People with IBD and in fact even any form of low-grade inflammation probably have reduced synthesis, release, and reuptake of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
As many of you know before I dove headfirst into the world of gastrointestinal health, the microbiome, and autoimmunity – my first love was the human brain, mind, and the subsequent connections and chemicals that comprise their functioning.
I actually believe that most chronic conditions especially IBD are more dependent on our friendly executive organ than pretty much anyone has noticed (more on that another time).
And on the subject of dopamine and inflammation from a bio-molecular standpoint, we can recall that NF-κB signaling (which is a hallmark in IBD) causes the release of TNFα and other usual cytokine suspects (interleukin factors).
These cytokines according to a recent paper published in CELL “access mesolimbic dopamine (DA) neurons and immune cells (microglia) in key brain regions including the striatum through stress- and potentially inflammation-induced disruptions in the blood-brain barrier, ultimately contributing to disruptions in DA synthesis, release, and reuptake.”
The theory goes that from an evolutionary standpoint lower dopamine may be advantageous as it results in more resting activities helping the body to heal.
But this is also why when you have IBD or other acute or chronic inflammatory processes, everyday tasks (getting out of bed, food prep, and anything that involves cognitive load) become quite difficult.
And while rest is important – lack of motivation can lead to the inability to perform critical lifestyle interventions and in-turn lead to more stress and may worsen IBD.
This is why I boost my dopamine every day, and this has had some great results for me.
If you have an inflammatory process like IBD what can you do to maintain your dopamine levels?
Is there a magic pill? A supplement perhaps? A medication? Adderall? Caffeine? Brain stimulation?!?
Sure – but all exogenous approaches come with tradeoffs some less so than others. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – and when you put something in your brain that intensely boosts dopamine (i.e. Adderall) there will be consequences. Sometimes these consequences will be felt immediately, the next day, or even weeks, months or years down the line. The same is true for anything else you put in your body, and especially those things that affect your brain chemistry.
Dopamine is released throughout your day: when you eat delicious food (or junk food), when your phone buzzes, when you check FB or Instagram etc.
While the amount of dopamine is not necessarily “finite” in the human brain – it takes time for levels to adjust after one of these events.
That’s why I treat my dopamine like a severely endangered species, and my brain like it’s a protected nature preserve.
I relentlessly practice what I call “dopamine conservation.”
How can you practice dopamine conservation?
1. Don’t look at your phone before you get out of bed in the morning. Stop watching shitty TV in the morning or on your lunch break. Save this for the end of your day – or better yet spend time with someone you love, be out in nature, or watch something that will convey meaning in your life.
2. Practice delayed gratification – before you act on something whether it be logging in to IG, FB, email or getting a treat for yourself, ask yourself if you’ve put in the time to have earned it. When your phone buzzes stop yourself for one second and ask yourself if you MUST look at it right now. Record how many times per day you log on to FB, IG or check your email. It’s going to surprise you.
3. Meditate every morning and learn how to control your impulses.
Additionally on weekday mornings after I have hydrated I take 500mg – 1000mg of L-tyrosine on an empty stomach which is a precursor to dopamine and norepinephrine. This is akin to ecological preservation techniques – giving my endangered species the habitat it needs to succeed. Tyrosine must be taken on an empty stomach to get past the blood-brain-barrier. Word on the street is that N-acetal-Tyrosine gets past every time though, but I have not tried it.
Very rarely I will take 1/3 of a tablespoon of red velvet bean powder or mucuna pruriens which is naturally high in bioactive L-DOPA (a closer precursor to dopamine). I’d caution this though as L-DOPA can have side effects including digestive distress.
Lastly, I make a light roast cold brew coffee or a cold brew tea most mornings and I generally make sure my caffeine consumption is under 100mg per day.
So when this all comes together I have a powerful protocol to boost and protect my dopamine that complements my comprehensive IBD protocol.
Hope this helps!