Low levels of dopamine have been linked to Parkinson’s disease, restless legs syndrome and depression. Low levels of dopamine can make you feel tired, moody, unmotivated and many other symptoms. Treatments are available for many of the medical conditions linked to low dopamine levels.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and a hormone. It communicates chemical messages between nerve cells in your brain or between your brain and the rest of your body. It plays an important role in many of your body’s functions, including memory, motivation, learning, reward and movement.
Dopamine deficiency means having a low level of dopamine. Low dopamine levels are linked with certain health conditions like Parkinson’s disease or depression. It may also make you more susceptible to taking risks or developing addictions.
Dopamine, the neurotransmitter, is made in select areas in your brain. You could have low dopamine levels if there’s an injury to the areas of your brain that make dopamine. You could also have a low level of dopamine if your body doesn’t properly respond to dopamine (if there’s a problem with nerve cell receptors that pick up and pass along the chemical message).
Certain health conditions are linked to dopamine deficiency. For example, people with Parkinson’s disease have a loss of nerve cells and dopamine in particular areas of their brain. And people with cocaine addiction need more and more of the drug to achieve the positive effect because of damaged dopamine receptors in their brain and decreased dopamine release.
Symptoms of dopamine deficiency (low dopamine levels) may include:
Other symptoms of low dopamine levels include:
There are many symptoms of dopamine deficiency. What you might experience depends on your underlying cause. For instance, your symptoms would be quite different if your low dopamine level were associated with Parkinson’s disease than they would be if they were associated with schizophrenia.
Dopamine deficiency isn’t a medical diagnosis. Healthcare providers rarely check dopamine levels. A blood test alone doesn’t provide much useful information, either. For example, a blood test can measure dopamine levels but can’t determine how your brain responds to dopamine. Instead, your healthcare provider will gather your medical history, ask lifestyle questions (including alcohol and drug use), ask about your symptoms, examine you and order any needed tests based on your symptoms. With this information and the findings from your tests, your healthcare provider will determine if you have a medical condition related to a low dopamine level.
If your healthcare provider suspects you have Parkinson’s disease, they may order a dopamine transporter test. This is an imaging test that involves injecting a radioactive agent (like a dye) into your bloodstream, and then tracking it using single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). If you have Parkinson’s disease, damaged nerve cells and loss of dopamine in the affected areas of your brain create a distinct pattern visible on the scan.
Treatment of dopamine deficiency depends on the underlying cause.
If you think you have a low level of dopamine, see your healthcare provider. You may have a disease that’s associated with dopamine deficiency that’s treatable. If an illness can’t be diagnosed, you may wish to try remedies that naturally increase dopamine. Keep in mind that further research is needed on the effects of food on neurotransmitters such as dopamine.
Supplements that increase dopamine levels include:
Low dopamine levels can’t be looked at in a “black and white” way. It’s a complex subject. It’s important to know that low dopamine levels don’t cause medical conditions. There’s a link or association, but low levels don’t directly cause the medical conditions. Even more confusing are the concepts of causation and correlation. For example, lower dopamine levels are linked with obesity. It’s known that the foods you eat and exercise can affect how your brain uses dopamine.
However, do poor food choices (foods that don’t boost dopamine levels) and lack of the motivation to exercise cause a low dopamine level or does a low dopamine level in the brain trigger the “reward system” that makes choosing junk food and not exercising more pleasurable? Finally, no neurotransmitter works in isolation from others. Dopamine, for example, works closely with serotonin. As stated, understanding neurotransmitters is a complex subject.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Dopamine deficiency can affect your physical and mental health. Many medical conditions are linked to low levels of dopamine, including Parkinson’s disease, restless legs syndrome, depression, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Treatments are available to manage these conditions. Other methods to raise low dopamine levels may be considered; but, be sure to speak to your healthcare provider first. You and your healthcare provider will work together to find the best approach to manage your dopamine deficiency.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/23/2022.
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