by Gabriel Ariciu, DC

I am going to tackle anxiety from a dopamine side with this article. In some ways it is easier when we look at it from a neurotransmitter’s perspective. There are known symptoms related to a deficiency in a neurotransmitter. Like I said in the previous article, I was told I had a serotonin deficiency not because of any blood work or extensive testing, not because of a good history, rather it is the norm, the status quo. First let’s talk a bit about dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made in our substantia nigra. This structure is part of our basal ganglia and lies in our midbrain. The basal ganglia is one of the feared pathways one has to learn in neurology. But it is very fascinating and is essential for proper movement to occur. It is very important in initiation of movement and for fine motor control. One can easily see the lack of function in the basal ganglia in anyone with Parkinson’s disease. But that is not the purpose of this article just a very important aspect of dopamine. Another important aspect is the reward pathway. When we do something that feels good dopamine is released with other chemicals to reinforce that pathway. It gives a feeling of satisfaction. Dopamine also gives us a feeling of motivation, an excitement to get something done.

What are the symptoms of dopamine deficiency?

Symptoms of course can be the opposite of what dopamine does. We still do not know everything it does but this we do know. It is implicated in feelings of poor motivation, hopelessness, inability to handle stress, mood issues including anger, apathy, poor libido, and addiction issues. I have experienced hand tremors that I will throw in there as well and altered affect. It is a terrible thing to deal with and at its worst it is debilitating. Many do not have a single bit of desire to get out of bed in the morning. Which is also tough because they most likely didn’t sleep due to insomnia. The hopelessness and apathy are terrible too. I have dealt with those symptoms and it is true despair.

What causes it?

Low and behold it falls under the Big 5 as well! If you don’t know what I am talking about, refer to my Big 5 article. But essentially is about most issues coming back to infections, food intolerances, heavy metal toxicity, environmental toxicity, and stress. Often times it is a combo of these not just one of them. Lyme disease is an infection that has been shown to effect dopamine levels. Food intolerances are another. Often times dopamine deficiency and anxiety is a sign of gut issues. The gut and the brain are so closing tied together that we started calling it the gut-brain axis. It is important to remember that about 80-90% of our serotonin (another neurotransmitter) is made in the gut. But lets focus on something that you can do right now. Diet.

Nutrition and Lifestyle

I can not stress enough the importance of good diet. The more I learn the more I see diet as the foundation of all health. Now when I say diet I do not mean, going on a diet or trying to lose weight. Diet is just a medical jargon we use to label someone’s nutritional lifestyle. Many practitioners including myself call it lifestyle change due to this confusion. Because what I am asking my patients is not a short term change, it is a lifelong change. Often times it was what we ate that brought us to chronic disease or what we are exposed to.

For example, we eat for convenience usually. Maybe its fast food, maybe something quick at home like hamburger helper. We have been lied to and told that what you eat doesn’t matter that much as long as you try to do a few basic things like whole grains and veggies. The dietary guidelines that we set forth are erroneous and over the years they have led to more and more health issues. This creates a whole new problem for people trying to get healthy. They are told to eat tons of grains, more veggies, but cut the fat especially saturated fat. The guidelines change slightly but mostly they have remained the same for a long time. For those that follow it, they get frustrated and sicker. Or they fall for the gimmick that you have poor genetics and you drew the short straw. Except that doesn’t account for disparity between modern chronic disease and chronic disease 100 years ago. We have seen exponential growth. There are peoples that still live today like their ancestors and they have virtually no chronic disease!

Of course, naysayers will state all sorts of justifications. The one I hear most often is that life expectancy has changed, except those numbers rarely remove infant mortality from the mix. When that is removed along with poverty and hygiene, life expectancy has remained relatively the same. The hygiene and poverty account for some of the other arguments such as the black death. But almost always death was related to acute issues not chronicity. Many diseases are plagues of prosperity.

Okay, so what is a good diet?

Weston A. Price was a dentist in the early 1900s that wanted to study traditional peoples around the world. He went to Africa, Switzerland, Islanders, and the Inuit. He consistently saw several things. They ate locally grown food in the season it was grown. They ate a variety of food. They prepared foods with fermentation and soaking when needed such as grains. They drank raw milk and made raw cheese. There are many other things he observed. He saw that they lacked any chronic disease and that their teeth and jaws were full, with enough room for all their teeth no decay. He also observed within one generation of introducing the western diet it all changed. Rapid tooth decay, malformations, and chronic disease set in, things we see all to common today. You can read more in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration or by visiting westonaprice.org. Another book I highly recommend is by Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma. Michael Pollan does an excellent job laying this all out. And for you who do not want to read, you can watch In Defense of Food on Netflix. Eating is simple but we have utterly confused it. These resources lay out a proper diet nicely. It will take work, a transition period, and I will say it again work. We are not used to making our own food. We need to get over that.

Now I didn’t mention food intolerances above. Many of us have food intolerances due to what we have done to the food, eating wrong quantities of certain foods, and lifestyles. I used to deal with gluten intolerance. Others it may be corn or soy. But nevertheless it is a real thing and it can be tough. In cases of autoimmunity, it may be that you never can tolerate the food again, but there are ways we are figuring out to help with that too. Sometimes it is due to chemical exposure like Roundup which causes increased sensitivity to gluten. An elimination diet is an easy way to figure out if you have any. Simply remove the food for 30 days and see what happens. We often do this in our office along with muscle testing.

So, that is a good diet. But how does it help with dopamine?

Dopamine needs certain nutrients to function. Phenylalanine and tyrosine are needed. These are amino acids. Numerous cofactors are needed to synthesize dopamine including iron, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and copper. These amino acids, vitamins, and minerals are also needed elsewhere too. Tyrosine is needed in the thyroid gland, so think metabolism and fatigue issues. Iron is needed everywhere as well as B vitamins. Magnesium is needed in tens of thousands of processes throughout the body. You run on these micronutrients. This has led to the emergence of the concept of nutrient density. This concept is about eating foods with the highest nutrient density such as organ meats, vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices, and nuts. But there is an issue. The way we farm has depleted our soils. So what you think you are getting you aren’t. Furthermore, it is the importance of bioavailability too. You absorb certain nutrients easier from certain foods. Many want to eat plants alone but they severely cut themselves off from a variety of nutrients that animals supply, some completely. How do you combat this? Eating a well rounded diet of mostly plants from local organic farmers. Or better yet, grow it yourself!

Following these simple nutritional guidelines go along way in helping with dopamine issues. Of course, get evaluated by a holistic natural practitioner, we highly recommend that. There could be more to the story that needs to be uncovered. We use a variety of herbs and supplements that help support and allow the body to heal naturally. We can also help you fine tune or if you don’t live nearby and you want someone local rather than video conferences or just need some quick advice, drop us line.

In next article I will talk about GABA another important neurotransmitter with anxiety and if I have time I will talk about serotonin too. I probably will since I covered quite a bit about diet in this one. Hope this helped!