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DOPAMINE: THE MOLECULE OF HAPPINESS

On March 27, 2011, in A FEW OF MY THOUGHTS, Other, by Dr. Tuchinsky

What is dopamine so important?  Dopamine is the molecule that acts in the brain to promote the feeling of pleasure and makes us look forward to enjoying things and activities. Without dopamine on board, we can not experience positive feelings.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is pivotal to motivation, creativity and sexual desire. Drugs like cocaine and amphetamines act in the opposite way. They cause a burst of dopamine to be released which leads to euphoria – an exaggerated feeling of happiness which is very addictive to humans because it makes all other experience dwarfed in comparison.

Too little dopamine.  People with Parkinson’s disease also suffer from a lack of dopamine but it is limited to a very specialized part of the brain where it is responsible not for the mood but for the movement. Low levels of dopamine levels has also been linked to ADHD and social anxiety disorder.

Too much dopamine.   On the other end of the spectrum, there can be too much of a good stuff too. Schizophrenia and paranoid behavior are believed to be caused by excess of dopamine in certain parts of the brain.

Dopamine medications.  Anti-Parkinsonian medications such as Sinemet, Requip, Mirapex and others raise levels of dopamine in the brain. You would think that giving these drugs to people who already have normal levels will also cause euphoria but it is not the case. The change in dopamine level caused by this medications is much more gradual and the brain has time to adjust. Nevertheless, these medication have a potential to create a whole slew on unpredictable side effects related to dopamine. The Mirapex is implicated in turning previously very responsible and monogamous people into sex addicts and obsessive-compulsive gamblers. The main character in the movie “Awakening” played by Robert DeNiro who wakes up from severe Parkinsonian coma in the end goes crazy from paranoia and grandiosity caused by incorrect dosing of levodopa, which was still an experimental drug at that time.

Dopamine myths.  An Ayurvedic herb called Mucuna pruriens that contains a small amount of levodopa. The amount is likely too small to cross the blood brain barrier in a quantity large enough to impact any changes but there are some people who claim that their mood and concentration get better when they take it. Some, on other hand only report jittery feeling akin drinking five cups of coffee and others feel nothing at all.

The wide spread belief that eating brown spots on bananas raises dopamine levels is incorrect. While eating overly ripe bananas is probably not going to harm you, it won’t make you happy either.

 

For more information about the role neurotransmitters play in our mood go to my blogs:

“The History of Depression”  and  The Future of Depresssion”

 

 

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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