Regardless of their genetics or economic status, women in general are twice as likely to experience depression than men. According to the American Medical Association, the lifetime prevalence of major depression is 20-26% for women and 8-12% for men.
Major depression is defined by at least two weeks of depression that cause significant disruption of a person’s social, occupation and/or education functioning. The person usually loses interest or pleasure in almost all activities. They also exhibit at least 5 other substantial signs of depression.
Whereas a major depression episode is significant, milder experiences of depression can also interfere with your daily activities and linger if not addressed. And though there are many factors that can lead to depression, there is one factor that is most common with general depression, low dopamine.
The good news is that you are not powerless to overcome depression caused by low levels of dopamine. You can use natural remedies to include influencing your environments, lifestyle and diet, as well as taking specific supplements to support the production of dopamine and to increase dopamine levels in your brain.
So many women I speak with are on anti-depressants. And yes, they can certainly help. The problem is, they don’t realize that medication should normally be a short-term option to provide some relief. It should not be a long-term plan unless you have a dysfunction you can’t correct or are unable to produce the right chemistry on your own.
In most cases of low dopamine, you can do something about it without subjecting yourself to possible long-term side-effects and feelings that compound the problem. For instance,if you feel like you have depression and you can’t do anything about it expect take medication, this is going to add to your feeling of inadequacy. You can feel like something is wrong with you, and though you’re on medication how you’re thinking about yourself is going to counter the positive effects of the medication you’re taking.
So, lets look at depression caused by low dopamine for an instant and see if there’s another perspective.
Shift Your Perspective
First, if you understand that depression is often caused by a dopamine deficiency, and you understand a few important factors that can result in low dopamine, you can create a plan and take action that supports raising dopamine levels.
Therefore, when you feel depressed, don’t think of it as a defect in your body or personality. Instead, think of depression as an illness or a condition that requires fixing.
For instance, if you an infection, you may require medication, but you also need to get some rest, eat foods that support your immune system and digestion like chicken noodle soup and treat yourself well while your body recovers. If you break a bone, you may need some medication to help with pain relief, but you also need to rest the bone that needs repairing and you do that by having a cast put around the bone to stabilize it and avoid use.
If you are feeling depressed, and it’s not seriously interfering with your daily activities and you’re not considering suicide, then consider natural options for correcting the underlying “root problem.” By making some shifts in your current lifestyle and focusing of stress reduction, you can raise your dopamine.
The Brain Communicates Using Chemicals
Your brain communicates within itself and to organs and tissues throughout your body. This communication requires chemicals to transmit messages between neurons and to cells.
The chemical messengers are hormones and neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that pass messages from neuron to neuron while hormones are released by glands into the bloodstream and target specific organs and tissues.
Occasionally, chemicals can act as both a neurotransmitter and as a hormone, and at times they can be precursors – or necessary ingredients –for making other messenger chemicals. Meaning you need them to produce another hormone or neurotransmitter.
One example of this overlap is norepinephrine which can be released into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands as a hormone or can be released by sympathetic nerve endings as a neurotransmitter. And dopamine is a precursor for norepinephrine along with epinephrine (adrenaline).
This is important to note, because this points to a possible link to dopamine levels being affected by stress. Consider, if you have chronic stress and require stress hormones, which your brain prioritizes over others because it’s considering your survival, how will this affect your overall ability to maintain healthy levels of dopamine for other functions?
The Role Of Dopamine
Dopamine is a chemical (neurotransmitter) that is used by the nerves to send messages. When a nerve releases dopamine, it crosses a very small gap called a synapse and then attaches to a dopamine receptor on the next nerve. Dopamine is thought to affect feelings of bliss, pleasure, euphoria, drive, motivation, focus,and concentration.
When dopamine levels are depleted in the brain, the nerve impulses, or “messages,” cannot be transmitted properly and can impair brain functions: behavior, mood, cognition, attention, learning, movement, and sleep.
Since dopamine is a precursor for the production of epinephrine and norepinephrine, it also enters the bloodstream and therefore can also be considered a hormone.
We need dopamine to feel good, motivated and be able to focus. We also need dopamine to produce stress hormones. Knowing this, it’s easy to see how have low levels of dopamine can cause us to feel rundown and uninterested.
Signs And Symptoms Of Low Dopamine
Severe dopamine deficiency is related to medical conditions like clinical depression and Parkinson’s, disease, but even lower levels can because for concern. Lower levels can contribute to the following symptoms:
- Lack of interest in life
- Decreased motivation
- feeling inexplicably sad or tearful
- feeling hopeless
- Altered sleep patterns
- Restless leg syndrome
- Mood swings
- Excessive feelings of hopelessness or guilt
- Poor memory
- Inability to focus/impaired concentration
- Failure to finish tasks
- Low sex drive
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Impulsive or self-destructive behaviors
- Addictions to caffeine or other stimulants
- Weight gain
While none of these symptoms are caused exclusively by low dopamine, balancing your dopamine levels can improve both physical and cognitive symptoms. This is especially important considering that dopamine depletion can be caused by a wide variety of dietary and lifestyle factors, including poor diet, excessive sugar, caffeine, poor sleep, lack of exercise,over exercising, and frequent alcohol and/or drug use.
The Most Common Root Cause
One of the most common underlying reasons why I see low dopamine levels is due to nutritional deficiencies.
Nutritional deficiencies can be due to poor enzyme production, gastrointestinal dysfunction, microbiome imbalance, the wrong diet,and the list goes on.
And all of these have a link to stress; either they are due to chronic stress, cause chronic stress or both.
All hormones, and neurotransmitters require nutrients to produce them. In the case of dopamine,essential amino acids are required. If you are missing any of the amino acids required, you will have deficiencies.
When you are in a state of stress, your brain sends messages down the stress pathway which directs certain functions to increase and others to decrease.
This alone can contribute to nutritional deficiencies. Your brain wants to conserve energy for immediate survival functions, so processes like digestion are slowed down. Overtime, if you suffer with chronic stress, you can be nutritionally deficient even if you eat well.
How To Improve Dopamine Levels
For starters, find ways to reduce your overall stress. Exercising, listening to music, meditating, rest breaks and spending time with people and activities you enjoy.
This will help reduce your need for stress hormones and support your ability to digest and assimilate nutrients which provides your body with the proper building blocks it needs.
And that brings us to nutrition. By focusing on nutrition; what you eat, how you eat and supporting your digestive health, you have the best opportunity for supporting healthy dopamine levels.
Focus on Nutrition
Decrease your sugar intake. Not only does high amounts of sugar trigger your stress response and is a root cause for conditions that create stress, sugar alters brain chemistry by disrupting dopamine levels. This is one reason why people often experience a “sugar high” shortly after eating sweets. And this is why low dopamine levels can lead to sugar addiction.
Decrease caffeine intake. Even though coffee gives you the energy, after the initial energy boost, dopamine levels in the body decrease. So, limit the amount of caffeine you consume or let it go for a while.At least while you are working toward increasing your dopamine levels.
Increase protein intake. Proteins are made up of smaller building blocks; amino acids. There are 23 different amino acids, some of which your body can synthesize and others that you must get from food. One amino acid called tyrosine plays a critical role in the production of dopamine.
Tyrosine, and another amino acid called phenylalanine which can be converted to tyrosine, are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy and legumes.
Studies show that increasing the amount of tyrosine and phenylalanine in the diet can increase dopamine levels in the brain.
When phenylalanine and tyrosine are significantly reduced or eliminated from the diet, dopamine levels can become depleted.
Increase tyrosine, or phenylalanine, rich foods. Bananas,especially ripe bananas, are an exceptional food for regulating dopamine because they have a high concentration of tyrosine. Other foods that support dopamine levels are almonds, apples, watermelons, cherries, beans, eggs and meats.
Eat cleanly and avoid processed foods as much as possible. When you eat substances your body is unfamiliar with, it has to process the substances through the liver. This increases your need for energy and can trigger inflammation – stress.
Decrease inflammatory foods. Foods that cause inflammation trigger your stress response system. Sugar is on the list along with high-fructose corn syrup, dairy,artificial trans fats, fried foods, vegetable and seed oils, refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol, processed meats.
Supplements for Extra Support
For additional support you may consider supplements. It’s best to consult with a health practitioner, but here are the primary supplements to consider;
Tyrosine To boost your levels of dopamine, dopamine-rich foods may not be adequate. Tyrosine supplementation may help.
Probiotics In recent years, scientists have discovered that certain species of bacteria that live in your gut are also capable of producing dopamine.
Multivitamins Our food sources do not always provide us with what we need. As an insurance policy, especially when you believe you are nutrient deficient, taking vitamins is a decent way to improve your chances of getting an ample daily supply of the key nutrients you need.
Magnesium Magnesium deficiency can cause decreased levels of dopamine. Common symptoms include food cravings (salt or carbs), constipation, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat or palpitations, muscle pains and spasms, fatigue, headaches,and depression symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, and irritability.
What You Can Do
First, don’t shrug off symptoms as being normal. I can’t say this enough, just because symptoms are common, it doesn’t make them normal.
Second, go back to basics. Watch what you eat, get plenty of rest and take routine breaks, practice stress relieving techniques, move your body in fun ways – often, and practice your stress relieving super power. (See the post on Your Superpower For Relieving Stress)
Third, get a professional opinion and have testing done to check your overall hormone, neurotransmitter and gut health. Testing should include a broad-spectrum hormone panel to include 4 – 6 cortisol points. Additionally, you want to test for nutritional deficiencies.
If you want support or advice on what tests to take and how to address your dopamine levels, you can contact my office.
To contact me for a FREE Hormone Troubleshooting Session, click on the button below and fill out the health questionnaire. Once you click Submit, you can schedule an appointment that is convenient for you.
You can influence your dopamine production and levels by taking simple steps which will not only have you feeling better emotionally, but will support your overall health. I do realize the dilemma;taking those simple steps may seem difficult to stick to, especially if your dopamine is low. Low dopamine can cause you to feel less interested, unable to follow through and so forth. However, I do have a simple framework and methods that can help you overcome those obstacles. You really can do it.
Your partner in health,
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