The Chemical of Pleasure: Dopamine

What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for a variety of functions in your body. It controls movement, pleasure, pain, emotional responses, and motivation. Your brain also uses dopamine for hormone regulation, motor control, and memory. Creating a balance of dopamine is essential to your mental and physical health. While excess levels of dopamine production leads to dangerous behavior such as anxiety, psychosis, addiction, compulsion, gambling, aggression and unhealthy risk taking. Low levels of dopamine in the brain have been linked to both mental and physical health disorders and diseases.
Dopamine also acts as a learning signal. It identifies, prioritizes and then anticipates new and unexpected rewards over older, predictable rewards. Dopamine is the chemical of pleasure.
A great example is a gumball machine. Imagine putting a quarter into a gumball machine and instead of just one gumball, like expected, you get two gumballs. Your dopamine level rises at the unexpected reward. Let’s try again, and this time, you only get one gumball from the machine. Your dopamine level doesn’t rise or fall, because it was expected. And then you try one more time, but this time you put in the quarter and no gumballs come out. Your dopamine level drops from disappointment.

Addictions
Addictions are addictive because they release the dopamine chemical in the brain. When most of us think of addictions, we often think of addictive drugs. But that isn’t the only thing that can become addictive. It could be food or caffeinated drinks along with other normal, everyday treats. As addiction progresses, the normal production of dopamine decreases and we need more of the addictive chemicals to produce the same high level of pleasure. Eventually, the addictive chemicals are used to prevent pain from the low levels of dopamine in the brain. With addictions, the brains normal level of dopamine doesn’t become enough anymore. And then when the dopamine spike goes back down, we are numb to the normal levels.

Exercise
There are many studies that suggest that as we get older, we are constantly losing our stores of dopamine. So, what is the best way to increase the brains dopamine production?
Exercise!
Exercise is vital to supporting your overall health; however, exercise also increases activity in the brain, which in turn regulates your brain chemicals. Exercise produces natural endorphins that give a sense of calm and well-being, and it increases the amount of dopamine available to help with concentration. With exercise being so crucial to health, find an activity that you enjoy, such as jogging, going for walks, going to the gym or playing sports.

Eat for happiness – These foods help to re-activate the dopamine and serotonin pathways.
1.) Rainbow Trout – This is important for neurotransmitter function. Rainbow Trout has a very concentrated source of docosahexaenoic acid, also known as (DHA), and also a high source of omega 3 fats. But it is the DHA that helps the membrane fluidity in the brain.
2.) Collard Greens – Collard greens are a good source of magnesium and Vitamin C. Both of these are required to convert the amino acids, tyrosine and tryptophan, to serotonin and dopamine.
3.) Spaghetti Squash – This contains carotenoids, which helps to protect the neurotransmitter receptor cells from damage.
4.) Organic Eggs – These are rich in choline, which forms part of every cell membrane, including the neurotransmitter receptor cells. Improved cellular integrity enhances the pleasure signal.
5.) Blue Potatoes – These contain anthocyanins, which helps activate the pleasure signal in the brain. The carbohydrates in the blue potatoes also enable tryptophan to be converted to serotonin.

Sources:
5 Foods to Eat for Happiness: www.mindbodygreen.com
6 Reasons Why Exercise Makes You Happy: www.mindbodygreen.com
Why Running Helps with Addiction: www.mindbodygreen.com
The Effects of Low Dopamine Levels: www.livestrong.com
How to Treat Dopamine Deficiency: www.livestrong.com