Low Dopamine and Serotonin: This article dives into all things neurotransmitters. Neurochemicals are associated with various functions, including mood, cravings for sugar and alcohol, and food issues like binge eating. We’ll explore the consequences of poor neurotransmitter function, low dopamine, and serotonin depletion, and of course, what to do about it. This often-overlooked topic can be the key to fine-tuning your health.
Neurotransmitter Health: The Missing Link
How often do we self-sabotage healthy behaviors? Be it the healthy diet, the regular exercise plan, the occasional fasting: health is the sum of these small repeated daily behaviors, yet it does not seem to come together for many of us.
The fire behind our actions can boil down to neuro transmitting. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that transmit a signal from a neuron across the synapse to a target cell, which can be a different neuron, muscle cell, or gland cell. Neurotransmitters are the chemical substances made by the neuron specifically to transmit a message 1. We may think in our head, “I should eat healthy, nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods,” but the transmission into action occurs via these neurotransmitters.
It’s not about willpower; it’s about neurotransmitter health! Neurotransmitter function is a priority if you want the body and mind to communicate effectively and in favor of your whole body health. You can “will” your way all you want, but if your body’s neurotransmitters aren’t working correctly… it’ll leave you feeling defeated time and time again 2.
There are over 100 types of neurotransmitters, but today we will focus on two key players in decision-making, mood, and overall health: dopamine and serotonin.
The Role of Dopamine and Serotonin
Dopamine is a hedonistic neurotransmitter and released during activities that induce pleasure. It is the reason people partake in seemingly “bad” behaviors, despite knowing that they aren’t good for them: dopamine release in the body feels good 3. This pathway is also activated by achievement, and dopamine motivates people to focus, achieve, and excel 4.
Dopamine shares a pathway with the fight or flight chemicals epinephrine and norepinephrine. A large dump of these chemicals occurs when adrenaline is present, be it a long, intense run or drug like cocaine. This induces an addictive tendency to the pleasurable sensation associated with dopamine in the body 5.
This transmitter is upstream of your adrenal glands and downstream of your hormones, so regulating this transmitter is vital for health. Unfortunately, many people run this pathway into the ground. Especially the type A personalities that have the ‘can do it all by myself’ mentality. The people who work 12 hour days, seven days a week, who run eight marathons in a year: these people often push it to the max… until they hit a wall.
High dopamine is associated with addictive tendencies like abuse of drugs, sex, gambling, and alcohol. Low dopamine is associated with illnesses like depression, ADHD, and Parkinson’s 6-8.
Serotonin is often known as the “happy hormone,” and it functions as a mood regulator. It plays various other functions in the body and includes hormone regulation, eating habits, digestion, sleep, and motor skills 9. This hormone is also responsible for making us feel connected with others 10.
Low serotonin is associated with various pain-related diseases, including fibromyalgia and mood disorders like anxiety and depression 11-12. On the other hand, too high serotonin levels are associated with self-consciousness and shyness, with a general desire to be liked by others.
Symptoms of Poor Neurotransmission Function
There are many overlaps between low dopamine and low serotonin, but the general difference is that dopamine is more related to one’s direction and life focus, while serotonin is more about mood and relationship to self and others.
Low Dopamine Symptoms: 13-15
- Muscle cramps, spasms, or tremors
- Loss of balance
- Poor focus
- No energy despite sleeping
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling hopeless
- Lack of motivation
- Sugar cravings
- Caffeine cravings
- Binge eating
Low Serotonin Symptoms: 16- 18
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of connection between family, friends, or partners
- Loss of interest in life
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Binge eating
Healing Your Neurotransmitters (Dopamine and Serotonin)
Healing your neurotransmitters is possible by holistically addressing lifestyle choices. As you will see from the points below, healing your neurotransmitters hits many of the same pillars that achieving general health does.
One key aspect of re-establishing neurotransmitter health, especially for dopamine, is finding more life balance 19. This includes more rest, work-life balance, and a general stimulation-relaxation balance.
This may include spending more time with friends and doing things for fun, like hobbies, and turning off the electronics like Netflix, social media, scaling back activities that spike dopamine releases like hyper-palatable foods and sex.
Since dopamine is associated with pleasure response, becoming obsessed with goal-orientated achievement (and the dopamine “dump” we get when we achieve tasks, get social media ‘likes’ or have an orgasm) can end up driving this pathway into the ground.
Implementing more time for rest between physical exertions, mental exertions, or generally, dopamine-dumping activities gives time for the pathway to stay strong. The key is balance.
Toxins and Depletion
Mould, heavy metals, hidden infections affect every hormone, including neurotransmitter dopamine and serotonin 20-21.
Mould directly depletes dopamine. Dopamine is made in the brain and stored in the gut, and mold causes severe brain inflammation that impedes the proper production and distribution of dopamine in the body.
H Pylori is a standard hidden infection present when there are serotonin and dopamine depletion 22. This bacteria attacks the stomach, making it more alkaline, interfering with the stomach’s ability to kill bacteria, viruses, or pathogens.
Parasites are another common infection that impedes gut function, inhibiting proper production and serotonin distribution since 90% of serotonin is made in the gut 23.
Healing from toxins and infections requires a holistic 5R approach that addresses the detox pathways back to the source: the cell. Deep cellular healing cannot happen unless we fix the cell to get well.
Fixing the problem on a cellular level through proper detoxification does not happen overnight. The situation that caused cellular toxicity often takes years of build-up, and un-doing it can take years as well. Although many symptoms will alleviate much sooner than that, the process itself to completely rid the body of these toxins is not a quick fix.
Luckily, we can supplement the body with neurotransmitter precursors, which will act as a supporting actor to help our bodies generate more of these hormones. Precursors are essentially the building blocks of substances like serotonin and dopamine. Although, in the long run, we want them to be produced by the body without needing to supplement anything (as they should), it’s a great way to regain health in the short term while your body continues to heal.
It is worth noting that before supplementing, it can be worth the investment to run a panel of your current deficiencies with a qualified functional practitioner. Supplements, especially certain ones like copper or iron, can lead to imbalances and harm if taken in inappropriate quantities for your body.
Gut health is inextricably linked to neurotransmitter health and hormonal health 24.
Many neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin are made and stored in the gut, so having a healthy and balanced gut biome is critical 25. Poor gut health causes chronic inflammation, which drains dopamine 26. It also makes it difficult to absorb the micronutrients needed as precursors for creating neurotransmitters.
Fasting (and intermittent fasting) has a hormetic effect on gut bacteria, which stresses the body short term and provides long-term benefits to neurotransmitter health. Fasting is especially beneficial for serotonin production 27.
Sunshine is a vital part of healing dopamine and serotonin levels because sunlight triggers these hormones’ release in the brain 28. Sunlight cues particular areas of the retina, which trigger the release of these hormones. This has given way to phototherapy, or light therapy, which is ideal for individuals who don’t have access to sunshine year-round or spend lots of time indoors 29.
Micronutrients serve as essential precursors to neurotransmitter health, but taking supplementation should be done under the supervision of a practitioner who can test for deficiencies. Diet, however, can be addressed by individuals by focusing on the same nutrients in their whole-food form.
Many of the same dietary rules support healthy dopamine and serotonin production, like avoiding:
- Refined sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Pesticides and herbicides (especially glyphosate)
- Chemically-treated tap water
Both dopamine and serotonin benefits from:
- A nutrient-dense whole food diet
- Lots of gut-healthy foods (fermented and prebiotic)
- Good fats
- Pasture-raised animal proteins
Nutrients and foods that support dopamine production include: 30-32
- Tyrosine and phenylalanine-rich foods found in protein (like beef, turkey, and eggs)
- B vitamins (especially folate)
- Fish oil
- Vitamin D
Nutrients and foods that support serotonin production include: 33-35
- Tryptophan-rich foods (like eggs, milk, tuna, salmon, turkey, and cheese)
- Consuming 25-30 grams of carbohydrates with the tryptophan-rich food
Exercise helps regulate hormones in the body 35. Exercising triggers the release of tryptophan into your blood, which is a precursor for serotonin 36. Studies highlight the release and upregulation of dopamine in the body during and after a treadmill workout 37.
Remember that balance is critical when it comes to exercise and that going into over-drive with high-intensity endurance activities can also harm your neurotransmitter pathways!
Serotonin and dopamine are two neurotransmitters that play a massive role in generating whole-body health. Together they help regulate various functions, including sleep, mood, life direction, connection, and willpower. Low dopamine and serotonin promote an array of diseases and disorders, which are often misdiagnosed as other illnesses or simply a “lack of willpower.”By addressing neurotransmitter health through various lifestyle interventions, one can regain control of their health and life.
Habits to implement for neurotransmitter and hormone health include more balance in work and life and more balance in stimulation and relaxation, managing toxins and infections, a proper diet, gut health, sunshine, and exercise.
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