What causes dopamine depletion?

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Dopamine is a brain chemical that plays a vital role in both our mental and physical health. Dr.Keti.com reports that dopamine is the pleasure and pain chemical and controls our emotional response as well as our movement. Symptoms of low dopamine levels include depression and fatigue, reduced drive and enthusiasm, difficulty in focusing and concentrating and the ability to gain weight very easily. Continual cravings for stimulants or substances that enhance energy, like coffee, sugar, soda, or even substances like ephedra and cocaine, can be a signal of a dopamine deficiency.

Excessive sugar

Sugar and other refined foods can lower dopamine by interfering with proper brain function. When dopamine levels are low it means that energy levels will follow and the body can start to crave sugar due to the fatigue—but eating sugar will only continue the negative pattern. Natural Health, a website devoted to the natural lifestyle, reports that reducing sugar and increasing your protein intake will help to elevate dopamine levels. The amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine are precursors to dopamine and eating foods that contain them will help to increase energy and the ability to deal with stress. These foods include meat, chicken, turkey, eggs, nuts and dairy products, such as yoghurt and cheese.


A 1985 study published in the journal Neuro Endocrinology researched the effect of acute stress on female rats and found that stress decreases dopamine synthesis and transmitters in the brain. Stress affects the body and brain much like sugar does—both release the hormone cortisol, which can have negative affects on many functions in the body, including brain chemicals and metabolic system. Physical exercise, yoga and meditation, along with identifying and changing the situations in your life that trigger stress, will help to reverse the problem.

Drug addiction

The University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions reports findings that continual drug use can lead to dopamine depletion. The drugs in the study refer to substances such as cocaine, nicotine, amphetamines and alcohol. Long-term use reduces the electrical activity of dopamine neurons. Roh-Yu Shen, a neuro scientist and lead investigator on the study attributes these alterations as being directly responsible for the cravings and drug-seeking behaviour that users frequently demonstrate. The study explains that initial use of these drugs can increase the feel-good dopamine type emotions in people, but continual use will alter the brain’s reward system, leading to further and increased cravings for the very substances that initially made you feel good.

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