The title of this article, Dopamine is not about pleasure anymore, means that dopamine’s effect on the brain is not about pleasure, but about motivation and focus. The idea that it has to do with pleasure came about in the 1980’s from research on drug abuse and addiction. Pleasure activation became the prevailing theory on what Dopamine effects, but it turns out that that is incorrect.
The proof can be seen in the fact that, in animals, dopamine levels sometimes spike after stress, such as losing a fight to another animal. In soldiers with post-tramautic stress disorder, there is considerable activity in dopamine-rich parts of the brain when hearing gunshots and other war sounds. If dopamine was really the pleasure element, why would it be occurring in the brain with these negative experiences?
Evidence is mounting from a variety of sources, that motivation is the purpose of Dopamine, not pleasure. Think about what happens when people take amphetamines like Adderall or Vyvanse, they put more effort into things. It is well known that amphetamines work by increasing dopamine levels. A big proponent of Dopamine being about motivation and not pleasure, is a professor of psychology named John Salamore. His research is funded by the NIH and his latest study in the Cell Press journal, Neuron, goes in depth proving dopamine is about motivation. I am not only interested in this topic, but I am also interested in the topic of how science evolves and theories are altered. This is important especially with health related information, because a lot of falsehoods and misinformation circulate throughout pop culture and most of it is probably wrong. His view on science speaks directly to this idea:
Science is not a collection of facts. It’s a process. First we thought dopamine was involved in only movement. Then that faded and we thought it was pleasure. Now we’ve gone beyond that data on pleasure.
I have known that dopamine effects motivation for a while now from first-hand experience. I know this because I take Tyrosine supplements and notice a difference in my motivation. The reason for this is because Tyrosine is the rate-limiting enzyme for Dopamine, meaning that if you don’t have the proper levels of Tyrosine in your body, then your body cannot create the necessary quantity of Dopamine it needs. Tyrosine is normally synthesized in the body from phenylalinine, which is one of the essential amino acids I have previously discussed. I take a version of Tyrosine with Viatmin C and B6 on an empty stomach about an hour before I eat. The vitamin C and B6 help with processing it, and taking it before eating means that no other amino acids are competing with the tyrosine for absorption.
Many other people could have told you the same benefits to motivation that I experienced, but it is not accepted as “fact” yet, much to the dismay of Professor Salamore I’m sure. I learned most of the information I know about dopamine, brain health and supplements from online forums and my own extensive research. The reason that this information exists underground and not in the mainstream is because the companies that sell these supplements cannot market them for uses that aren’t FDA approved. Most of the best uses for many supplements are not FDA approved simply because no one has ever carried out the approval process. FDA Drug approval is extremely expensive and can really only be carried out by large pharmaceutical companies. These pharmaceutical companies cannot make huge profits on supplements like Tyrosine because they are naturally occurring and not patententable. The only way to make huge profits for big pharmaceutical companies is come up with a method of extraction or delivery that is patentable (see pyncogenol). These reasons are what make it hard to determine the truth about some things.
Just because the evidence isn’t accepted yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Consider the story of Ignaz Semmelweis before you make up your mind about doctors always being right and needing “proof” about everything. Ignaz was a Hungarian physician in the 1860s who noticed that doctors would go directly from the morgue, to delivering babies without washing their hands. This led to an almost 25% mortality rate for babies at the time. When Ignaz suggested that doctors wash their hands, the doctors were insulted and ridiculed the theoy of germs and the idea of washing your hands. After receiving no acceptance from the scientific community and many insults, he had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to an asylum, where he died 14 days later from a bacterial infection. This is not just the case for germ theory, but for many other important discoveries. The author of the study on Dopamine won’t go insane like Ignaz because he doesn’t care about changing public perception. He is astutely aware of the sobering reality of changing scientific understanding:
It takes a long time for things to change in science. It’s like pulling the streering wheel of an ocean liner, then waiting for the huge ship to slowly turn.
So remember, not only is dopamine about motivation and not about pleasure, but also that this won’t’ be accepted for a while. I hope you also take away from this article the fact that science is constantly changing and to really take advantage of the latest advances, you have to read between the lines. There is a lot of wonderful information out there that is way ahead of it’s time. Your job as an educated individual is to try and suss the wheat from the chaff, and luckily your dopamine will give you the motivation to help you to do just that.