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When most of us think of happiness hormones, we think of serotonin.
However, while serotonin does play an important role in helping us feel those good vibes, there’s another hormone that’s not only just as valuable to our mood but also plays a vital role in protecting us from neurological disease — dopamine, known as the pleasure chemical.
So how can you know whether your body has enough of the hormone for happiness and neurological health?
Your mind and body on dopamine
Let’s dive into the vital role dopamine plays in your well-being.
Known as one of the “feel-good” hormones, dopamine gives you a sense of pleasure and is part of the brain’s reward system. That’s why having healthy levels of dopamine can help you stay happy, motivated, alert and focused.
If levels of the hormone are low, the reverse happens, leading to a lack of motivation, depression, mood swings and more, including:
- Memory loss
- Sleep problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low sex drive
Because dopamine is also a neurotransmitter, in addition to a hormone, it also affects the function of your nervous system.
For this reason, low dopamine levels have been linked to conditions like Parkinson’s, restless legs, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and of course, depression.
New improved dopamine testing
It’s hard to know how many people may suffer conditions at varying levels due to low dopamine levels. In the past, blood test were used to check dopamine levels but doctors rarely request them. That may be because a blood test alone doesn’t provide enough information.
A new test, developed by scientists and described in research published in the journal, ChemistrySelect, is considered to be a fast and easy way to analyze dopamine levels that is extremely sensitive. The method relies on what are called carbon quantum dots, a type of carbon nanomaterial with photoluminescence properties, along with an ionic liquid.
Essentially, the scientists say it creates an electrochemical sensor that can accurately and quickly detect dopamine and pinpoint any deficiency. And according to the researchers, the test could help doctors spot abnormal blood levels of dopamine in patients to help detect neurological diseases, and therefore provide treatment earlier than ever.
Upping your dopamine levels
Medications that are dopamine antagonists are prescribed by neurologists for conditions such as psychiatric disorders, Parkinson’s disease, migraine and even restless legs syndrome. Sometimes they may be necessary, but do have side effects and risks, including heart disease.
The good news is that if your dopamine levels are low, there are ways you can help promote healthy levels.
Nutrition is the first place you should start…
According to the Cleveland Clinic, supplements that can increase dopamine levels include:
- Tyrosine is an amino acid that acts as a precursor to dopamine. Foods highest in tyrosine are cheese, soybeans, beef, lamb, pork, fish, chicken, nuts, eggs, dairy, beans, and whole grains.
- L-theanine, another precursor to dopamine, is found in green tea, black tea and mushrooms.
- Sufficient levels of vitamins D, B5 and B6 are needed to make dopamine. Many research papers indicate vitamin D has a positive effect on dopamine synthesis and levels.
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids —are found in fatty fish, walnuts, flax, hemp and chia seeds.
- The mineral magnesium is also important for dopamine production.
Exercise is also a great way to trigger increased dopamine levels in your body.
In fact, exercise and dopamine work on a feedback loop, with more dopamine increasing your motivation to work out and working out more boosting dopamine concentration.
A simple option is to listen to music. And the more you enjoy the tunes — the higher the dopamine boost in your body.
Finally, for the easiest way to up your dopamine levels, simply smile.
That’s because a smile, rather real or forced, immediately triggers the release of dopamine.
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Dopamine Deficiency – Cleveland Clinic
Dopamine – Cleveland Clinic