In a mood about chemicals
In recent years there has been a lot of news about dopamine and serotonin and how they contribute to our levels of happiness and depression. It is fascinating to think that how happy or sad we feel can be affected simply by the production of chemicals within our body.
Actually, as expected, it is not really that simple. Dopamine and serotonin are chemical compounds that occur as neurotransmitters in the body. Neurotransmitters themselves are fascinating - chemical messengers that carry and regulate signals travelling around our body.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter mainly found in the brain while serotonin neurotransmitters are mainly located around the gastrointestinal tract.
Ongoing research shows that both dopamine and serotonin have surprisingly wide affect on many aspects of our body and therefore our health, and certainly they are both involved in the regulation of our mood levels; but they are not the same. Dopamine is more involved in helping to regulate general behaviour - aspects like attention and motivation; movement and learning. Low dopamine levels are involved in the development of Parkinson’s diseases and major depression. Interestingly, high dopamine levels are associated with bipolar mania. Clearly getting the right balance is crucial for a body to operate well.
Serotonin is more involved in mood, appetite, memory and sleep. It stimulates metabolism, digestion and can affect the growth of cells and sleep. Low levels of serotonin are accepted to be involved in depression and anxiety orders. They can also be involved in obesity and migraine. As with dopamine, over high levels of serotonin can also cause problems and are associated with migraines and certain cardiovascular diseases.
Unfortunately you just can’t “take” dopamine or serotonin to adjust your mood levels as neither of these chemical compounds can transfer from the blood into the brain.
However, certain medication has been developed that can help the body to adjust levels and also to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with the problems caused by irregularities.
With dopamine, there are a number of medicines now available that can assist in the regulation of dopamine production. For instance, dopa-responsive dystonia crosses the blood-brain barrier. There appears to be evidence that dopamine can definitely be affected by diet; for instance the amino acid tyrosine is involved in the production of dopamine, and sources of tyrosine include almonds, avocados, bananas, lima, pumpkin and sesame seeds and dairy products.
Adjusting the levels of serotonin is equally complex; often antidepressants are used such as SSRI, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which help to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. The well known Prozac comes under this category.
Diet again is thought to be able to assist here, for instance increasing the balance between tryptophan to phenylalanine and leucine increases serotonin levels. Foods such as dates, papayas and bananas all offer good ratios, while whole wheats and rye breads have a lower ratio and therefore might inhibit the production of serotonin. Eggs, poultry, fish, nuts, cottage cheese and beans are all said to contain good levels of tryptophan.
But it is an enormously complex area. Today there are ways to check your levels of dopamine and serotonin and your doctor will be able to explain the latest medical developments associated with regulating the levels of these two very vital chemical compounds.
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