Why Exercise Increases Dopamine


What is dopamine?

Dopamine is produced in the so-called dopaminergic nerve cells from the amino acid tyrosine. In further steps it can be processed into adrenaline and noradrenaline. These three transmitters are known as catecholamines. They develop their effect when they are released by a nerve cell and bind to special receptors (such as dopamine receptors) on the surface of a neighboring nerve cell. In this way, certain signals are passed on from one cell to the next. The original nerve cell then takes up the released messenger substance again, which ends its effect.

A particularly large amount of dopamine is produced in the midbrain. Here it plays an important role in steering and controlling movements. If the dopaminergic neurons die, the dopamine effect disappears and characteristic symptoms such as tremors (tremor) and muscle stiffness (rigidity) appear. This clinical picture is also called Parkinson's disease.

Dopamine is an important part of the reward system. If the brain evaluates an experience as particularly positive or useful for survival, it releases more dopamine, which increases drive and motivation. The experience is saved as pleasant. Addictive substances such as cocaine inhibit the reuptake of dopamine so that it is effective for longer. Among other things, this has resulted in euphoria. However, this overstimulation dulls the dopamine receptors in the long term, and more and more dopamine is required to stimulate them.

Outside the brain, the blood vessels in the abdomen and kidneys widen due to the effects of dopamine, and blood flow is increased. In addition, dopamine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. In pregnant women, it regulates the release of prolactin, a hormone responsible for breast growth and milk production.

Dopamine as a drug

As a drug in intensive care medicine, dopamine is only rarely used for very low blood pressure, cardiac arrest or kidney failure. There are now more suitable drugs with less pronounced side effects.

When is dopamine determined?

If the doctor suspects a tumor that is producing catecholamines in an uncontrolled manner, he measures the concentration of adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine in the urine. Such a tumor is the pheochromocytoma, a rare tumor that develops from certain cells in the adrenal gland. Since the dopamine level in the blood differs from person to person, the measurement is not part of the standard test. Only an increased value again indicates a tumor.

Dopamine reference levels

Dopamine can be measured in urine, the amount of urine being collected over 24 hours. For a meaningful measurement result, some conditions must be observed:

If the patient is using certain medications, these must be discontinued if possible before the start of the examination. This applies to insulin, clonidine, barbiturates and vitamin B12, for example. In addition, the patient should avoid certain foods and luxury foods before the urine collection period: bananas, coffee, cheese, almonds, nuts, tea and vanilla.

The following normal dopamine values ​​apply to the 24-hour urine collection (in micrograms per day):

Dopamine can also be measured in the blood plasma. Here, dopamine levels of less than 50 picograms per milliliter are considered normal. A quiet environment is important for blood collection; the patient should lie quietly for at least 20 minutes before a blood sample is drawn. In addition, he should refrain from alcohol, coffee, tea and nicotine in the 12 hours before the blood sample.

When is the dopamine level lowered?

If dopaminergic neurons die or if too little dopamine is produced, the brain can no longer regulate movements and their extent. The complete picture of the lack of dopamine effect is the so-called Parkinson's disease.

Due to the importance of the neurotransmitter in the reward system, a dopamine deficiency can also lead to depression.

Dopamine deficiency

If you want to learn more about the signs and causes of a dopamine deficit, read the article dopamine deficiency.

When is the dopamine level increased?

Pheochromocytomas lead to increased levels due to an increased release of dopamine. Patients complain of sweating, high blood pressure and headaches with dizziness.

Apparently psychoses and schizophrenia are also associated with an excess of dopamine. Drugs that block certain dopamine receptors lead to an improvement in symptoms.

If the reuptake of dopamine into the cells is prevented by drugs, the value also rises. These drugs include not only illegal addictive substances such as cocaine or amphetamines, but also alcohol and nicotine.

How can you increase or decrease dopamine?

If the dopamine level in the body is abnormally increased or decreased, drugs help to compensate for the deficiency or excess. One of the best-known examples is the so-called L-DOPA (levodopa), which acts as a transmitter replacement in the patient's brain in Parkinson's disease and thus compensates for the existing dopamine deficit. Dopamine reuptake inhibitors are also important drugs that give those affected a better quality of life.

The current subject of research is whether the body's own dopamine can be increased by increasing tyrosine intake through food. Various foods such as beetroot contain a lot of this amino acid and are said to have a positive effect on diseases such as depression. How strong the interactions between dopamine, nutrition and mental health are to be assessed, however, remains unclear.

If the dopamine balance is out of balance due to stress, physical exertion or lack of sleep, the body's own can be overcome with the help of meditation, relaxation exercises or yoga DopamineMirror can be brought back into balance.

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