependence on, for example, drugs. This hormone supports motivation to find a source of joy. And several other mechanisms are directly responsible for the formation of dependencies.
Something similar (but without physical dependence) happens to people who try to deal with stress or a bad mood with food, shopping or other pleasant activities for them. But as scientists have noticed, in such cases, the level of dopamine is quite rarely able to rise to a dangerous level.
Why is there a dopamine deficiency
Various factors can lead to a lack of this hormone. For example:
- improper nutrition;
- chronic stress;
- hormonal imbalance;
- taking drugs that suppress the production of dopamine;
- drug addiction.
In addition, the production of the pleasure hormone worsens in old age. And this partly explains the decline in cognitive functions in the elderly.
How to increase Dopamine levels
It has been scientifically proven that any actions that bring pleasure to a person are a good way to increase the amount of dopamine in the body. The exception is drug addiction, alcoholism, tobacco addiction, outbursts of aggression and violence, even if a person experiences pleasure from it.
Doing what you love and the amount of dopamine in the body is a kind of vicious circle. For example, a person is fond of floriculture. This activity causes him to have a surge of dopamine. In turn, an increase in the pleasure hormone encourages him to repeat actions related to his favorite thing over and over again.
The same thing happens in the body of gourmets. Eating your favorite treat activates the production of dopamine. But what is interesting is that, as a rule, the active production of the hormone causes far from the most useful food for health and figure. In a few people, the amount of dopamine increases from eating broccoli or steamed cutlets, but most will enjoy chocolate, smoked meats and other unhealthy foods. But this does not mean that in order to increase the hormone, you should become a slave to your harmful gastronomic preferences. If you know some secrets, you can try to deceive the body and increase the amount of hormone not with the products that the brain requires, but with more useful ones.
To synthesize dopamine, the body needs the amino acid tyrosine. Hence the first advice – to increase the amount of dopamine, you need to eat foods rich in tyrosine. But the body can get tyrosine in one more way: from another amino acid – phenylalanine. That is, in order to maintain the level of the pleasure hormone in the norm, it is not necessary to go about your addictions. It is enough to eat foods rich in these amino acids.
Green tea also helps to increase dopamine levels. But it is important to note that its effect in this regard is very short. In addition, some plants with medicinal effects will help to enhance hormone production: vitex (prutnyak); red clover; mukuna; spirulina; gingko biloba; pink rhodiola.
Drugs that increase dopamine
There are actually quite a lot of them both among dietary supplements and more serious medications. But it should be noted that some funds from this group cannot be taken without consulting a specialist. Substances that increase dopamine: vitamin B6; L-tyrosine; beta-alanine; berberine; phosphatidylserine; citicoline and similar drugs from the nootropics group.
Other useful tips
It is also possible to activate the surge of dopamine by safer methods than taking medications that do not have side effects. We are talking about some habits that will be useful to everyone.
- Take more walks in the fresh air. Even 15-minute walks will help you get a boost of energy and improve your mood. It is best to take a walk during the day in sunny weather, as the sun activates dopamine receptors.
- Do not avoid physical exertion. Moderate physical activity increases the production of dopamine and serotonin. This can be training in the gym, running or physical work in the country.
- Reconsider your lifestyle. It has been proven that the ability to relax makes a person happier. Breathing exercises and yoga classes will help to maintain the pleasure hormone in the right amount.
- Observe the sleep mode. Proper sleep should last at least 7-8 hours. During this time, the body will have time to fully rest and restore strength, including the production of necessary hormones.
- Start the day with a contrasting shower. This procedure invigorates well, gives a surge of strength, improves mood, and after it, dopamine production increases almost twice.
- Reward yourself for achievements. It can be pleasant little things in the form of a cup of your favorite tea, a portion of sweets, watching your favorite movie, walking or traveling. The main thing is for the brain to understand: after the work done (especially the work that you don’t want to do at all), he will receive his well-deserved reward.
- Do a massage. Pleasant touches of the masseur’s hands also cause a surge of the pleasure hormone. By the way, scientists say that almost the same effect is given by ordinary hugs – after them, dopamine also increases.
- Have sex. After physical intimacy, the hormone level rises sharply in both partners. By the way, regular sex life helps to maintain normal not only dopamine, but also other hormones.
People whose bodies lack dopamine eventually lose the ability to enjoy life, their cognitive abilities are impaired, they become more irritable and aggressive. And it is not difficult to maintain the amount of this hormone – you just need to follow the advice of specialists and you will be happy.