Dopamine is a well-known neurotransmitter that plays a fundamental role in sending information between brain cells or neurons. As many of you may already know, neurons are the basic units that make up the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and sensory organs, such as the eyes and ears. Dopamine also plays a role in motivation and movement, as it is most commonly associated with the pleasure and reward center of the brain. This chemical messenger can ultimately help us strive and find things interesting but, too much or too little of it can cause a variety of brain health issues.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that is released by the pleasure and reward center of the brain. Dopamine is found in several different regions of the brain. The first area is the substantia nigra, which plays a role in both rewards and movement. Dopamine can first be found in the substantia nigra, another area of the brain that plays an important role in motivation and movement. The substantia nigra is made up of the brain cells that die off in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) which then results in tremors and various other symptoms associated with the movement disorder.
Most dopamine in the brain is released in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain, which plays the most fundamental role in the pleasure and reward center of the brain. Dopamine is produced in the VTA and then released into various other regions of the brain when a person engages or participates in a mental or physical activity that starts a pleasure and reward response, even when a person simply anticipates this reaction. Although most people associate the pleasure and reward response with behaviors like sex or drug/medication use, dopamine also responds to behaviors like eating or drinking water.
The human brain requires us to experience some type of pleasure and reward response by releasing dopamine in order to support the motivation and movement we require to keep us doing these survival behaviors. When dopamine is released, the pleasure and reward center of the brain ensures that we continue to engage and participate in the necessary mental and physical activities to promote overall health and wellness. The main purpose of dopamine is motivation and movement. However, dopamine also plays a fundamental role in other cognitive functions, such as memory, focus, and mood.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that also plays a fundamental role in a variety of mental, physical, and behavioral functions, including:
- Heart rate
- Blood vessel function
- Kidney function
- Pain processing
- Control of nausea and vomiting
When dopamine is released in the brain, it can produce temporary feelings of euphoria. Dopamine can also cause various other feelings, including:
Low dopamine is one reason why you may not be in the best mood. Dopamine deficiencies may also cause various feelings, including:
- reduced alertness
- decreased motivation
- difficulty concentrating
- poor coordination
- movement difficulties
Excess levels of dopamine can ultimately cause the brain to go into serious overdrive. Excess dopamine may be a contributing factor in:
According to research studies, scientists believe that too much dopamine released in the brain may play a role in various health issues, including:
- Parkinson’s disease
- drug/medication misuse and addiction
Dopamine and Brain Health Issues
It’s difficult to determine a single cause of brain health issues. But, many of these have been associated with dopamine levels in the brain, including:
- Schizophrenia. Scientists believed that symptoms were caused by a hyperactive dopamine system. Now we understand that excess dopamine levels in several regions of the brain can cause hallucinations and delusions. Dopamine deficiencies cause other symptoms, such as lack of motivation.
- ADHD. No one knows for sure what causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Several research studies have shown that it may be due to a dopamine deficiency. ADHD may also occur due to your genes. The ADHD drug/medication methylphenidate (Ritalin) helps boost dopamine.
- Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine allows brain cells or neurons to communicate and control movement. In Parkinson’s disease, however, one type of neuron will gradually start to deteriorate. Because the brain doesn’t have to send a signal to that neuron anymore, the brain will make less dopamine. This chemical imbalance can ultimately cause mental and physical symptoms. These can include tremors, slowed movement, stiffness as well as poor balance and coordination. Healthcare professionals can treat PD symptoms with medicines that can help increase dopamine levels in the brain.
Dopamine and Other Health Issues
Just like in the brain health issues previously mentioned above, abnormal dopamine levels can also play a role in various other health issues, including:
- Obesity. According to scientists, people with obesity may have problems with the pleasure and reward center of the brain. This can affect the amount of food they eat before they feel satisfied. Research studies suggest that the brain may not release enough dopamine in people with obesity.
- Drug/medication misuse and addiction. Drugs, such as cocaine, can cause a tremendous increase in dopamine levels which can also greatly satisfy a person’s pleasure and reward center in the brain. But, repeated drug use also raises the threshold for this type of satisfaction. This can cause people to need to take more to get the same satisfaction. Meanwhile, medications can make the brain less capable to naturally produce dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine is a well-known, “feel good” neurotransmitter that plays a fundamental role in sending information between neurons or brain cells. Dopamine ultimately plays a fundamental role in motivation and movement, as it is most commonly associated with the pleasure and reward center of the brain, as well as in a variety of other mental, physical, and behavioral functions. Moreover, scientists believe that too much dopamine released in the brain may also play a fundamental role in the development of a variety of health issues, including schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Understanding how dopamine can affect brain health is important to determine the best treatment for a variety of brain health issues and other health issues. – Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T. Insight
Dopamine is a well-known neurotransmitter which plays a fundamental role in sending information between neurons or brain cells. As many of you may have already learned, neurons are the basic units that make up the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and sensory organs, such as the eyes and ears. Dopamine also plays a role in motivation and movement, as it is most commonly associated with the pleasure and reward center of the brain. This chemical messenger can ultimately help us strive and find things interesting but, too much or too little of it can result in various brain health issues.
The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, and nervous health issues or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We use functional health protocols to treat injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We also make copies of supporting research studies available to the board and or the public upon request. To further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900.
Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez
- Jaehnig, Jon. “What Is Dopamine And How Does It Affect The Brain And The Body?” Betterhelp, BetterHelp, 24 July 2018, www.betterhelp.com/advice/medication/what-does-dopamine-do-in-the-brain-and-what-is-its-function/.
- Pietrangelo, Ann. “Dopamine Effects on the Body, Plus Drug and Hormone Interactions.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 5 Nov. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/dopamine-effects#hormones-dopamine.
- Bhandari, Smitha. “Dopamine: What It Is & What It Does.” WebMD, WebMD, 19 June 2019, www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine#1.
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Additional Topic Discussion: Chronic Pain
Sudden pain is a natural response of the nervous system which helps to demonstrate possible injury. By way of instance, pain signals travel from an injured region through the nerves and spinal cord to the brain. Pain is generally less severe as the injury heals, however, chronic pain is different than the average type of pain. With chronic pain, the human body will continue sending pain signals to the brain, regardless if the injury has healed. Chronic pain can last for several weeks to even several years. Chronic pain can tremendously affect a patient’s mobility and it can reduce flexibility, strength, and endurance.
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