Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Depression Treatment with Dopamine

Scientists' understanding of depression and its causes has changed significantly over the past 20 years. Recent advances in drug therapy that address neurotransmitter deficiencies have improved the quality of life for innumerable patients. Furthermore, new medications have far fewer side effects than older agents. However, no medication is completely free from adverse effects, so many people, particularly those with milder depression, turn to alternative remedies. If you suffer from depression, you may have considered boosting the dopamine levels in your brain, although this approach has not been proven to cure depression.

Dopamine Deficiency Linked to Depression
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, that is found in your brain and many other organs. Dopamine relays impulses across the microscopic spaces, called synapses, which exist between adjacent nerves, thus allowing the propagation of messages from one nerve to the next. A deficiency of dopamine activity in the brain has been strongly linked to depression. In fact, a 2010 review in "Frontiers in Neuroscience" suggests "all antidepressant treatments have a common, final, dopaminergic" pathway and that a person's response to an antidepressant medication is ultimately dependent on stimulation of dopamine receptors.

Tyrosine Improves Brain Function
Unlike dopamine, L-tyrosine and L-dopa, which is dopamine's immediate precursor, can both cross the "blood-brain barrier." Thus, the consumption of more L-tyrosine would presumably lead to higher dopamine levels in your brain. A 2007 study in "Physiology and Behavior" shows that supplemental tyrosine improves mental performance under conditions of physiologic stress, lending support to the notion that boosting tyrosine levels also boosts neurotransmitter levels.

According to "CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics," several prescription antidepressant medications are known to increase brain dopamine levels, as well as the levels of dopamine's relatives, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Thus, dopamine's role in the evolution and treatment of depression is well-established. However, dopamine's precursors, specifically L-tyrosine and L-dopa, have not been proven to be useful for treating depression. If you think you might benefit from increasing your own dopamine levels, talk to your physician.

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