Dopamine is an important messenger of the nervous system. As a so-called neurotransmitter - a type of hormone - it forwards signals between neurons and thus ensures the control of both physical and mental movements. As a result, dopamine is responsible for a variety of body reactions, such as for fine motor skills or body movement, but also for mental drive, well-being, zest for life, courage, concentration and pleasure. Dopamine is in constant interaction with the more depressant-relaxing serotonin. In addition, dopamine is released as happiness in certain activities such as eating or sex, evoking the desire for repetition.
Dopamine: drug addiction through "reward system"
This "reward system" can be dangerous in drug abuse, however, because dopamine is also released when taking amphetamines, opiates and cocaine, which leads to addiction. Nicotine also leads to the release of dopamine and thus ensures the feeling of happiness when smoking. Even holding and lighting a cigarette releases dopamine. This makes it difficult for addicts to quit smoking.
The amount of dopamine that sits in the brain varies from person to person and is probably responsible for the individual temperament. Researchers at the Berlin Charité have found that people with high levels of dopamine are usually more anxious than those with less dopamine. People with an average amount of the messenger are usually balanced and satisfied. However, its numerous functions can quickly become dangerous if there is a deficiency or excess of dopamine.
Excess of dopamine: anxiety and schizophrenia
Dopamine is responsible for transmitting sensations and feelings. In healthy people, this ensures a stable emotional perception, because they perceive only about ten percent of all the impressions and feelings that surround them constantly. However, people with a high concentration of dopamine can perceive significantly more and lose more and more the ability to distinguish between important and unimportant sensations.
If a person perceives 20 percent of all sensations, it can lead to a nervous breakdown. An even higher dopamine concentration leads to psychosis or schizophrenia.
Dopamine antagonists such as neuroleptics, which help to reduce the level of dopamine, are suitable for treatment.
ADS and ADHD as a result
Also, the attention deficit syndromes ADD and ADHD are due to a metabolic disorder in dopamine. Here, the dopamine is degraded too quickly, which means that the nerves can no longer filter incoming stimuli. Unlike healthy people, those affected can not sort out useless sensations or sounds and perceive them just as intensively as important things. This leads to concentration disorders and attention problems in ADD and ADHD.
Dopamine as the body's own stimulant
In other cases, the body also uses the dopamine to help itself. For example, after a long night with little sleep, the body is able to release more dopamine and use it as a stimulant as the body's own stimulant. That's why, despite sleep deprivation, we often feel focused, alert and surprisingly fit.
Dopamine deficiency: Parkinson's threatens
Dopamine is responsible in the body for feelings of happiness and the reward system. The less of it is distributed, the sadder and driveless the individual is. Dopamine deficiency can therefore lead to depression and listlessness.
Due to the effect of dopamine on the physical motor function too low dopamine levels can also lead to Parkinson's disease. This is proven to be inextricably linked to dopamine deficiency - in people with Parkinson's the dopamine concentration in the brain is up to 90 percent lower than in healthy people.
Older people are particularly affected by Parkinson's. The disease, also called "shaking palsy", is associated with the following symptoms:
- head wobbling
- fitful sweating
- inhibited gait
- memory problems
In severe cases of Parkinson's, it may help to take dopamine-enhancing drugs.
Regulate dopamine levels by internal balance
For all other side effects of dopamine deficiency or dopamine surplus, however, the administration of drugs for health modulation is out of the question. Here, those affected have to become active themselves. The optimal level of dopamine can be self-adjusting if you change your lifestyle.
It can be helpful to find a job that will fill you, make you happy and give you the feeling that you have done something useful. Also, meditation, relaxation exercises, yoga, fasting or Pilates can help to restore the inner balance and so bring the body's own dopamine to the right level.