Dopamine, or the naturally formed chemical in the human body, plays a critical role in almost everything, right from cognition and mood, to the capability to control body movements. It is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter that transmits signals from the body to the brain. There has to be the right amount of dopamine in the body to maintain a healthy mental and physical state.
A balanced level of dopamine is also a prerequisite for proper neural functions that impact mood, sleep, memory, learning, concentration, sex drive, and motor control. Reduction in the quantity of dopamine produced in the body or any issue with the brain receptors can lead to dopamine deficiency. Deficiency is often related to disorders like depression and Parkinson’s disease.
Dopamine deficiency symptoms often vary according to the root cause. One with Parkinson’s disease will show different symptoms from the one with deficiency resulting from drug use. However, some common signs of dopamine deficiency are:
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Imbalance and lack of self-awareness
- Aches and stiffness in the muscles
- Difficulty in eating
- Weight loss/weight gain
- Gastro-esophageal reflux disease
- Recurrent pneumonia
- Lack of ability to focus
- Slower movement than earlier (bradykinesia)
- Demotivation, sadness, hopelessness, guilt, anxiety
- Mood swings
- Low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts
- Low libido, low sex drive
Several factors can lead to dopamine deficiency, including - existing conditions, drug or substance abuse, and lack of a balanced diet.
Frequent drug abuse changes the margins for dopamine cell activation and signaling. Hence, when dopamine deficiency is due to drug abuse, it indicates that the thresholds are higher; therefore, it becomes difficult for the user to get the positive effects of dopamine. Studies also show that drug abusers experience considerable depletion in dopamine D2 receptors as well as in dopamine release.
Sugar and saturated fat-rich diets can restrain dopamine. On the other hand, a food that is deficient in protein indicates a lack of l-tyrosine, the amino acid that assists in dopamine formation. In recent researches, it was found that obese people who possess a particular gene are prone to be dopamine deficient.
The most common conditions linked to a dopamine deficiency is Parkinson’s disease, in which there is a loss of the nerve cells as well as depletion of dopamine levels in a particular section of the brain.
Low dopamine has been associated with several mental health conditions like depression, schizophrenia, and psychosis. However, doctors say that dopamine deficiency does not directly lead to such terms. Such deficiency also affects sex life and sexual health, as with a reduction in dopamine levels a person lacks in desire for sex or sexual activity.
Measuring dopamine levels in the brain is not very easy, as there is a lack of a reliable method. However, some roundabout ways do exist to find out dopamine level imbalance in the brain. Physiologists are known to gauge the density of dopamine transporters, which show a positive relationship with the nerve cells that use dopamine. The test is done by injecting a radioactive substance that binds to dopamine transporters, which is then clinically monitored and measured by the camera. Besides, doctors also take into consideration an individual’s symptoms, lifestyle choices, along with his/her medical history before concluding on a condition associated with dopamine deficiency.
The root cause of the condition becomes the deciding factor for treatment. Those afflicted with mental health conditions, like depression or schizophrenia, are prescribed to do medications as a therapy. Also, the drugs recommended for such patients are known to have anti-depressants and mood stabilizers.
For treating Parkinson’s disease, the three most commonly prescribed drugs are Levodopa, Ropinirole, and pramipexole, as they have the potential to increase dopamine levels.
Psychotherapy, alterations in lifestyle and diet, physical exercises for muscle stiffness, and movement issues are also suggested as a cure for dopamine deficiency.
Some other remedies are also there for treating patients with dopamine deficiency. One such is consuming supplements to trigger levels of vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 essential fatty acids, as they are believed to be instrumental in raising dopamine levels. Things that make one happy and relaxed - exercising, therapeutic massage, yoga, and meditation - are also said to have the power to increase dopamine levels.
With its potential to influence both the body and the mind, dopamine can effectively alter the lifestyle of an individual. Anyone concerned about the dopamine level in the body, must immediately see a doctor and seek medical help.
Medically reviewed by Rishabh Verma, RP