The Pleasure Centers

By: Nikki Nies

You know how some foods you LOVE and get can’t enough of while others you don’t mind giving a pass?  You can thank the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine and dopamine,  also known as part of your “pleasure center” that reacts to positive stimulation and helps control one’s reward and pleasure centers.  If it is found one is deficient in norepinephrine or dopamine, it can cause an imbalance in one’s physical and mental health.

neurotransmitters_productionThis chart explains how dopamine and norepinephrine are produced.  Phenylalanine and tyrosine are the building blocks for dopamine and norepinephrine. For the body to successfully produce, the body needs a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals.  For example, one needs to have adequate levels of folic acid, iron, vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium and copper, as they are all co-factors for the production of dopamine and norepinephrine.  When checking for deficiencies, look to your diet to see if you are deficient in any of the above listed vitamins and minerals, which could contribute to physiological and mood problems.

Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline is both a hormone and neurotransmitter.  It acts in one’s brainstem and is responsible for “fight-or-flight” response, the body’s biological response to stress.  Norepinephrine plays a role in  pain, cognition, mood, emotions, movement and blood pressure.  There are multiple pathways that are responsible for dopamine’s distribution to different areas of the brain.  One of the most important is the  mesolimbic dopamine pathway, which projects from the midbrain to the nucleus accumbens and is responsible for pleasure, delusions, psychosis and drug abuse.

Symptoms of neurotransmitter deficiency: Strong indicator of a norepinephrine deficiency are nasal blockage, low blood pressure, droop eyelids, ejaculation problems, intolerance to exercise, blood vessels problems in heart and/or reduced muscle tone.  Dopamine deficiency can be indicated by Parkinson’s disease,apathy, low energy, increased risk of addiction (i.e. caffeine, drugs, alcohol),rapid weight gain, lack of concentration, chronic boredom,restless leg syndrome, food cravings, depression, poor attention and/or mood swings

Treatment of neurotransmitter deficiency: 

  •  Consult physician about taking norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRI’s), which are antidepressant drugs that increase the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the body by preventing absorption into cells.  Bupropion is the only FDA approve NDRI and can be found under the name Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR and Wellbutrin XL.  However, a common side effect is insomnia.
  • Incorporate more exercise into your daily life:  With an added 20-30 minutes of daily exercise, it can increase brain activity, which regulates one’s brain chemicals.
  • Add more lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables to your diet, ,
  • It has been found the consumption of almonds, avocados, lima beans, pumpkin and sesame seeds may increase dopamine levels.
  • Limit intake of sugary foods, those high in saturated fat or cholesterol and refined foods as they can decrease dopamine levels even more
  • Take advantage of your social circle and make a point to meet up with friends and family, which can boost one’s mood

As always, make an appointment to see your physician if you’re concerned about your mood or are curious about your neurotransmitter levels.  Who knows, a small lifestyle change could make a world of difference.


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