The human brain is constantly undergoing chemical processes. These building blocks play a role in everything from emotions and feelings to actions and choices. Four major chemicals affect us from day to day: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. Dopamine is involved in numerous brain and body transactions including regulating movement and intimate feelings. The chemical is especially known for its relation to positive feelings.
Neurotransmitters move information between neurons or brain cells. These interactions take place across the whole body, but the mesolimbic pathway is the area that affects feelings such as passion and addiction, where dopamine plays a large role. Cells here send their information to other vital areas of the brain including the cortex. Dopamine is also involved in the reward process, like how our mouths water when we see pizza, even before we take a bite.
Scientists are not sure how dopamine affects human behavior, but they know it does. Low dopamine levels correlate with addiction. Dopamine receptors reside between the neurons they send information to, and these sites also help the receiving neuron acquire the information. Certain dopamine receptors manage risk-taking decisions. Dopamine also may feed the brain's craving for positive reward by slowly changing behaviors to satisfy that desire -- the brain remembers what actions caused what emotion and influences our behavior in an attempt to experience it again.
Research shows apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram can increase the levels of dopamine. The brain reacts to positive social stimuli by releasing this chemical. Messages from friends, feelings of social acceptance, and even small aspects of social media such as "likes" or funny images can spur the release of dopamine. The ease of access to this positive stimuli means we continually go back for more, which can lead to addiction. As a culture, our bodys' natural release of dopamine has grown with the rise of social media.
Love, happiness, bliss, and euphoria are all triggers for dopamine release. The neurotransmitter contributes to most of our desires, bucking against cultural norms and even our own sense of morality. Dopamine is released even during actions that our conscience knows are wrong, such as adultery, the addiction to substances, and adrenaline. Many of these good feelings are evidence of the continued existence of a "primal" brain.
Dopamine is involved in the development and symptoms of a number of diseases, including Parkinson's disease, a movement disorder that also affects cognitive skills. Low dopamine levels can lead to the development of Parkinson's. The basal ganglia, the part of the brain that affects movement, cannot function normally without a certain amount of dopamine. Scientists believe the death of dopamine cells is an important factor here, but they are not sure why it happens. Other diseases related to dopamine levels are ADHD and schizophrenia.
Dopamine affects working memory by regulating the flow of information through the brain. Without enough of the chemical, it is difficult for the brain to understand the information it receives and to process and recall it accurately. Dopamine helps the brain stay focused on the task at hand. Low dopamine levels can be to blame for an inability to focus, hence the neurotransmitter's connection to ADHD.
Depression is a chemical, psychological condition. Low dopamine levels are a contributing factor to depression and cause symptoms such as
Refined sugar disrupts dopamine levels and depletes them in the same way alcohol and drugs do. While the sweet substance offers a temporary spike in dopamine and energy, this spike eventually exhausts these processes, resulting in a crash. Caffeine acts similarly, delivering exceptional energy boosts followed by lower lows to which the body slowly acclimates until the brain requires even higher amounts of the substances to get the same reward.
The brain uses the amino acid phenylalanine to help produce dopamine by turning it into tyrosine, which synthesizes dopamine production. Foods high in tyrosine are often high in protein as well and include chicken, turkey, fish, almonds, and avocados. Foods high in phenylalanine are also high-protein foods and include whole grains, dairy products, and beans.
Magnesium is another mineral essential to the creation of neurotransmitters. When doctors are creating treatment plans for people with ADHD and depression, they often recommend increasing magnesium. Some research suggests a connection between low magnesium and low dopamine. Bananas, which are high in tyrosine, are also magnesium powerhouses. Research is ongoing to further examine this link between magnesium and dopamine.
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