If you can’t get going without caffeine, you can’t summon the energy to get out of bed or if you’re just feeling blah, your symptoms may be from a lack of catecholamines.
*(Neurotransmitters transmit impulses throughout the central nervous system and have a huge impact on mental and physiological health.)
In this article, we dive into the neurotransmitters that make up the Catecholamines.
Dopamine, Epinephrine (adrenaline) and Norepinephrine (noradrenaline) are the primary catecholamines or ‘cats‘, as they are known. Catecholamines function both as hormones and neurotransmitters.
All three cats are important but dopamine is the main cat. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are made from dopamine.
Cats are produced by the brain and adrenal glands in response to stress. They are excitatory neurotransmitters.
If you have adequate cats, you feel energized, upbeat, alert and focused and you don’t crave caffeine or sugar for a pick-me-up.
If your cats are low, you may feel the kind of depression that lands you curled up in the bed all day with extremely low motivation.
Symptoms of Low Catecholamines
With homage to Julia Ross, MA, author of The Mood Cure, Datis Kharrazian, DC, author of “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?“, and Trudy Scott, CN, author of The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution who offers this composite list of self-identifying symptoms.
These are typical symptoms of people suffering from low cats:
- Trouble dragging yourself out of bed
- Inability to motivate yourself
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- May lose temper for minor reasons
- Inability to handle stress
- Not enough focus or concentration
- Numb-feeling emotionally
- Lack of energy
- Craving carbs, alcohol, caffeine or drugs for energy
- Procrastination and indecisiveness
- Easily bored
- Attention Deficit Disorder diagnosis
- Reluctant to socialize, desire to be alone
- Lack of concern for family and friends
Some of these symptoms may sound a lot like low serotonin depression, but there is a difference. Serotonin-deficient people can’t seem to enjoy anything, but dopamine-deficient people find enjoyment in things but can’t get motivated to do them.
The key symptom for dopamine deficiency is a lack of motivation.
What can Deplete Catecholamines?
- Chronic stress over time or acute stress during a crisis
- Genetic anomaly–some people have a genetic tendency toward low cats
- Chronic dieting with low calorie or high carb diets
- Low protein intake
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Low estrogen or testosterone
- Uncontrolled blood sugar
- Iron anemia
Steps to Boost Your Cats
These steps will allow your body and brain to receive the nutrients needed to make the neurotransmitters it needs to function optimally.
- Improve your stomach acid levels to properly digest and allow your body to use the nutrients you eat.
- Eat plenty of healthy fats and especially protein. Avoid these cooking oils and use plenty of these oils.
- Increase your Omega-3 essential fatty acid intake. A simple test can detect your current levels.
- Check your Vitamin D levels and supplement where needed. Vitamin D directs the conversion of tyrosine to cats.
- Ditch processed foods and enjoy lots of whole, organic food.
- Drink plenty of clean water.
- Eat fermented foods that are rich in probiotics.
- Good sources of catecholamine-rich foods are beef, fish and eggs. Americans who are not vegetarians/vegans typically consume plenty of these foods.
- Start slow with exercise. Try yoga, tai chi or meditation. Or simply take a walk.
- Consider supplementation once your healthy nutrition is in place.
Why Supplements Sometimes Don’t Work
Taking the appropriate amino acids (the precursors of neurotransmitters) might seem like the best solution to raise catecholamine levels. They can be very effective for some people. But for those with underlying conditions, amino acids may have no effect at all (and can possibly worsen the situation).
If you go out and buy one of the supplements listed below and it doesn’t help, you haven’t wasted your money. You’ve simply discovered that you need to dig deeper.
Here are some of the underlying conditions that can cause depression and mimic low cats symptoms:
- Thyroid imbalance
- Autoimmune diseases
- Blood Sugar Imbalance
- Estrogen and other Hormone levels
- Iron levels and anemia
- Lack of cofactors (vitamins/minerals/enzymes) to metabolize the amino acids (see below)
- Hypochlorhydria (lack of appropriate levels of stomach acid)
- Lack of digestive enzymes
- Anemia from Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Inadequate fatty acid levels
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Copper overload
- Inadequate magnesium, lithium, zinc, chromium
- Inadequate methylation
- Adrenal gland insufficiency or HPA axis disorder
- Environmental toxicity
- Inadequate gut flora
- Lack of sleep
- Medication side effects
With appropriate lab testing, functional testing and symptom analysis, you can isolate the cause(s) of your symptoms. If you have questions or need guidance, contact me.
Select one, not all, of the supplements listed below, initially.
- As with all supplements, if you experience any adverse effects, stop taking them immediately.
- Excesses of neurotransmitters can be just as problematic as deficiencies.
- Consult with your healthcare practitioner if you have a serious illness such as cancer, severe liver or kidney problems, an ulcer, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Check with your doctor if you are pregnant, nursing or are taking any prescribed mood medications such as an SSRI or MAOI.
- These supplements typically are not needed long term, three to six months is generally sufficient. Gradually taper off to determine if your symptoms have resolved.
- Quality matters when it comes to supplements.
- For dosages and brand recommendations, contact me for specific information.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that is the precursor of epinephrine, dopamine and norepinephrine (as well as the thyroid hormone, thyroxin). It has good results with folks suffering from apathetic depression.
These important nutrients are cofactors used in the conversion of tyrosine: Folate, Niacin, Vitamin C, Copper and SAMe. In other words, you need these to make tyrosine convert into the catecholamines. Be careful with copper supplementation as an overload can be detrimental as well. You can test your mineral levels before and during copper supplementation with a simple Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis.
Cautions: For some, L-tyrosine can make anxiety symptoms worse or overly energize you. If so, try N-acetyl L-tyrosine which tends to activate the dopamine pathways more than epinephrine and norepinephrine. You may need to increase your levels of calming neurotransmitters (like GABA, Phenibut, 5-HTP or Tryptophan) before you start with tyrosine.
Do not take after 3 pm as tyrosine can be stimulating. Lower the dose if you feel jittery.
Do not take if you have Grave’s disease, PKU or melanoma. Consult with your healthcare practitioner if you have high blood pressure, migraine headaches or bipolar disorder.
Tyrosine is made from the amino acid phenylalanine. If tyrosine isn’t working for you after a couple of days, try phenylalanine as it may be better absorbed especially if pain coexists with depression.
The D-phenylalanine form is converted to PEA (phenylethylamine) whereas the L- form is converted to dopamine. The DL-form, a combination, is recommended. If the DL- formulation leaves you feeling jittery or causes insomnia, switch to the D- formulation.
Phenylalanine metabolism requires the following cofactors: Vitamin B6 (P5P), Niacin, Vitamin C, Copper, SAMe, Iron and Folate.
Cautions: The same cautions exist with phenylalanine as do with tyrosine.
PEA is a precursor to dopamine that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. It has been shown to stimulate and modulate the release of dopamine in the brain. A natural source of PEA is chocolate (cravings anyone?). PEA also influences endorphins.
Other Supplements to Combine with Tyrosine or Phenylalanine or PEA
Botanicals: Velvet Beans Extract (mucuna pruriens) has been shown to convert to dopamine in the brain. Blueberry Extract is an antioxidant that has been shown to be particularly effective in the area of the brain where dopamine is made.
Antioxidants: Alpha Lipoic Acid, Selenium and N-acetylcysteine raise glutathione levels. Glutathione is known as the master antioxidant.
Here’s your simple change for the day: Energize your catecholamines.
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Joli Tripp and Mind Blowing Wellness are not medical doctors nor licensed medical professionals. No comment or recommendation should be construed as being a medical diagnosis. If you suffer from a medical or pathological condition, you should consult an appropriate healthcare provider.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.
Mind Blowing Wellness is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Mind Blowing Wellness is also an affiliate for Thrive Market receiving a small commission for new memberships.
The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution, Trudy Scott, CN, 2011
The Mood Cure, Julia Ross, MA, 2002
Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Elson M. Haas, MD, 2006
A Mind of Your Own, 2016, Dr. Kelly Brogan
Breakthrough Depression Solution, James M. Greenblatt, MD, 2016
Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health, Leslie Korn, 2016
Why Isn’t my Brain Working?, Datis Kharrazian, DC, 2013