If neurotransmitters were music stars, dopamine right now would be like Rosalía. In recent years this substance has become so popular that it has even entered colloquial language, and it is not uncommon to hear people talk about experiencing a “dopamine rush”, or even what they are doing on a dopamine fast.
Dopamine fasting, does it work?
However, dopamine is also one of the neurotransmitters that has been poorly understood by the general public. When we hear about dopamine in the media it is always in the context of pleasure. Dopamine is often referred to as the chemical that triggers the feeling of reward in our brain when we eat a chocolate cone or receive a Like on Instagram. It is also to blame for us becoming addicted to drugs, food or gambling.
Much is said about the role of dopamine in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, where reward is located and the activity of this neurotransmitter increases when, for example, we win a game of chance. Well-known drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, trigger dopamine levels.
why do you need dopamine
But while dopamine plays a role in addiction, it’s not actually the neurotransmitter for pleasure. It can be said that it is rather the neurotransmitter of motivation. We need dopamine for things as mundane as getting out of a chair and moving around, or opening the fridge to get food, as well as for memory, attention, and immune system function. Although related to reward, dopamine is necessary before receiving a reward.
For example, the smell of food causes our dopamine levels to spike, even though we haven’t eaten anything yet. Studies with roulette players have found that dopamine in the nucleus accumbens increases both when they win and when they lose but they stay very close to her number coming out. In this case dopamine is not a signal of pleasure, but a motivator to play again.
Dopamine-induced pleasure also does not explain drug addiction. Many cocaine addicts report that they don’t get much pleasure from taking a dose, yet they are still unable to quit. In fact, in studies in which dopamine receptors are blocked, the effect of the drug is not cancelled.
On the contrary, low levels of dopamine make us have little motivation, and are associated with depression and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. More than a dopamine fast, what many people need is for dopamine to do its job of motivating them.
Although our nervous system is in charge of regulating dopamine, there are things we can do to help maintain its levels and have energy and motivation in our daily lives:
- eat enough protein: our body manufactures dopamine mainly from an essential amino acid, which we have to get from food, called tyrosine, although it can also be derived from phenylalanine. Both are found in abundance in high-protein foods such as eggs, dairy, meat, soy, and legumes. Without enough protein in our diet, dopamine runs out.
- Take care of the intestinal microbiota: In recent years, an important connection has been discovered between the bacteria that inhabit our intestines and the brain. Most of the serotonin, another neurotransmitter, is produced in the intestine. Also, certain types of gut bacteria produce dopamine. Although the mechanism is not yet fully understood, studies indicate that certain types of probiotics (live bacteria) can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Physical exercise: Exercise improves the levels of almost all neurotransmitters, although the specific mechanism in the case of dopamine is not known and other neurotransmitters could be involved. In experiments with rats, run on the wheel It increases the levels of dopamine and its receptors. In another experiment with people who did yoga, it was seen that this exercise also increased their dopamine levels.
- get enough sleep: Lack of sleep has been shown to deplete dopamine in the brain. By forcing healthy people to stay awake at night, their dopamine levels turned out to be much lower in the morning. This affects concentration and coordination during the day.
- Listen to music: different studies have found that listening to music increases the activity of dopamines in the brain, especially when we get emotional. It has also been seen that this effect can help people with Parkinson’s to control their movements.
- Mucuna pruriens: This legume, native to Africa and Asia, naturally contains very high levels of L-Dopa, a molecule that is a direct precursor to dopamine. Studies indicate that the extract of these legumes can increase dopamine levels naturally, and even be more powerful than medications for people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, with fewer side effects. Although Mucuna pruriens extracts are sold as a supplement at herbalists, it is important to follow directions because they can be toxic in large amounts.
What is all this based on?