Dopamine is a chemical brain messenger (neurotransmitter) that is involved in control of emotional responses like reward, addiction, pain, pleasure and motivation, as well as memory and concentration. A dominant condition affected by low dopamine levels is Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine is released by receptors in the brain, but there are many lifestyle and dietary factors that can affect this.
Melatonin and dopamine work synergistically together to control our sleep-wake cycle, also known as our ‘circadian rhythm’. So in people whose sleep is inconsistent, night shift workers or jet lagged, over time this will affect dopamine release and hence many other symptoms along with it. The pineal gland in our brain detects changes in light through our eyes and either releases or inhibits melatonin or dopamine to prepare us for wakefulness or sleep. Studies show that generally, dopamine is lowest and melatonin is highest around 10pm at night, as well as our regenerative sleep being deepest between 10pm and 2am. So what time we’re falling asleep and the quality of our sleep is crucial.
I can’t stress enough about how important protein is for our brain neurotransmitters, it contains vital amino acids (particularly tyrosine and phenylalanine) and also key B vitamins (B3, B6, B9) required to synthesise mood hormones like dopamine. General dietary recommendations for protein intake is 1-1.2g per kilo of body weight,
and particularly important at night time as dopamine levels decrease throughout the day. Some short term tracking of your protein intake on various apps might be useful for determining where yours is sitting at.
The ever so popular gut-brain axis strikes again. Dopamine receptors have been found to be present in the intestinal walls of the gut mucosa, even though the majority of it is created in the brain. The link between the digestive system and dopamine links back both ways, meaning efficient dopamine levels will assist with balancing our bacterial growth but a compromised digestive system will affect dopamine’s production.
The variety of the bacteria in our gut is largely dependent on the food we eat and antibiotic use. Overall, you can see why it is so important to eat a diet high in fibre and beneficial prebiotic foods which can be the simplest things. Seeds, whole grains, fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir yoghurt, miso) and an abundance of fresh fruit and veg are some easy choices. And if there is a requirement for antibiotic use, consider some probiotic supplementation alongside.
Some other simple natural ways to help increase our lovely friend dopamine would be regular exercise, creating to-do lists and checking them off, meditation, listening to music, massages, exposure to sunlight (vitamin D) and human/pet contact.
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Teresa Oddi is a degree qualified Naturopath with a special interest in treating immune conditions such as autoimmune disease and allergies as well as fatigued states. She is available for consultation Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. To book your appointment with Teresa click HERE