High dopamine levels in the brain can be desirable for numerous reasons, whether it be for treating a disease or simply enhancing cognitive function. Dopamine-boosting substances come in various potencies, ranging from herbal preparations to pharmaceutical-grade drugs capable of inducing hallucinations.
Dopamine, along with other monoamines and amino acids, is a neurotransmitter. Dopamine supplements act by increasing the levels of certain amino acids that act as precursors to dopamine production in the brain.
Dopamine, not surprisingly, activates dopamine receptors, which play an important role in many aspects of human function. These include cognition, behavior, voluntary movement, attention span, working memory, learning ability, sleep regularity and mood. In "Optimum Nutrition for The Mind," Patrick Holford notes that "adrenalin, noradrenalin and dopamine make you feel good, stimulating you, motivating you, and helping you deal with stress." If dopamine is down, by contrast, you're likely to feel unmotivated and tired. Your sex drive may be reduced, too.
Supplementing dopamine in strong doses has shown to allow smoother, more efficient motion in humans. In studies of mice, reducing dopamine levels was actually sufficient to deprive mice of the will to eat, whereas mice with boosted dopamine levels showed increased motivation to seek out reward, which, in humans, may translate into "achievement,." according to the National Institutes of Health.
Supplementing dopamine could greatly affect your subjective quality of life, your active intelligence, and your ability to follow through with decisions, particularly if you suffer from a dopamine deficiency. It also increases your capacity to generate ideas, making you more creative. It has been shown to be effective in treating the motor degeneration that accompanies Parkinson's disease. It may also be of value to those suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, which is partly caused by poor production of dopamine in the frontal lobes.
You can't supplement dopamine directly, as the substance cannot independently cross the blood-brain barrier. The strongest supplementary substance that aids in your brain's own dopamine production is L-DOPA--marketed variously as Prolopa, Sinemet, Stalevo, Parcopa, Atamet and Madopar, among others. It is a naturally occurring substance found in certain foods and herbs. High dose L-DOPA is only available with a prescription. Standard doses, however, are available in herbal preparations, the most commonly marketed of which is mucuna pruriens, also known as "velvet bean." An 800 mg dose will contain as much as 120 mg of L-DOPA.
While side effects are rare in supplemented velvet bean, strong doses of L-DOPA have been known to cause a great many maladies, ranging from nausea, hypertension and arrhythmia to gastrointestinal bleeding, hallucinations and narcolepsy. Dopamine is classified as a psychoactive drug, and can have a powerful effect on your personality and behavior. Caution and monitoring of your own response to it is advisable, regardless of your dosage level.
- "Optimum Nutrition for The Mind"; Patrick Holford; 2003
- "Dopamine, learning, and reward-seeking behavior", "ACTA Neurobiologiae Experimentals", 67(4):481-8.; O. Arias Carrion, E. Poppel; 2007
- "Two types of dopamine neuron distinctly convey positive and negative motivational signals", "Nature", 459(7248):837-41; M. Matsumoto, O. Hikosaka