Our reward system and dopamine: All about dopamine

dOpamine makes us human. Curiosity, excitement, desire, attention, purposeful actions, search for rewards, movement and the trap of repeating pleasurable behaviors. Let’s learn about this wonderful chemical messenger…

Everything is dopamine. Without it, there is no pleasure, satisfaction or addiction.

Last week I published Our Reward System and Dopamine: A Life-Sustaining Trap. If you want to learn about the anatomy and physiology of it all, as well as your compulsive behavior and addiction trap, give it a try.

Shortly after starting the article, I knew I needed a lot more information. So let’s call this second part.

When it comes to emotional and mental health disorders, let’s learn about dopamine…

What is dopamine?

In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter and takes care of things in several different pathways. The best known is our reward system, which is why dopamine is often known as the feel-good neurotransmitter.

Other pathways address operations, such as motor control and regulation of the release of a variety of hormones.

Dopamine influences all types of functions and states, including mood, motivation, and attention, as well as regulating movement, learning, and emotional responses. And, of course, it is the power source of our reward system.

From birth, dopamine levels are critical. And when they are too high or low, anguish usually accompanies them.

Such distress can include ADHD, addiction, compulsive behavior, depression, schizophrenia, and OCD. Dopamine also plays an important role in problems such as congenital hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and restless legs syndrome.

Dopamine is synthesized in several places deep in the brain. The synthesis chain is from phenylalanine to tyrosine, to L-DOPA and to dopamine.

What does dopamine do?

Can you smell them?

“It is no exaggeration to say that dopamine makes us human.” That powerful statement comes from the Psychology Today article, Dopamine.

The craving that many of us feel when the cookies come out of the oven, the pleasure of smelling the morning coffee, the joy of falling in love, the magic of sex, the irresistible desire for that “I’ll have another” cocktail…

Everything is dopamine. Without it, there is no pleasure, satisfaction or addiction.

The addiction trap

In the first part I included the work of the psychiatrist. Dr. Amy Bankswho shared details about one of BF Skinner’s operant conditioning experiments in the 1950s.

According to Banks, when the experiment began, electrodes were implanted in the limbic system of rat brains, and received a small shock when they entered a specific corner of a box.

Skinner and the group figured that if the zap was unpleasant enough, the rats wouldn’t go to that corner.

But when the electrodes were placed in the brain nucleus accumbens, central to the reward system, something unexpected happened. Not only did the rats not avoid the corner, they returned to receive the shock 700 times in one hour. They even chose it over the food. According to Banks, it was something the rats absolutely “needed” to do.

She applied it to humans…

The increased motivation and energy that dopamine provides can be a good thing, but when your brain becomes wired into compulsive behaviors that stimulate the dopamine reward pathway (addictions), then your life can be as out of control as the rest of your life. Poor rat from Skinner’s Box.

And that’s the trap.

Manage dopamine levels

As we reviewed, a person’s dopamine level can be high or low. And scientists have always been interested in how it affects behavioral challenges and disability.

If you have reason to believe that your dopamine level is high or low, consult your doctor. And be sure to do so before taking drastic measures.

Dopamine increase

What does dopamine do?

A big part of basic self-care

Basic self-care is the starting point when it comes to naturally increasing dopamine levels.

How about some ideas…?

  • Eat foods rich in tyrosine. Remember, it is part of the dopamine synthesis chain: cheese, meats, fish, dairy, soy, seeds, nuts, beans, lentils and more. Supplements are available, but food is the preferred option.
  • Increase magnesium intake: seeds, nuts, soy, beans, whole grains, etc. Supplements are available.
  • Avoid processed foods, high in fat, sugar and caffeine.
  • Proper sleep hygiene is mandatory: it stimulates dopamine production
  • Daily exercise
  • Minimize stress
  • Consider using natural nootropicsincluding l-tyrosine and l-theanine

Look around. I’m sure there are others.

Decreased dopamine

Poor lifestyle choices are often to blame when high levels of dopamine occur. Let’s see: excessive stress, poor diet, poor sleep, substance use, risky behaviors… we are just asking for problems.

Here are some ways to naturally reduce dopamine levels…

  • Replace those bad lifestyle habits with basic self-care
  • Review your prescription medications with your doctor. Some may be causing problems, others may alleviate them. Clue: dopamine agonists activate dopamine receptors, while dopamine antagonists block dopamine receptors
  • Consider natural dopamine antagonists: bacopa, white mulberry, 5-HTP, lemon essential oil, noni fruit, magnolia bark, licorice root, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).

Finally, I must at least mention one dopamine fasting. It’s not exactly rocket science: it’s about decreasing or eliminating what you think may be causing your excess dopamine. Possibilities: food, substances, sex, porn, social media, dating.

Dopamine fasting has its pros and cons, so I suggest you tap the link just above before you dive in.

And if you want to learn more about how to lower dopamine levels, check out the Be Brain Fit article in the credits.

That will do it

Damn, I broke a sweat writing this one. A lot of information, but that’s because dopamine plays a huge role in our lives.

Name it: curiosity, arousal, desire, attention, purposeful actions, reward seeking, movement, and the trap of repeating pleasurable behaviors.

Dopamine really makes us human.

For details on how the reward system and dopamine work together, head to part one: Our reward system and dopamine: a life-sustaining trap.

Thanks to Psychology Today for the information dopamine. Thanks to Be Brain Fit for the information in their article. How to counteract the effects of excess dopamine.

As always, inspirational titles and insights into Chipur’s mood and anxiety await you.

Bill White is not a doctor and provides this information for educational purposes only. Always contact your doctor if he has questions, advice or recommendations.

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