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Written by Dr. Welsh, Article reviewed and edited by Dr. Fine M.D..
Published on 12 September 2017

Twelve Steps to Enhance and Preserve Your Memory

One of the most worrisome aspects of the aging process is loss of memory. Many people can handle the idea of losing some of their physical capacity, but are absolutely horrified about their memory fading. The goal of this article is to provide you with some simple tips that you can use to sharpen your memory and preserve your brain from cognitive decline. Whether you are twenty or eighty, these tips can help you stay at the top of your game!

Step One: Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Although heavy drinking can have a negative effect upon your memory, numerous studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption can have a beneficial effect upon your memory and cognitive function. This may seem surprising at first, but alcohol does have some anti-oxidant effects when used conscientiously, and this has been shown to benefit brain health.

Be careful not to abuse alcohol though. Alcohol abuse has a clear negative impact on your brain, leading to immediate (albeit temporary) cognitive impairment. Long term alcohol abuse can also impact the connections your neurons make with one another in your brain, preventing you from making memories and connections as easily.

But if you are smart with your drinking and can maintain moderate habits, there is ample evidence that light alcohol consumption can actually increase your cognitive ability. There are some studies that have been released recently that show that moderate drinkers outscore both hard drinkers and non-drinkers in certain clinical tests of cognition and memory.

Alcohol can also even reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. In one study conducted in France, researchers found that two daily glasses of wine reduced the risk of Alzheimer's by 45%!

Step Two: If You Are Suffering from Depression: Seek Help

Anything in your life that leads to chronic feelings of anger or anxiety can have a negative impact on your memory. Your brain only has so many resources to allocate, and if your brain is fixated on feelings of anxiety and depression, it is pulling resources away from your memory. Depression is the number one psychiatric condition that can eat at your memory and cognitive ability.

In many cases, the root cause of your memory issues can actually be the depression itself. One of the biggest symptoms of Depression is a breakdown in your ability to concentrate. The negative feelings that your consciousness generates removes your ability to concentrate on tasks which are actually important to you, or important to your life. Depression can keep you from holding onto thoughts, and can prevent you from being successful in school or at work because it drains your focus.

One of the reasons why Depression causes these cognitive lapses is because Depression significantly increases cortisol production by the adrenal glands. Elevated cortisol levels enhance your brain's fight or flight response and have a negative impact upon your higher level brain functions.

Depression has also been correlated with a decrease in the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the central area of the brain in regard to short-term memory, so Depression can literally diminish your ability to store new memories. One study in particular showed that significant depression can decrease the size of the hippocampus by as much as fifteen percent.

The condition of depression also has an impact on the forms of memories that you can retain. Individuals with a predisposition toward depression are more likely to retain negative memories than positive memories, not because of any conscious effort on their part, but because their brains are just wired to do so.

Not all hope is lost, however. Studies have shown that medications that have been proven to combat depression, like SSRIs, have the capability to also restore the normal function of the hippocampus, as well as restore its size.

Step Three: Stay Active

Although historically, philosophers and scientists have thought of the mind and the body as two different entities, it is now crystal clear that the health of the body and the health of the mind are interconnected. Physical activity has the capability to kick-start the brain and increase your capacity to retain memories.

Obesity, for example, has a chronic and negative impact on the brain, and can even increase the risk of both Alzheimer's disease and stroke. Exercise is one way that the body takes care of plaque in the blood vessels and arteries, and if you remain excessively sedentary, the heart loses its ability to pump blood effectively, due to a combination of built-up plaque and lack of stimulation. We all know that this plaque build-up increases the risk of heart attack significantly, but did you know that these same issues with cardiovascular health can reduce the efficiency of your memory and cognition?

The brain needs more fresh nutrients and oxygen than any other organ of the body, and if cardiovascular conditions limit the amount of fresh, oxygenated blood that reaches your brain, then the brain will not be able to function at optimal capacity. You don't have to exercise five days a week to improve your cognitive health, however. Just try to regularly do things that get your heart pumping a little bit. Start jogging occasionally, or even just walk or do some laps up and down the stairs. Study after study has shown that the more active a person is, the more it benefits their cognitive health.

Step Four: Association and Visualization

One way to increase the effectiveness of your memory on a day to day basis is to engage in visualization. This means that, when you have something important that you know you need to remember, associate the memory with vivid imagery and use your imagination. By engaging in the creative part of your brain, you increase the likelihood that you will store the memory more effectively.

Try to actively make memories, and not passively expect yourself to store the memories. When someone tells you something important, don't just tell yourself you will remember it later, actively make the memory in your own mind. Dwell on it, and dwell on the implication of the memory.

You can also effectively use word association in order to more effectively remember important (and not-so-important) details, obligations, and memories. Associate what you are trying to remember with some other memory that you already have stored, so that when you think of one memory, it instantly recalls the other thing that you are trying to remember.

By creating emphasis in your own mind with visualization and association, you enhance or reinforce the thing that you are trying to remember, improving your overall memory, and practice good memory habits which will help you in the future.

Step Five: Pay Attention

This may seem simple and obvious enough, but this is actually one of the toughest aspects of memory for many people. Research has shown that it takes time to convert a short-term memory to a long-term memory. The average amount of time it takes to store a long-term memory is eight seconds. No matter how badly you want to remember something, you will have trouble keeping it if you do not hold it in your mind for at least eight seconds.

It's also important to do things deliberately if you intend on remembering them. Too often, we do things offhand, and put too much faith in our memory. Do you ever forget where you put your keys? Or your wallet? These sorts of mistakes happen because we simply toss things aside without actually engaging our brains to ensure that we know where they are later when we need them.

In situations where you know what you are experiencing is or might be very important in the future, reduce the distractions in your mind and take stock of what really matters. Put your phone away, take your mind off the television, and engage.

Step Six: Repetition

One useful way to store memories more effectively is to utilize repetition. When you meet someone for the first time, repeat their name back to them both when you are first introduced and when you depart. You can use repetition for common lapses in memory as well. Whenever you do something like put your keys away, remind yourself immediately where you placed them. This may sound weird, but by actively engaging your brain when you perform an action, you all but ensure that you will remember them later.

This can happen with names as well. Always take the time to mentally check yourself whenever you meet a new person. It can be easy to forget the name of someone that you like and get along with because you spent so much time thinking about the conversation and the social cues that you forgot to remember his or her name. This happens more often than you'd think, and it's embarrassing!

Step Seven: Chunking

Chunking is one of the most effective ways to store complex memories. Our brains only have a limited ability to store a certain amount of items at a time. For example, our brains only really have the capability to remember an average of seven numbers in sequence. This is one reason why credit card numbers are sixteen digits and social security numbers are nine digits: They are longer than most people's brains are equipped to handle.

One way to remember long numbers or other forms of information in through the technique known as chunking. Chunking is when you convert simple information into slightly more complex relational information. Essentially, you are turning two small memories into one larger memory in which the relationship between the two items enhances your storage capacity.

With numbers, for example, it may be difficult to remember a phone number, especially if it is from an area code you are unfamiliar with. Say the number is (256) 998-2356. With this number, you can combine the ten digits into three distinct memories. You can remember that 256 is a common number of megabytes for flash drives, 998 is two less than 1000, and that the last four digits are 23456 without the four.

You can also use this strategy to remember things other than numbers. Say, if you have to remember a group of people's names, you can associate them with each other based off of the first letters of their name, or group them together by where you met them. You can also use this to commit your grocery list to memory. Rather than think about everything you need as soon as you go in, categorize your needs, and remember small groups of items as you enter different sections of the store.

Step Eight: Method of Loci

Another effective means to enhance your memory is to remember things by associating them with their location when you last saw them. One of the most obvious examples of this occurs in the way that teachers remember their students' names. Over time, all of the students tend to settle into a preferred seating arrangement, and the teacher can remember a person's name more effectively when they stay in the same spot week in and week out. When someone is absent, they simply have to reconnect the empty seat with the person that is normally seating in the seat.

This also works well with remembering directions and the location of certain destinations. Some people remember most effectively by following street names and addresses, while others find their way around the world primarily by utilizing landmarks. Landmark navigation is an explicit form of using the Method of Loci for memory. Simply by seeing an object or intermediate location, you can remember where to go next by associating the step of the direction with the location where the turn is made.

Step Nine: Take Time to Take it Easy

Although your brain thrives on activity, it is also possible to overwork your mind at the same time. In order to prevent mental burnout, allocate time every day to things and people that you enjoy. Just like your body, your brain needs time to wind down and recover from activity in order to maintain optimal function.

Being overworked or suffering from excessive anxiety can reduce your focus and prevent you from keeping your mind in tip-top shape. As we mentioned earlier, your body and brain only have so much energy, and if you work yourself ragged or have a habit of letting your mind run around in circles inside your head, you are going to be too exhausted to keep your memory strong.

It doesn't matter how you do it. You can exercise. You can meditate. You can go hang out with your friends. Just regularly arrange for time for your mind to unwind.

Step Ten: Sleep to Enhance your Memory

Sleep is perhaps the most important time of the day for your memory. Even though your brain is busy gathering new memories during the day, it is at night when your body cements those memories that you have prepared for long term storage. When you sleep, your brain goes through a process known as memory consolidation.

Optimal memory consolidation is dependent upon healthy and deep sleep, and when you commit yourself to an abridged sleep schedule, or you toss and turn at night, you prevent your brain from optimally storing the memories that you have formed. This can affect all aspects of your life. Poor sleep can cause you to struggle in exams and it can keep you from functioning at your peak while you are at work. It can also prevent you from storing memories in your personal life, and it can drain you of the mental energy you need to remember the little things, like birthdays and anniversaries.

Step Eleven: Eat Well to Improve your Memory

Like we mentioned earlier, your brain functions at its best when it has all the fuel that it needs to function. Exercise helps circulate blood to the brain, and proper diet ensures that blood is full of nutrients that your brain can use for optimization.

There are a number of foods in particular that have an impact on memory and cognition:

  • Omega-3s Studies have shown that Omega-3s have a significant impact on cognitive function. These nutrients are found in high concentrations in fish, including sardines, halibut, tuna, and salmon. Foods such as flaxseed, spinach, walnuts, and pinto beans have a lot of Omega-3s as well.

  • Fruits and Veggies Vegetables are great because they pack lots of nutrition in a small amount of calories. Most fruits and vegetables are very good for you because they are loaded with antioxidants which eliminate free radicals from your brain and help streamline its normal, healthy function. The best foods for your brain tend to be vegetables that are a deep and dark green, and fruits and veggies that are very vibrant in color like bell peppers, tomatoes, and watermelon.

  • Green Tea Green Tea is loaded with particular anti-oxidants known as polyphenols. There is evidence that Green Tea can enhance both memory and cognition, while also supplying some useful Anti-Aging Benefits as well.

  • Wine and Grape Juice These beverages, as well as beverages made from other dark fruits, such as blackberries or cranberries, are high in Resveratrol, a phytonutrient which has both been linked to improved blood flow as well as a reduced risk of Alzheimer's Disease.

  • Control Saturated Fat and Calorie Consumption A poor diet which breaks down the health of the cardiovascular system will have both immediate and long-term effects upon the health and function of the brain. Diets full of saturated fat and calories have been linked both to reduced cognitive function and an increased risk of dementia. Avoiding bad foods is just as important as consuming healthy foods when it comes to the health of your brain.

Step Twelve: Practice, Practice, Practice

In order to preserve your memory and your cognitive ability, the best thing you can possibly do is exercise your faculties as much as possible. This is a major issue both once people graduate from school and when they retire. You are so used to exercising your brain in a particular way regularly, that when you are no longer obligated to do so, you start to let your brain off the hook.

This is one reason why so many people seem to lose their edge when they retire. They don't have the outside motivation prodding them to keep their mind active. It's the same with physical exercise. How many professional athletes or college athletes have you seen go completely soft as soon as they aren't working out for their career? This is what happens to your brain when you suddenly have significantly less responsibility in your life, and you don't make the effort to keep your memory strong.

In order to stay as sharp as possible, make sure you find activities that can keep your brain hard at work on a daily basis. Volunteer, tutor, or find social groups that encourage you to think on your feet. Make your memory a game, and keep your brain working each and every day. By making an active and conscious effort to preserve your mental sharpness, you will keep your mind younger and more active!


Written by Dr. Welsh, Article reviewed and edited by Dr. Fine M.D..
Published on 01 October 2017

In general, Metabolism refers to the chemical reactions that create a living being. Scientifically, it's a very broad term. In general terms, however, Metabolism refers to the human processes which sustain energy and burn fat in the human body.

Our metabolism is at its highest when we are young. In our adolescence and teens, boys and girls often seem to have bottomless stomachs, especially if they engage in any reasonable level of physical activity. Metabolism remains very high during the twenties as well. Around the age of twenty five, however, natural metabolism starts to drop.

After twenty five, you can expect your metabolism to drop somewhere between five and ten percent every decade, if you maintain the same level of activity. In the United States, the average adult loses somewhere between twenty and forty percent of their metabolism over the course of their adult life.

The good thing about metabolism is that it is heavily influenced by your choices and your activity level. There are a number of things that you can do to enhance your metabolism and increase your muscle building and fat burning power.

The rest of this article will provide you with some helpful tips that you can use in your day-to-day life to increase your metabolism naturally!

Tip One: Improve Your Sleeping Habits

One of the biggest factors which will control your overall metabolism is sleep. Numerous studies have shown that poor sleeping habits and sleeping patterns have a negative impact upon your overall metabolism. There are a couple of big reasons for this. One reason is that your Human Growth Hormone Production is intimately tied to healthy, deep sleep, and Low HGH Levels reduce your metabolism.

Another reason that Poor Sleeping Habits negatively impact metabolism is because the less sleep that you get, the more that you tend to eat. One study found that individuals that slept only five hours per night gained two pounds per week, compared to individuals that slept nine hours, who stayed at a stable weight.

Tip Two: Start Drinking Green Tea

Green Tea is a great drink for people that want to lose weight and increase metabolism. One reason why Green Tea is a great choice is because it has a powerful and delicious flavor while also being a zero-calorie drink. Green Tea is a completely guilt free beverage, and if you really need to add sweetener, there are sugar substitutes like Stevia which have no negative impact on health while also being a fine substitute for sugar.

This beverage is also an awesome choice for dieters because it is loaded with antioxidants, which both have the capability to preserve your health at the cellular level while also boosting your metabolism. Researchers found that the antioxidants contained within Green Tea have a direct positive impact on fat metabolism, and burn energy even when taking into account the caffeine content of the drink. Researchers found that healthy males that drank Green Tea had metabolisms which were around four percent higher than males that did not.

Tip Three: Intensify Your Workouts

All forms of exercise are good at increasing your metabolism, whether you are walking, jogging, or lifting weights. There are some forms of exercise that are more effective at boosting metabolism than others, however. The most effective means to increase metabolism through exercise is with a strategy known as High-Intensity Interval Training. This means that when you perform your normal exercises, you should incorporate sprints or other exercises which rely on bursts of energy.

One reason why these forms of exercise are so effective at increasing metabolism is that High Intensity Cardio and Weight Lifting have the ability to greatly increase your Human Growth Hormone Secretion. Although Human Growth Hormone is released at its highest levels while you are asleep, the hormone is also released in high quantities when you perform these intense exercises. By engaging in these exercises, you can kick-start your metabolism both during exercise and for hours afterward, increasing the weight loss and muscle building potential of your workout routine.

Tip Four: Never Miss Breakfast

Although Breakfast is no longer considered the most important meal of the day, the meal is incredibly important in regard to your metabolism. Even eating a small breakfast has a positive impact on your overall metabolism through the day. While you sleep, your body builds up cortisol levels until the levels reach a point which rouses you from your bed. Breakfast is like a reset button on these cortisol levels which energizes you with the calories contained within.

It's also beneficial to your metabolism never to have a heavy meal just before bed. Your body's metabolism slows to a crawl while you sleep, and more of the calories you consume are converted into fat. Late night meals also get your hormone balance out of whack and can make it even harder to get up in the morning.

Tip Five: Start Lifting Weights

In addition to High-Intensity Interval Training, just simple weight lifting has some impressive effects in regard to metabolism. Although you won't be maximizing your metabolic output with simple anaerobic training, you will increase the size and strength of your muscles, which will have positive benefits upon metabolism over time.

Weight lifting is also a powerful way to immediately burn calories. If you engage in a thorough weight lifting regimen, you can even burn as many calories as you would running. Combining both running and weight lifting provides the most significant benefits to your health, because running or other forms of cardiovascular exercise get your blood pumping, and weight lifting burns large amounts of stored energy.

Tip Six: Drink Lots of Water

One of the simplest ways to enhance your metabolism is to simply make sure you get a healthy level of water every day. There are a lot of good ways to do this, and don't think you are beholden to simply drinking water, but avoid sodas and other drinks that have a tendency to dehydrate! Studies have shown that people that remain fully hydrated with water throughout the day lose weight more quickly than those who do not.

One study found that after drinking a glass of water, metabolism increased around thirty percent in both male and female patients. The increase in metabolism initiated around ten minutes after consumption, and metabolism remained enhanced for thirty to forty minutes after drinking. One interesting outcome of the study was that researchers found that male subjects primarily increased fat metabolism, whereas female patients primarily saw an increase in carbohydrate metabolism.

Tip Seven: Add Spice to Your Meals

You may have heard the myth, but we just wanted to confirm that it is true. Spicy seasonings do have the ability to increase your metabolism. One of the simplest ways to increase your metabolic rate is to add a little cayenne pepper or some other form of spicy seasoning containing Capsaicin.

Studies have shown that adding seasonings containing Capsaicin has the capability to increase your metabolic rate by around eight percent on average. Capsaicin also benefits healthy eaters because it helps you feel more full more quickly.

Another study showed that males that consumed appetizers which contained hot sauce tended to eat an average of two hundred calories less than men that did not. Capsaicin is also recognized for having anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as for increasing blood flow and opening up blood vessels.

Tip Eight: Engage in Regular Cardiovascular Activity

Cardiovascular exercise is also another potent means to enhance metabolism. Cardio has the ability to increase metabolism for an extended period of time. One clinical study revealed that a forty-five minute bike ride had the capacity to increase metabolism over the course of the next twelve hours.

It's also easy to combine High-Intensity Interval Training into your cardiovascular exercise. At regular intervals in your cardio, enter a sprinting speed in order to engage your anaerobic muscle tissue and squeeze out extra energy burning power. A healthy exercise routine which combines cardio, High-Intensity Interval Training, and Weight Training will produce the maximum level of benefit. And don't forget to drink plenty of water!

Tip Nine: Start Drinking Coffee!

Okay, we realize that a lot of you already drink coffee, but did you know that coffee is highly effective at enhancing your metabolism? Coffee is a highly efficient means to get a jolt of caffeine without downing too many unnecessary calories. Coffee also delivers caffeine to the body quickly, and metabolism will slowly increase to a peak after around three hours. The caffeine in coffee increases your heart rate, which boosts your calorie-burning power.

Coffee also contains a few other natural ingredients which have the capability to increase metabolism. One of them is Chlorogenic Acid. This chemical has been shown to slow down the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed, increasing the energy available to burn. Coffee also has two other chemicals which function very similarly to caffeine: Theophylline and Theobromine.

Tip Ten: Start Laughing!

In recent years, researchers have started to unlock the mystery of laughter. One reason that laughter is beneficial is because it acts as a natural stress reliever. Laughter is a physiological sign that you are at ease and you have your guard down. Laughter also produces benefits within the body. It opens up the blood vessels and allows blood to flow more freely through the body.

Laughter also increases metabolism, because it both engages the muscles and encourages optimal circulation. It doesn't take a lot of laughter to produce significant benefits either. Studies have shown that around ten minutes of laughter each day is sufficient to significantly boost metabolic rate as well as feelings of well-being. Give in to laughter, your body will thank you for it.


Written by Dr. Welsh, Article reviewed and edited by Dr. Fine M.D..
Published on 26 August 2014

Dopamine Hormone Guide

Dopamine is a hormone that serves many complex purposes throughout the body, although it is most well-known for its impact on reward and addiction. Dopamine belongs to both the phenethylamine and catacholamine families. Drugs from the phenethylamine family are known for their stimulant effects as well as their psychoactive effects. Catecholamines are hormones which alter the overall activity level of the central nervous system.

How Did Dopamine Get Its Name?

Dopamine gets its name directly from its chemical structure. Dopamine is an amine, meaning that it is a nitrogen-based organic molecule. Dopamine is formed when an L-DOPA molecule loses its carboxyl group. Dopamine is active both in the brain and in the peripheral systems of the body, but Dopamine acts independently as released in both contained systems.

What is the Function of Dopamine in the Brain?

Dopamine is a hormone that sends messages to other parts of the brain, also known as a neurotransmitter. There are a number of areas of the brain that are activated by Dopamine, most notably, the area associated with desire and reward, but the hormone is associated with a wide variety of other physiological actions as well.

The majority of things that we, as humans, find rewarding—delicious food, sex, drugs—cause this dopamine-based reward system to be activated. Things that are addictive have the ability to fire off these pleasure centers to an extent where the body and mind begin to crave further stimulation.

Dopamine is also related to other activities in the brain, however. It stimulates the release of other hormones, and it helps control movement. There are a number of neurological motor disorders associated with Dopamine dysfunction, including Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease is a neurological, degenerative condition which causes the body to shake near-uncontrollably, while also slowly leading to immobility over time. Parkinson's is caused when the substantia nigra no longer produces the Dopamine which helps regulate motor activity.

Although Parkinson's is a chronic, degenerative disorder, it can be treated with drugs which increase the concentration of Dopamine in the brain. These drugs are also known as antipsychotics.

Other conditions which are hypothesized to be associated with dopamine-inhibition are Restless Legs Syndrome and ADHD.

What Is the Function of Dopamine in the Human Body?

Dopamine is highly active in the brain, but it also serves a number of purposes in the peripheral systems of the body, where it acts as a hormonal messenger.

  • In the cardiovascular system, dopamine blocks the release of norepinephrine, causing the blood vessels to open up.

  • In the renal system, the hormone encourages urination and the evacuation of sodium.

  • Dopamine inhibits the production of insulin by the pancreas

  • In the gastrointestinal system, Dopamine slows down the rate at which foods pass through the system, and it also helps protect the lining of the intestines.

  • In the immune system, Dopamine slows down the activity of white blood cells.

Aside from the cardiovascular system, all peripheral effects of Dopamine are considered paracrine activity—this means that Dopamine is released in the immediate vicinity of where it is absorbed by nearby cells, exerting its influence.

How do Medications Affect the Release of Dopamine?

Because of the importance of the hormone, there are a variety of drugs available which affect the way that the body secretes or utilizes Dopamine. Bio-Identical Dopamine Injections are a common form of treatment, but Dopamine, when administered intravenously, is incapable of passing through the blood-brain barrier. Dopamine is frequently used as an emergency treatment for patients suffering from shock or heart failure, for example.

Because there is no way to directly deliver Dopamine to the brain, the most effective way to increase Dopamine levels via medication is through the Dopamine precursor, L-DOPA. L-DOPA does have the ability to pass through the blood brain barrier, and is one of the most common treatments for Parkinson's, because it can suppress tremors by providing Dopamine to struggling areas of the brain.

Drugs which stimulate Dopamine are almost always addictive in high quantities, but they are effective at modest doses to alleviate ADHD. Antipsychotics, on the other hand, are medications which suppress the activity of Dopamine in the body. There are similar drugs that suppress Dopamine through other means that are highly effective at treating nausea.

Dopamine and the Brain

The area of the brain that is central to the body's physiological reward system is located in the ventral tegmental area, and nerves in this region secrete dopamine in response to or in preparation of reward. After Dopamine is produced it travels to the prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens.

Dopamine also controls motor ability, but does so through a different mechanism which does not interact directly with the pleasure pathway. In order to help control movement, Dopamine is released by neurons in the substantia nigra, and the hormone travels to the striatum. The striatum is responsible for our mind's ability to control our movements, and it also allows for fine motor function by suppressing the body's minor conscious movements to enhance control. It also plays a role in social inhibition.

Dopamine Transmitters

Dopamine is a hormone which plays a wide variety of roles. It is a reward mechanism, it stimulates cognition, motivation, arousal, and physical self-control. There are a number of automatic functions that are related to Dopamine as well, such as the sensations of nausea and sexual pleasure, as well as lactation.

Perhaps surprisingly, there aren't a whole lot of neurons in the brain that are dedicated primarily to Dopamine production. In fact, the entire brain only has about 400,000 of these neurons, and they are located in very particular areas of the brain. In spite of their small number, they have a widespread impact on physiological function.

Areas of the Brain Which Release Dopamine

The Substantia Nigra - Dopamine and Fine Motor Control

As we mentioned earlier, Dopamine plays a vital role in the body's ability to control its movements. Dopamine exerts control over motor function through the substantia nigra, which is an area of dark brain tissue that is attached to the basal ganglia. Most of the Dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra are located in an area known as the pars compacta.

The cells which emit Dopamine in this area can become damaged quite easily, and if a large portion of these cells die, it brings about symptoms that are very similar to Parkinson's Disease.

The Ventral Tegmental Area - Dopamine, Motivation, and Reward

Another area of the brain with dense Dopamine activity is the ventral tegmental area. It is this area of the brain that is responsible for providing the psyche with motivation. Researchers have actually noted that the actions of Dopamine in the ventral tegmental area affect psychological motivation in a similar manner that the nucleus accumbens affects the fine control of motor activity. This means that the ventral tegmental area is also responsible for controlling fine cognitive activity as well, including the mind's ability to make decisions.

Dopamine and the Hypothalamus

There are also cells which produce Dopamine which are located in the posterior hypothalamus, which extend into the spinal cord, but medical researchers are not completely sure how Dopamine impacts the body through this route. There is evidence backing the hypothesis that this Dopamine pathway controls the suppression of motor movement in the body, and those with Restless Legs Syndrome suffer from Dopamine Deficiency in this area of the brain. Restless Legs Syndrome makes it hard to sleep, resulting from the unconscious movements of the body, which is most severe in the legs.

Dopamine and Lactation

Dopamine Neurons in the Periventricular Nucleus and the Arcuate Nucleus suppress the release of breast milk, which is encouraged through the release of prolactin. Dopamine produced in this part of the brain flows into the pituitary gland. The body produces Dopamine as a means to prevent lactation, and when mothers prepare to nurse, this pathway suppresses the production of Dopamine, which allows lactation to take place.

When discussed in the context of this system, Dopamine is often referred to by other names, including Prolactostatin, Prolactin-Inhibiting Hormone, or Prolactin-Inhibiting Factor

Dopamine, Puberty, and Sex Hormone Production

This area of the brain is tightly interconnected with the Hypothalamus. In order for the body to produce sex hormones, Dopamine is released from the Zona Incerta into the Hypothalamus, where the hormone encourages the production of Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone. The number of Dopamine Receptors in the brain increases dramatically during this period, which helps encourage the rapid onset of sexual changes associated with puberty.

Dopamine and Eyesight

Dopamine also plays a role in eyesight. During the day, amacrine cells in the retina produce Dopamine which simultaneously increases the receptivity of cone cells while reducing the influence of rods. This mechanism makes it easier to see during the day. At night, Dopamine production in this area declines, making it easier to see in dim light.

Dopamine Activity In the Body

As Dopamine is unable to cross from the blood stream into the brain, any Dopamine that is produced by the peripheral systems of the body has no direct impact on Dopamine activity within the brain. There is a lot of Dopamine that travels through the circulatory system, but researchers are still learning how Dopamine impacts the physiology of the body via this pathway.

Some Dopamine is absorbed through the diet, but the body converts this Dopamine into a different form that researchers have discovered no use for. This form of Dopamine is eventually released after it is filtered out by the kidneys.

It is believed that an active form of Dopamine is produced by certain organs, including those in the digestive system and those in the sympathetic nervous system. Physiologically active Dopamine can go through a number of processes in the body. It is sometimes converted by the adrenal glands into norepinephrine, an important hormone which regulates fight-or-flight mechanisms. It can also activate receptor sites throughout the body, or can simply be metabolized.

There are numerous receptors for Dopamine in the arteries. Dopamine activity in this area suppresses the production of norepinephrine and opens up the arteries.

Dopamine and the Immune System

Dopamine has a powerful effect upon the immune system, especially upon the circulatory system, bone marrow, and the spleen. Also, Dopamine suppresses the activity of white blood cells. Cells in the immune system have the ability to release Dopamine, so it is believed that Dopamine helps prevent the white blood cells from going into overdrive.

Dopamine and the Renal System

There are a number of locations in the kidneys that react with Dopamine, and Dopamine is actually produced by the kidneys by tubule cells. Dopamine serves a number of purposes in this system. It encourages filtration, helps draw sodium from the blood stream, and enhances blood flow to the organ. If the kidneys lose their ability to effectively produce Dopamine, this can lead to issues such as hypertension and elevated sodium levels.

Dopamine and the Pancreas

Dopamine plays an intricate role in the function of the pancreas. The pancreas has two sections, the endocrine area and the exocrine area. The exocrine section of the pancreas helps control digestion, releasing substances such as enzymes into the digestive tract to help break down and absorb food. Dopamine plays a role in this process, although researchers are not completely sure of its function. Researchers hypothesize that Dopamine both slows down the rate at which the body processes food and also preserves the inner lining of the intestines.

The areas of the pancreas which regulates internal health are known as the islets of Langerhans. This area is responsible for the production of hormones that are released into the blood stream, one of which is insulin. The cells within the islets of Langerhans which produce insulin are known as beta cells, and it is believed that these cells are receptive to the influence of Dopamine, and that Dopamine activation suppresses the production of insulin.

Dopamine and Risk

There is a strong correlation between Dopamine levels in the brain and one's desire and ability to take risks. Individuals with lower levels of Dopamine activity in the brain tend to be more cautious and are less likely to seek out risk, while individuals with high levels of natural Dopamine production are more likely to enjoy and thrive on risk.

Dopamine is the reason why, when we do something that takes effort and risk, it elicits a feeling of satisfaction. Dopamine encourages us to go outside of our comfort zone and do things we normally wouldn't do. It causes one to thrive on risk, experiencing a literal high when they meet their goals. This often causes them to seek out larger and larger risks, as their surmounted risks are no longer as exciting.

The difference in Dopamine levels among different groups of people explains why some people are happy with comfortable lives and are risk averse, while others seem to thrive on the sensations associated with risk.

Part of what controls Dopamine activity in the brain is the existence of what are known as autoreceptors. Autoreceptors bind with Dopamine and reduce their activity in the body. Researchers have found that people that enjoy risk have fewer of these Dopamine inhibitors, which causes them to be more interested in engaging in risk-taking.

Many people are addicted to Adrenaline. This is the sensation that happens when we ride roller coasters or get in dangerous situations. Adrenaline rewards risky behaviors, but it doesn't reward stepping out of one's comfort zone, necessarily. Whereas Adrenaline makes people love driving fast and getting into fights, Dopamine makes people want to engage in pursuits which might deter others. Dopamine doesn't engage the fight-or-flight response, it simply causes a person to downplay risks and be more likely to engage in out-of-the-box activities.

Dopamine and Depression

Dopamine deficiency is associated with an increased incidence of depression. Robin Williams recent passing is perhaps a testament to this connection. After Robin Williams committed suicide, it was revealed by his wife that Robin was struggling with the initial stages of Parkinson's disease. As we've discussed, Parkinson's is a medical disorder which is caused when the motor area of the brain no longer produces enough Dopamine to regulate motor movement, which leads to the tremors and shaking associated with the disorder.

Reduced Dopamine levels also can lead to depression, because the reward system of the brain is not as active. The body and mind simply do not experience pleasure in the same way, and this increases the likelihood of depression. In Williams' case, depression led him to suicide.

Dopamine also controls one's sense of motivation. In many cases when people truly want to do something but can't generate the willpower, this is a result of Dopamine Deficiency.

Parkinson's Disease and Depression are independent disorders, but one is more likely to occur when the other is present. The conditions also play off of each other and can worsen the effects of both for the patient. The combination leads to feelings of intense isolation and anxiety, which can be incredibly difficult to overcome.


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