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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dopamine - Why Do We Need It? Where Can We Get It Naturally?



Dopamine is an organic chemical that is very important to humans both in the brain and nervous system and in the proper function of many body organs. It is formed in the body by removing a type of organic amino acid from a molecule of L-DOPA, leaving an organic compound or derivative of ammonia. L-DOPA is made in the body by a process called biosynthesis. One method of this conversion is through an amino acid called tyrosine which is found in high protein foods such as meat, eggs, nuts, cheese, milk and soy products. In the body, it gets converted to L-DOPA* by a certain enzyme and then that converts to Dopamine in the neurons in the brain by a different enzyme.

If you were to inject Dopamine directly into the blood stream, it would not raise the amount in your brain because Dopamine cannot cross from the bloodstream into brain cells. This is called the blood-brain barrier. Sufficient amounts of Dopamine flow through your blood stream, but it depends on other acids and enzymes to be converted for brain cell use. Once these chemicals are converted to Dopamine in the brain cells, it can then be very useful for memory, muscle control, mood, sexuality and the prevention of pain and nausea. It even promotes proper lactation in females as well as preventing some severe PMS/PMDD symptoms.

While Dopamine is still in the blood stream, it is beneficial to several organ systems. For instance, Dopamine tells the kidneys to excrete excess salt and urine helping to maintain better kidney health. In the pancreas, Dopamine regulates insulin production thereby helping to control type II diabetes. In the digestive tract, it slows digestion and protects the intestinal lining. In the immune system, Dopamine acts to keep viral infections at bay by lowering the amount of a certain type of white blood cell. In the circulatory system, it acts as a vasodilator, possibly preventing or treating migraines and aneurysms.

Unnatural substances used to increase Dopamine levels in the brain are pharmaceutical drugs. Most of these drugs are stimulants such as Ritalin, Cocaine, Cycloset (for diabetes II) and other amphetamines. These medicines were designed to raise Dopamine levels in the brain and are many times used to treat ADHD, depression, and Parkinson's Disease. Natural places to get Dopamine include bananas as the highest source as well as potatoes, avocados, broccoli and brussel sprouts. However, the Dopamine in these fruits and vegetables are useless in the brain without the synthesis to L-DOPA which is found in velvet beans and broad beans. You can purchase velvet bean extract in a herb form called Mucuna pruriens.

Another herb that may be helpful with regard to Dopamine levels is Chasteberry. There is a necessary balance between Dopamine and hormone levels and that's why this herb has been found to be very helpful with symptoms related to PMS/PMDD. However, this herb should not be taken with medications for Parkinson's Disease because Dopamine requires a perfect balance in the brain and too much of a good thing can cause problems like schizophrenia, insomnia and hallucinations. And according to nih.gov, stress lowers dopamine levels too, so it's wise to try to live as calm a life as possible.

In summary, yes, we need Dopamine for many reasons both psychologically and physically and we can get it naturally in bananas and then we can convert it from L-DOPA in broad beans or with the herb Mucuna pruriens. Or, for our meat lover's audience, we can get tyrosine from meat, cheese, eggs, nuts, etc. and then that will convert to L-DOPA and then to Dopamine. It's also interesting to note that Psychology Today, in an article published in April of 2011 entitled Exercise, Pleasure and the Brain points out that exercise can increase Dopamine levels.

In conclusion, we should eat healthy food and exercise. Is this a new concept? Maybe to some.

*The L in L-DOPA refers to the counterclockwise rotation of the molecules in this compound.

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