The Importance of Dopamine Neurotransmission and the Positive Impact of Nootropic Supplements
Dopamine is a “chemical messenger” that allows neurons to communicate properly with each other in some pathways in your brain. Unlike glutamate, which is found in virtually all brain regions, dopamine neurotransmission is more selective and affects specific areas and parameters of your brain. Besides being one of the neurotransmitters released in the gaps between brain cells as part of synaptic communication, dopamine is also a hormone that is produced in small amounts by your adrenal glands.
Although most receptors sensitive to dopamine are located in your brain, some of them are also positioned in the digestive system and in the blood vessels, where they help control certain parameters of intestinal movement and blood circulation. Dopamine is frequently utilized in emergencies in hospitals as an intravenous perfusion (dopamine drip) to stimulate the heart and to constrict the blood vessels, which is aimed at raising the blood pressure of an individual and sustaining his or her vital parameters.
How Does Dopamine Affect Motivation and Mood?
Although dopamine is not widely represented in most brain regions like glutamate is, its importance can be illustrated efficiently through the effects of recreational substances and drugs. Virtually all abused drugs increase dopamine neurotransmission either directly or indirectly.
Moreover, dopamine neurotransmission is affected in several diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease or schizophrenia. Although these medical disorders produce very different symptoms, they are influenced to some degree by the implication of dopamine receptors.
There are various kinds of dopamine receptors distributed throughout the brain, but D1 and D2 receptors seem to play a major role. D1 receptors are found in the brain regions responsible for controlling the precision of movements.
There is a special area of the brain known as the “substantia nigra” which is especially rich in dopamine neurons and D1 receptors. This brain nucleus has the role to control movement initiated by the muscles and adjust it to prevent jerky movements or shakiness.
Specific brain degeneration processes in this area can result in a considerable loss of functional neurons in substantia nigra, which is the mechanism of Parkinson’s disease. Stimulating D1 receptors through dopamine-stimulating medication is able to relieve Parkinson’s symptoms to some degree. D2 receptors, on the other hand, have a somewhat different function. They are implicated in cognition, feeling pleasure as a reward for an accomplished task, creativity and motivation. Individuals who suffer from schizophrenia may have problems with D2 receptors in the limbic system of the brain, which causes symptoms like psychosis, which are very different from those generated by Parkinson’s disease.
Some researchers believe that there is also a genetic component that influences the abnormal D2 mediated neurotransmission exhibited by individuals with schizophrenia. Some other receptors have been implicated, such as serotonin receptors, but D2 receptor inhibitors seem to possess anti-psychotic properties and are sometimes prescribed as treatment.These abnormalities affecting the dopamine neurotransmission in disease illustrate the wide range of effects exhibited by dopamine in your brain.
However, in a simplified manner, dopamine mainly affects mood and motivation. When you feel satisfaction as a result of achieving one of your goals or completing a difficult task, it translates in your brain, at least partially, into an enhanced dopamine drive.
There is a special brain region known as the nucleus accumbens that researchers believe is the center of pleasure and reward in your brain. Of course, many other brain areas are implicated in various pleasurable emotions or feelings, such as laughter, having fun, love or satisfaction, but numerous dopamine pathways seem to be concentrated in this nucleus.
Nonetheless, the function of this nucleus is more complex, and it also seems to process aggressiveness, impulsivity and addiction, which is why many drugs and recreational substances are believed to stimulate it artificially.
A Simplified Model of Dopamine Neurotransmission and Its Effects
As you can see, the effects of dopamine are quite complex, but a simplified model of how dopamine works in most of its pathways can be formulated. A low concentration of dopamine in your brain, but especially in the pathways surrounding or converging to the nucleus accumbens, can result in feeling a lack of motivation, feeling uninspired, feeling less creative, less energetic or driven than usual. These feelings can be experienced after failing at something, being punished for a particular behavior or feeling insecure.
On the other hand, an excessively high dopamine neurotransmission can translate into exaggerated creativity, difficulty with controlling one’s impulses and thoughts, or hallucinations. These abnormally high levels of dopamine are usually a result of drug abuse, or “being high”, or they may occur as a result of temporary mental disturbances following emotional events. As you can see, both excessive and insufficient levels of dopamine are bad for your mental capacity, so regulating dopamine neurotransmission through powerful drugs that directly inhibit or increase dopamine neurotransmission is probably not a good idea, unless they are prescribed by your doctor for an accurately formulated diagnosis.
Direct dopamine stimulators are used recreationally as substance abuse. Cocaine is an example, and it works by inhibiting the reuptake of noradrenaline and dopamine from the synapse back into their deposits in the neuron. It translates into more powerful dopamine mediated effects on its synaptic receptors, which creates a specific “high”, feeling ecstatic and even hallucinations. L-DOPA is a drug that indirectly stimulates dopamine drive because it is a precursor in the synthesis of dopamine. It is used to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to some degree by providing the neurons from the substantia nigra with material from which they can manufacture dopamine, although it does not address brain degeneration issues.
Most antipsychotics work by inhibiting the D2 dopamine receptors, which diminishes the intensity of hallucinations or delusions experienced by some mental patients. However, the effects of these drugs are substantially more complex because they also seem to influence serotonin neurotransmission, and even noradrenaline receptors to some extent.
Nootropic Supplements Exert a “Gentle” Influence on Dopamine Neurotransmission
As you can see, brutal or direct interventions into dopamine neurotransmission usually result in bothersome changes of mental capacity and behavior. Unlike most drugs interfering with the dopamine system, nootropic supplements that are able to influence dopamine drive work in an indirect and gentle manner. For example, Sulbutiamine exerts a positive influence on motivation and improves the executive memory by up-regulating dopamine receptors in the frontal region of the brain.
The frontal cortex is a region responsible for making decisions, performing accurate calculations and planning of your daily or long term activities. By increasing the number of receptors sensitive to dopamine in this area, this nootropic supplement enhances the motivation to persevere in mentally difficult tasks. Since no direct influence on dopamine release is exerted, side effects occur in very rare instances.
In fact, the up-regulation of brain receptors (increasing the density of receptors sensitive to neurotransmitters) is the way most nootropics work in your brain. It allows for a safer mechanism of action that facilitates improved mental abilities with minimal side effects.
Noopept is another nootropic that exerts a positive influence on your mental well-being and your working capacity through a beneficial impact on dopamine neurotransmission. Besides enhancing your mental drive and motivation during difficult tasks that require persistence and sustained mental effort, Noopept also improves your mood. It achieves this effect by improving serotonin neurotransmission as well.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter implicated in mood regulation. As a simplified model of serotonin effects – you feel positive and optimistic when serotonin neurotransmission is adequate, and you feel “low” or depressed when serotonin production or neurotransmission is insufficient.
Racetams may also influence dopamine neurotransmission to some degree because they also have proven mood and motivation enhancing properties, but they appear to work mainly on stimulating mental alertness and memory capacity. It is important to emphasize, however, that all mental parameters are strongly related and interconnected with each other. For example, lack of motivation or a negative mood immediately results in a diminished attention to detail and impaired alertness. This is why it is a smart choice to create stacks of nootropics that work through distinct mechanisms to be able to exert a smooth and gentle positive influence on several mental parameters without significant adverse effects.
You can combine nootropics that modulate glutamate receptors (most racetams) with supplements that improve noradrenaline and dopamine neurotransmission, but also with acetylcholinesterase inhibitor supplements (Galantamine or Huperzine A) for a better acetylcholine mediated memory strength. Adding L-theanine or caffeine for an improved mental clarity is also beneficial. Experiment with several combinations and figure out the perfect stack for a gentle and safe enhancement of your mental capacities.
Even though these supplements do not require the doctor’s approval to use them, it is still wise to undergo a basic medical checkup that would evaluate your cardiovascular health and other parameters, which allows you as a beginner to start your nootropic supplement consumption without any concerns for your health.