Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that helps to regulate the pleasure and reward centers in your brain. Specific mental and physical disorders and illnesses are associated with a deficiency of dopamine. Emerging research has linked a lack of dietary omega-3 fatty acids with imbalances of dopamine, which may contribute to certain illnesses. Omega-3 supplementation may help improve dopamine levels. However, as of 2011, there's only a limited amount of research confirming this claim. Consult your doctor before using any dietary supplement.
The Role of Dopamine
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or a brain chemical that plays a role in signal transmission between nerve cells. Most people think of dopamine as the pleasure chemical, as it helps to influence the areas of your brain that control pleasure, reward and motivation. Many illegal and prescription drugs work on dopamine receptors in the brain, increasing feelings of pleasure, which often leads to addiction. Dopamine also affects certain brain processes that control movement and emotion. As you get older, your levels of dopamine decline. A deficiency of dopamine is associated with mental disorders like attention-deficit disorder, schizophrenia and depression, as well as degenerative illnesses such as Parkinson's disease. In his book, "A Fundamental Guide for a Healthy Lifestyle and Nutrition," Dr. Ugur Gogus says that certain foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, like strawberries, can help increase your dopamine levels.
About Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, or polyunsaturated fatty acids, are important for maintaining good health and crucial for cognitive functioning. There are three main types of omega-3 acids: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, found in dietary sources like fish oil and fatty fish like salmon and tuna; and alpha-linolenic acid, found in foods like flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts and soybeans. A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to symptoms such as depression, fatigue, memory problems and mood swings, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Your body cannot manufacture omega-3 fatty acids, so you must obtain them from food sources or nutritional supplements.
The relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and dopamine has mostly been examined in animal studies. A clinical review published in 2002 in the "Alternative Medicine Review" reports that animal studies have shown a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids leads to reduced brain levels of dopamine and another important neurotransmitter, serotonin. Another clinical review, published in 2007 in the journal "Lipids in Health and Disease," notes that omega-3 fatty acids alter the functioning of the dopaminergic and serotonergic systems, both of which play a role in certain mental illnesses. These findings do not necessarily confirm the benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for increasing dopamine levels. However, the authors of this review report that omega-3 supplementation should "enhance dopaminergic neurotransmission." More studies are needed to show the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on dopamine levels in humans.
You should not attempt to self-diagnose nutritional deficiencies nor self-treat your symptoms using dietary supplements. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that omega-3 fatty acid supplements can interact with blood thinners, diabetes medications, cyclosporine and medications used to treat high cholesterol. Additionally, fish oil supplements may cause unpleasant side effects, such as bloating, gas or other digestive complaints. Consult your doctor to discuss the use of omega-3 fatty acids, especially if you take any medication or have another medical condition.
- "A Fundamental Guide for a Healthy Lifestyle and Nutrition"; Ugur Gogus, Ph. D; 2011
- Columbia University Medical Center; Neurobiology of Dopamine in Schizophrenia; Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- "Alternative Medicine Review"; Neurobehavioral Aspects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids; A. Logan; 2003
- "Lipids in Health and Disease"; Omega-3 Fatty Acids As Treatment for Mental Illness...; B. Ross. et al.; September 18, 2007