Dopamine makes you addicted to wanting to improve yourself, eat healthy, be active, wanting to explore and stay lean.
Yes, but is that what the media portrays?
We’re being told dopamine promotes addiction to drugs, food, bad behavior, etc.
But that’s incorrect. It’s a dysregulation of the dopamine system that leads to overeating on yummy tasting foods that sends the consumer into euphoric heaven. Taking that first bite of the food from a fast food joint is like taking a hit of cocaine (not that I have taken cocaine before btw).
So why does junk food even taste so good, or why does it make some people feel so good?
It’s because they have LOW dopamine.
The dopamine system works like this. Dopamine is created from the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine using iron and vitamin B6 as cofactors.
Phenylalanine ⇒ (phenylalanine hydroxylase) ⇒ Tyrosine ⇒ (tyrosine hydroxylase) ⇒ L-dopa ⇒ (dopa decarboxylase) ⇒ Dopamine
Dopamine then acts on two receptors namely D1 and D2. D1 promotes the release of cAMP and D2 reduces cAMP levels. D2 is also the dopamine autoreceptor, which means that, when dopamine binds to it, it reduces dopamine synthesis, thus controlling dopamine levels.
People with obesity and diabetes have low dopamine levels. Thus every dopamine releasing stimulus they get is huge, which gives great pleasure. In a normal healthy person with high dopamine, every dopamine releasing stimulus they get is much smaller, which also gives pleasure, but to a much more controlled level.
Low dopamine leads to addiction, whereas high dopamine doesn’t and it can actually prevent becoming addicted. With low dopamine, the body wants high dopamine. That is why it craves dopamine releasing things. But the dopamine rush never lasts and returns to low levels. Can you see how the constant requirement for dopamine releasing things trigger addiction in people with low dopamine?
However, with high dopamine, you already feel good. The boost in dopamine you get is mild and doesn’t cause you to become addicted to that stimulus because your dopamine is already high. Your body thus doesn’t requires dopamine releasing stimuli to keep dopamine high.
What dopamine actually does, is promote physical activity, good and happy behavior, the willingness to do things, wanting to explore and be creative, be ambitions, etc.
Do you see that behavior in people with obesity and diabetes?
No (or rarely) – they’re tired and just want to be inactive.
Here are a few benefits for you physique to having high dopamine.
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#1 Dopamine promotes satiety
It does so by inhibiting carnitine palmitoyltransferase-1 (CPT1)-dependent fat oxidation and promoting proper glucose oxidation. Thus reduces food seeking and promotes satiety (R).
Low dopamine increases neuropeptide Y (NPY), which stimulates appetite (R).
#2 Dopamine promotes physical activity
Being more active means having more energy, and this translates into being leaner.
Dopamine promotes the willingness to be active and also subconscious activity, called NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) (R). The greater NEAT is, the leaner someone is. NEAT can differ by 2000 calories between individuals.
The loss of the dopamine D2 receptors, lead movement deficits such as to bradykinesia (slowness of movement) and just general inactivity.
#3 Dopamine promotes testosterone production
Androgens are very important for maintaining or gaining lean muscle mass. More muscle mass means more fat oxidation which will help you stay lean.
Dopamine promotes steroidogenesis through the D1 receptor, so a D2 receptor agonist drug will not have much of an effect, unless it’s also a D1 agonist (R, R). But regardless to which receptor it binds, dopamine can also boost testosterone levels by lowering prolactin.
#4 Dopamine activates brown adipose tissue
Brown adipose tissue (BAT) are very metabolically active as they have a lot of mitochondria. But instead of producing energy, these mitochondria produce heat instead through uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1).
More BAT means more energy expenditure.
#5 Dopamine makes you more patient and in control of your mood and emotions
The problem with low dopamine is that it promotes the behavior of wanting immediate rewards, even if it’s small. High dopamine and higher striatal D2 receptor binding promotes patience and the ability to wait for a larger more satisfying reward (R).
This is key to staying on a diet, or staying lean and not stuffing your face with junk food. Dopamine literally enhances self-control. It also doesn’t just make you better at saying no, but it actually reduces the desire for junk food and the euphoric boost you get from it. Ever notice that when you’re stressed or in a period of your life where you were unhealthy, that junk food tasted incredible. But when you’re healthy, junk food isn’t any better than healthy food, such as a nice piece of steak or sushi and it doesn’t cause you to crave more 6 hours later.
But research found that it isn’t even low dopamine that’s the major driver to hedonic eating. The main cause is low GABA and opioid receptor binding. GABA controls impulsivity and loss of GABAergic neurons contributes to development of impulsivity diseases (R). Opioids create an euphoric feeling. Eating junk food or getting the runners high is due to opioids. Blocking the opioid receptor with naloxone or naltrexone reduces hedonic eating.
Dopamine is clearly something you want to be “high” on all the time and it’s very beneficial for your health and physique.
In summary, dopamine promotes physical activity, increases thermogenesis and reduces the desire for hedonic food and binge eating.
Stress also drops dopamine levels and it’s usually during periods of stress that people participate in addictive activities or relapse.
Lastly, a good diet is key to keeping dopamine high. Sufficient protein is required to provide the necessary amino acids, phenylalanine and tyrosine, for dopamine synthesis. Vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, iron and copper are all needed to keep dopamine high.
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