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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Feeling extra sleepy? Maybe you’ve been moody or have noticed a lack of motivation? These unpleasant symptoms could be caused by a number of things, including something called dopamine deficiency.
This medical condition is connected to low dopamine levels. It’s linked to many other diagnoses, such as movement disorders (like Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome) and depression.
Here’s everything you need to know about what happens when you have low dopamine levels, what can cause this, the various symptoms and how to treat it.
Dopamine deficiency is precisely what it sounds like — it means your levels of dopamine are low. The role of dopamine is an important one, and it is not something you want a deficit of.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, meaning it helps send messages between nerve cells in the human brain. It also acts as a hormone and can help transmit messages from your brain to the rest of your body. Dopamine transporters play a role in memory, motivation, learning and more.
A dopamine transporter deficiency can impair you in various ways. This includes making you more likely to take risks and more susceptible to addiction. As mentioned, it’s also connected to Parkinson’s disease and depression.
What can cause deficiency of dopamine? Low levels of dopamine can be the result of a few different things.
First, dopamine is created in specific regions of the brain. If these brain regions are injured, you may stop producing enough dopamine.
Or perhaps you produce enough dopamine, but there’s something wrong with the nerve cell receptors in your brain, so your body doesn’t respond to the dopamine release as it should. Parkinson’s disease may also lead to low levels of dopamine.
The degenerative brain condition is connected to aging. It can cause slower movements, tremors and balance difficulties. The average onset age for Parkinson’s is 60 years, impacting an estimated 1 percent of people over that age.
Those who do cocaine may also struggle with dopamine deficiency because the drug compromises receptors. When cocaine is taken, it causes a buildup of dopamine to occur, which can produce a pleasurable, high-like feeling. But the aftermath is that dopamine concentrations in the brain are diminished.
Finally, there’s depression, a mental health condition that negatively affects the way you think, feel and act. It can make you want to avoid social situations, physical activity and more.Research suggests that people with major depressive disorder (MDD) may have deficits in their production of dopamine.
Knowing the symptoms of dopamine deficiency can help you catch the condition early. A healthcare professional is the best person to diagnose signs of low dopamine. They’ll be able to assess both psychological and physical symptoms to see if they meet the signs of dopamine deficiency.
Common psychological dopamine deficiency symptoms include:
Lack of motivation
Lowered sex drive
Physical symptoms a healthcare provider may look for include:
Tremors, particularly in your hands
Loss of balance
Restless leg syndrome
If you’re low in dopamine, it makes sense you’d want to raise it. Luckily, there are a few ways you can raise your dopamine levels.
There are even natural methods of boosting dopamine. Here’s what you can try:
Eat a diet rich in magnesium and tyrosine, both of which are building blocks for dopamine. Foods that can help are chicken, almonds, apples, beets, chocolate and greens.
How do you fix low dopamine? To treat dopamine deficiency, you’ll actually want to get to the bottom of what is causing it.
From there, you can focus on treating that condition. A healthcare provider will be a big asset in helping you to figure out what’s causing low levels of dopamine.
You should also know that dopamine deficiency isn’t an actual medical diagnosis, and there isn't a specific test for it. While a blood test can measure dopamine levels, it can’t provide data on how your brain reacts to dopamine signaling.
Rather than focus on dopamine, your healthcare provider will likely look at your symptoms and try to figure out what’s causing those low levels.
If you’re dealing with Parkinson’s, there’s no cure, but treatment options are available. Medications like levodopa could help increase dopamine levels. Dopamine agonists can simulate the neurotransmitter, and dopamine metabolism blockers will block your body from breaking it down.
If you’re dealing with depression, antidepressants may be recommended, in which case you’d need a prescription. A mental health professional can assess your depression and then may suggesteither a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), such as sertraline, or a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, like venlafaxine.
Dopamine levels are very much connected to your mental health. As mentioned, low levels can make you feel unmotivated. And if you don’t have a strong desire to do anything, it can impact your mental health.
Dopamine also affects feelings of pleasure. It’s released in your brain when you do something enjoyable. Then your brain registers that feel-good sensation and tucks the memory away so you can revisit that pleasurable thing.
If there’s a problem with your dopamine levels and that doesn’t happen, it could mean you don’t feel much pleasure in your day-to-day life, which may lead to depression or other mental health issues.
If you suspect you have signs of low dopamine that may be causing mental health issues (or any medical problem), it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional. They’ll be able to assess your symptoms and get to the bottom of what’s going on. From there, you can work together on coming up with a treatment plan.
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