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“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” — Bruce Lee
Many people struggle with maintaining focus and attention, and with motivation. There can be a biochemical basis for this arising out of individual differences in the synthesis and/or sensitivity to a potent neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Dopamine functions partly as a “global reward signal” in the brain, reinforcing the experiences, thoughts and/or behaviors that resulted in the Dopamine release. Attention and motivation issues can arise if an individual’s brain is not producing enough Dopamine or if an individual has inadequate or underperforming Dopamine receptors. Either way, that person will frequently seek new stimulation in order to stimulate the release of Dopamine, resulting in hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or lack of attention and focus. Dopamine is critical to a number of high-level cognitive processes, including executive functions, motor control, motivation, arousal, reinforcement, and reward.
The brain has around 400,000 Dopamine-producing nerve cells, mostly in the midbrain areas, but their axons project into many other brain regions, including the frontal cortex which is involved in high-level cognition. Many drugs, ranging from coffee to cocaine and heroin, make the user feel good as a result of increased Dopamine levels, especially in a region of the brain called the Nucleus Accumbens in the posterior hypothalamus. The Nucleus Accumbens is central to the brain’s reward system and is the principal pleasure center of the brain. It is the source of your feelings of satisfaction and motivation. Dopamine also plays a critical role in learning and has been called the “learning neurotransmitter”.
Dopamine has two keys effects in this regard: (i) it decreases spontaneous neural firing, which reduces random background noise in the brain, and (ii) it depolarizes neurons making them fire more easily, effectively boosting intentional neural signal strength. In other words, Dopamine tells your brain what brain signals to pay attention to and makes those intentional brain signals much more easily to recognize against the background noise in your brain. Your working memory also uses Dopamine to function, so increasing Dopamine levels improves short-term memory processes.
Dopamine is also important for muscular coordination. Parkinson’s disease results from cell death in a midbrain area known as the substantia nigra portion of the basal ganglia, which produces Dopamine and projects axons to the dorsal striatum, which coordinates movement. Dopamine is critical to muscular coordination, motor and action planning, decision-making, motivation, reinforcement and reward perception. Dopamine also plays a significant role in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, addiction, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In fact, over 20 million American adults currently have a prescription for Adderall, a central nervous system stimulant that stimulates the release of Dopamine and Norepinephrine, and many more use Adderall and similar drugs without a prescription.
However, Dopamine has a very short half-life in your bloodstream and it does not cross the blood brain barrier. In order to optimize your Dopamine system it is important to both (1) provide the raw materials your brain needs in order to synthesize Dopamine and also (2) to increase the number of Dopamine receptors and repair damaged Dopamine receptors.
The key precursor to Dopamine is the amino acid L-Tyrosine, that converts into L-DOPA, which is then converted into Dopamine. L-Tyrosine can be created from another amino acid, L-Phenylalanine. Supplements with one or more of L-Phenylalanine, L-Tyrosine or L-DOPA can boost Dopamine synthesis. The best form of L-Tyrosine is the more bioavailable N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine. L-DOPA can be derived from Mucuna Pruriens (Velvet Beans). We favor N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, because L-Tyrosine is critical to the synthesis of other important molecules, such as Coenzyme Q10.
The best foods to boost Dopamine levels are Spirulina, Soy, Eggs, Milk, Cheese, Yogurt, Salmon, Mackerel, Chicken, Turkey, Beef, Pork, Mustard greens, Chickpeas, Lentils, Split peas, Kidney beans, Pumpkin seeds, Sesame seeds, Almonds, Peanuts, Pine nuts, Flax seeds and Pistachio nuts.
Uridine is critical to the optimal synaptogenesis (the formation of new synaptic connections). Uridine can facilitate the repair of dopamine receptors, increase dopamine receptor density, and boost the release of dopamine to improve mood, motivation, focus, alertness and cognition. Uridine 5’-Monophosphate is a highly bioavailable form of uridine that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier.
Infants receive uridine in a bioavailable form from their mothers’ milk, however, in adults the uridine in foods is not bioavailable, and no food has ever been compelling demonstrated to elevate plasma uridine levels.
Also critical to attention are the neurotransmitters Norepinephrine and Serotonin. Norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter used by your sympathetic nervous system, which governs wakefulness and arousal. Norepinephrine is also the neurotransmitter used by the locus coeruleus, an area of your brain located in your brainstem that plays a critical role in arousal, attention, memory, neuroplasticity and cognitive control, amongst other things. Norepinephrine is created from Dopamine, so the same supplements that boost your Dopamine levels will also boost your Norepinephrine levels. Serotonin we will discuss in detail in the next chapter.
Whether you’re just starting to discover nootropics, or you’ve experienced other nootropic brands and are considering new options, we invite you to explore our daytime nootropic Awaken Gold and our nighttime nootropic Mind:Restore. We designed these to be the cleanest and most effective nootropics available.
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