Dopamine is a catecholamine neurotransmitter with many important functions. It is the primary reward neurotransmitter with many other implications on cognitive functioning and mood. Dopamine is considered a nootropic neurotransmitter due to its effects on essential cognitive functioning. Many drugs both legal and illegal use the dopamine structure, method or pathway to pharmacologically change the way our brains work.
Dopamine imbalance can cause many problems. Anhedonia (not feeling enjoyment), depression, low libido and cognitive decline may all be caused by low dopamine. The neurotransmitter not only works as a nootropic, but also as an anti-depressant and it is often overlooked as being a problem. Many people with low dopamine may be seen as being depressed and prescribed SSRI’s when in fact, these many do more harm than good (raising serotonin can lower dopamine further).
Malfunction of dopamine signals is a main theory behind ADHD. ADHD is a very serious problem and it is often not identified soon enough. These people basically have weak dopamine signals due to their chemical makeup. Amphetmaine drugs meant to imitate and amplify dopamine effects are often an only option for these people. These drugs are effective but very unsafe and addictive.
Causes & Symptoms of Low Dopamine?
Finding a root cause for low dopamine is very tricky. There is no way to tell wether or not someone will be low in dopamine. If you do have low dopamine it is important to be mindful and aware as there may be ways to correct the problem. People with low dopamine are more likely to be depressed, have low energy, sex drive and become drug addicts or become addicted to other things (sex, gambling, adrenaline).
Understanding the ADHD mind can help us understand some of the aspects of low dopamine. To the naked eye, most ADHD suffers seem to be very happy. The reason we (non-ADHD sufferers) assume this is becaused people with ADHD often seem very lively and social. This may be true because people with ADHD may be very social and impulsive with a lack of focus.
We may observe these signs as a sign of happiness however this often couldn’t be further from the truth in fact, ADHD sufferers are often very depressed and just don’t show it. ADHD sufferers are also more likely to become addicited to substances or events that increase dopamine response (cocaine, meth, gambling, danger).
Solving Low Dopamine
The good news is that solving low dopamine can be fairly easy. The bad news is that a lot of these drug treatments are not safe. Most substances involving dopamine are stimulants that are also addictive. For safety, these types of drugs should ALWAYS be ruled out first. They are not a long-term or viable treatment option for low dopamine and having low dopamine in the first place can increase the desire for these substances even more so avoid at all costs.
Trying to increase dopamine with supplementation is a great option. There are several natural supplements to do this relatively safetly. They are not drugs so one does not need to worry about addiction or downregulation of dopamine receptors. For those with low dopamine, this should always be the first choice. The other less safer option, may be to ask for a MAO-b from your doctor.
Dopamine Precursor Nootropics
L-Phenylalanine → L-Tyrosine → L-DOPA → Dopamine
Above is the body’s route of synthesis for natural dopamine. L-Phenylalanine is an amino acid and a precursor to another amino acid, L-tyrosine. In reality, taking either of these amino acids will help to increase the level of dopamine in the brain. They also function mildly as nootropics due to this effect.
Dopamine itself cannot be orally consumed as a supplement because it cannot penetrate the brain. The next best thing to dopamine is its direct precursor, L-DOPA. L-DOPA can be obtained in pure form however it is a prescription prescribed for Parkinson’s disease in many countries. The supplement, mucuna pruriens is rich in L-DOPA and a great nootropic supplement to increase dopamine.
Monoamine oxidase B is an enzyme that breaks down dopamine. MAO-B is necessary in the body however it can be in high levels and negative for maintaining healthy levels of dopamine.
There are two groups of MAO-B inhibitors: reversible and irreversible. Reversible ones are much less effective however they are less dangerous. Irreversible MAO-B inhibitors like Selegiline are very effective for increasing dopamine however they should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.