What Are Dopamine Pathways And How Do They Work?
By Sarah Fader
Updated February 17, 2020
Reviewer Laurie Hales
Most people have at least heard of dopamine, though many of us still think of it as the happy drug that occurs naturally within the body. What it actually is though, is a method of moderating your desires with rewards. Of course, even more simple than that, it's a way that different parts of your body interact with one another and that the different areas of your body are able to function properly to keep you healthy and happy.
When dopamine travels through different parts of the body or accomplishes different tasks they are called dopamine pathways. Within the brain it acts as a type of neurotransmitter and neuromodulator, which means that it helps to transmit different needs between nerves and helps to moderate thoughts and feelings.
This helps you to experience a surge of positive feelings when you expect rewards for different actions or behaviors, for example or to receive information from different nerves within the body. The way the dopamine travels is a pathway and there are actually several within the brain.
Another area where dopamine is used is within the nervous system. Here, it's responsible for executive functions, motivation, arousal, lactation, nausea, sexual gratification and motor control. All of these things happen within the brain, but they affect the nervous system specifically. When these dopamine molecules are activated they act in certain ways within the brain and also provide for the way you think or feel about different aspects of your overall health.
Dopamine within the nervous system is responsible for keeping the brain functioning and helping you to develop from the time you're an infant up to your adulthood. If they die off it can result in Parkinson's disease and other brain disorders.
The basal ganglia is yet another area where dopamine is created and is actually the largest area and considered the most important. This structure is located within what's called the forebrain and it's responsible for telling you to do something or telling you what you're going to do. Though not a whole lot is known about this area of the brain specifically and more research needs to be done, the dopamine in the body helps you to decide what you're going to do in a given situation. This could lead to impulsive behavior if too much dopamine is present or slow reactions if there's not enough dopamine present.
There are other areas of the body that dopamine is present within as well, that actually have nothing to do with the nervous system in any way. Because dopamine does not cross the blood-brain barrier it acts separately between the nervous system within the brain and other areas of the body and bloodstream. Though more research is needed to find out exactly what the purpose of dopamine in the blood really is, we do know that there is actually quite a bit of it, nearly as much as there is epinephrine.
When not enough dopamine is produced within the body it can lead to different medical conditions, which require differing levels of aid when it comes to medication and treatment. Artificial dopamine is actually one of the ways that some of these disorders are being treated. Parkinson's disease, for example, can be treated with an artificial form of dopamine and a lack of the chemical within the body of a newborn can be treated with an intravenous drip that releases dopamine into the body.
It's been known to increase sodium excretion within the kidneys, increase heart rate, increase blood pressure, increase heart muscle contraction, increase urine output and a whole lot more.
All of this means that there are plenty of reasons to keep your levels of dopamine where they need to be, but just what those levels are we don't quite know yet. What we do know is that it causes harm when the levels drop too low and it may cause harm if they get too high, though more research is needed to be sure. By evaluating and monitoring different functions within the body it is possible to determine if levels get too low and to treat patients appropriately.
Seeking Overall Improvement
Even though dopamine is no longer considered the 'happy drug' of the body it's definitely related to the way that you feel when it comes to pleasure and reward. As a result, it's something that you really want to keep in proper balance no matter what because it's going to make you mentally feel better as well as making you physically feel better.
If you are experiencing any type of problems mentally, such as strange thoughts or feelings that are different from normal for you, it's important to speak with a medical professional immediately.
If you're experiencing any physical symptoms that are out of the ordinary for you this is also an important reason to approach a medical professional and talk with someone about your experiences. You want to know what's going on with your body and you want to feel as good as you possibly can.
With the help of a medical professional you may be able to find out more about what you're experiencing and whether or not it's related to changes in dopamine within your body. If you find yourself struggling in any way you should know that improvements are possible.
A mental health professional may be able to help you with your thoughts and feelings as well. You may feel as though you are lost, sad, anxious, frustrated, angry or any other emotion and while these are all very normal for anyone, if they occur frequently or seem to occur with a high level of severity it's important that you seek out professional help.
BetterHelp is one way that you can get the help that you're looking for and seek out a mental health professional that can make sure you're on the right track to being healthy and happy. There's no reason that you should have to struggle longer than absolutely necessary.