Skip to main content

Does your child display anxiety, fatigue, mood swings, or a persistent lack of motivation? These could be symptoms of dopamine deficiency, a critical neurotransmitter imbalance that affects numerous bodily functions. Plus, for children suffering from PANS/PANDAS, low dopamine levels can intensify their symptoms, resulting in severe anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and motor tics.

Understanding the symptoms of dopamine deficiency and its impact on PANS/PANDAS is crucial for effective treatment. In this article, I’ll explain these connections and offer 10 practical tips to naturally balance dopamine levels in your child’s brain.

Let’s dive in and see how dopamine can help your child with their mood.

What Is Dopamine?

Ever wonder what’s behind that feeling of accomplishment or the drive to tackle a challenge head-on? Meet dopamine, the brain’s motivational powerhouse. Derived from amino acids, dopamine acts as a messenger between neurons, influencing everything from mood regulation to movement.

Dopamine is a monoamine neurotransmitter. This means it’s a chemical messenger derived from amino acids that carries messages between neurons. Dopamine plays a role in motivation, mood regulation, movement, and how people experience pleasure and pain. Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system involved in helping us feel pleasure, and is associated with feelings of reward and productivity.

Dopamine is produced by neurons at the base of the brain in a two-step process. First, the amino acid tyrosine is converted into another amino acid called L-dopa. Then enzymes convert L-dopa into dopamine.

Dopamine binds to receptors on neurons in various brain regions where it performs different functions. In the motor centers of the brain, dopamine deals with movement. In the learning areas of the brain, dopamine impacts focus and attention.

Dopamine is involved in a variety of body functions including:

✔ Learning

✔ Attention

✔ Mood

✔ Movement

✔ Heart rate

✔ Kidney function

✔ Blood vessel function

✔ Sleep

✔ Pain processing

Is Dopamine Related To Serotonin?

Dopamine and serotonin are both neurotransmitters that produce feelings of happiness and other positive emotions. They work together, but they are not the same. While serotonin is associated with feelings of happiness, calm, and focus, dopamine is connected with motivation and productivity. 

Dopamine functions differently than serotonin, but they interact to maintain a chemical balance. In some situations they counteract each other. Serotonin suppresses appetite and dopamine stimulates it. But both chemicals have been linked to mood disorders like anxiety.

What Does Dopamine Do In The Brain?

A rewarding stimulus triggers the release of dopamine. One dopamine pathway sends the chemical to the amygdala and the hippocampus in the limbic system. This system is involved in repeating behaviors that give us a feeling of reward. That’s why it’s so hard not to go back for that second cookie. Our brain is seeking that dopamine release.

A second dopamine pathway leads to the frontal lobes in the cerebral cortex. This area of the brain is linked with high cognitive functions so it encourages us to repeat the experience of pleasure and reward associated with the release of dopamine.

Dopamine is involved in how emotions are processed, which can affect overall mood.

Symptoms of Dopamine Deficiency

😕 Aches, pains, and muscle cramps

😕 Weight loss or weight gain

😕 Loss of balance

😕 Fatigue and low energy

😕 Low self-esteem

😕 Sleep disturbances

😕 Lack of motivation

😕 Inability to focus

😕 Mood swings

😕 Delusions and hallucinations

😕 Anxiety


How Do Symptoms Of Dopamine Deficiency Relate To PANDAS?

The antibodies produced as a result of PANS/PANDAS can cause inflammation of the basal ganglia (a region of the brain involved in motor control and learning). These same antibodies attach and interfere with the functioning of the D1 and D2 dopamine receptors, which affects the brain’s ability to use the dopamine that’s available. The antibodies also affect an enzyme that helps convert the amino acid tyrosine into dopamine.

All this can add up to an increased production of dopamine in the basal ganglia. And this may be responsible for the troublesome psychiatric symptoms associated with PANDAS.

This antibody attack causes fluctuations in dopamine production. And your child can develop symptoms related to both high and low dopamine levels.

Low dopamine is associated with symptoms of depression including brain fog, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, hopelessness, and a lack of motivation.

But when dopamine levels are too high, your child can develop symptoms including anxiety, excessive energy, insomnia, and even hallucinations. Dopamine’s influence is also linked with conditions like ADHD, OCD, and anxiety. 

It is possible to support your child’s dopamine levels naturally. Stay tuned! The next article will be entirely devoted to tips and strategies to balance your child’s dopamine levels to help them with their anxiety. 

10 Ways To Support Healthy Dopamine Levels In Your Child

💡 Support your child’s gut health

The brain and gut are intricately connected. If you suspect that your child’s gut health needs attention, talk to your practitioner about healing and sealing the gut, as well as adding in the right probiotic once your child’s system is ready.

Research has revealed a connection between clostridia and dopamine. Clostridia is a harmful type of bacteria in the gut that can affect dopamine levels and potentially exacerbate symptoms in PANS/PANDAS-affected children.

There is evidence that the widespread use of glyphosate is connected with clostridia problems in the gut. Glyphosate is a pesticide that kills broadleaf weeds and grasses. Glyphosate negatively impacts dopamine production and has a detrimental effect on both gut and brain health.

💡 Foods

Just about everyone can benefit from supporting the body through a healthy, whole-food diet. Because dopamine is made from tyrosine, getting more of this amino acid from food could potentially boost your child’s dopamine levels.

Foods high in tyrosine include:

✔ Chicken and other types of poultry
✔ Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
✔ Avocadoes

✔ Bananas
✔ Pumpkin and sesame seeds
✔ Protein-rich foods

I also recommend velvet beans, which are rich in L-dopa, a precursor for dopamine.

💡 Exercise

Exercise carries countless health benefits. But we have evidence that it also upregulates the number of dopamine receptors in the brain, helping your child better utilize the dopamine their body produces.

Yoga specifically is known to significantly increase dopamine production. And yes, kids can do yoga. A YouTube search will give you lots of kid-friendly yoga options.

💡 Sleep

Dopamine plays a significant role in regulating sleep patterns. Proper dopamine levels are essential for maintaining a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Imbalances can lead to sleep disturbances that can impact both the quantity and quality of sleep.

💡 Music

Music connects to our emotions. But research shows that it also modulates activity in a number of areas of the brain, including those involved with dopamine. And the intense pleasure that comes from listening to the music you love can cause the brain to release dopamine.

💡 Meditation

Meditation can increase dopamine release by as much as 65%. And yes, there are plenty of child-friendly meditations out there. Meditation is a broad practice that goes far beyond sitting cross-legged and trying to empty your mind. Look on YouTube for children’s mindfulness meditation to find some kid-appropriate practices.

💡 Light

Light exposure has been shown to increase dopamine levels. So make sure your child gets some sunshine every day. I recommend going outside for a while in the morning. Morning sun assists dopamine production and helps regulate the body’s circadian (sleep) rhythms.

💡 Breathing exercises

Deep, or diaphragmatic, breathing can help balance dopamine levels as well. A quick YouTube search will yield many deep breathing exercises geared for children. Here are a few you can try:

  • Simple 1-minute deep breathing exercise
  • 5-Finger Breathing Exercise
  • Figure-8 Breath

💡 Probiotics

Did you know that more than 50% of dopamine and 95% of serotonin are produced in the gut? So if you want to balance your child’s brain chemicals, gut health is important. Again, if you suspect your child may have a gut imbalance (dysbiosis) or an overgrowth of gut bacteria in the small intestine (SIBO), it’s important to work directly with a practitioner.

But as a general practice, you may want to consider adding probiotics to your child’s routine. This can include eating probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Or you may consider adding a probiotic supplement. Remember to check with your child’s practitioner before adding any supplements.

💡 Supplements

I’m a big believer in supplements. Ideally, we should be getting all the nutrients we need from our food. But that’s not realistic these days. Even if you’re feeding your family a nutrient-dense diet based on whole foods like sustainably raised meats and organic produce, you’re likely to be missing some nutrients.

Adding in specific supplements to support dopamine and serotonin levels can be helpful if your child’s neurotransmitters are out of balance. Again, make sure to check with your practitioner to choose the right ones. But here are a few I often recommend in my practice:

✔ Mucuna pruriens
✔ Dopamine Assist (B6, tyrosine, folate, velvet bean/mucuna, green tea, quercetin)
✔ L tyrosine
✔ Phenylalanine

✔ Theanine
✔ Magnesium threonate
✔ Ashwagandha/rhodiola/ ginkgo
✔ Quercetin, especially if histamine is an issue

Managing The Symptoms Of Dopamine Deficiency

What if you’re not sure what your child needs?

I understand the frustration and uncertainty that comes with trying to help your child cope with a complex illness like PANS/PANDAS. It’s hard on the whole family. And in case anyone hasn’t told you recently, you’re a superhero. Just the fact that you’re reading this article and searching for answers says a lot about who you are and what you’re willing to do to help your child. I know that during the heartbreak and frustration, it can be easy to lose sight of it, but you’re doing great.

You’ve probably worked with doctors. And hopefully you’ve gotten answers and some help. But our modern medical system doesn’t always address the underlying issues that contribute to complex illness. That’s where I come in.

I take a gentle, but effective approach at helping to bring your child’s body back into balance. I use a variety of techniques and methodologies including supplements, homotoxicology, and detoxification to help enable healing from within.

If you’re wondering if your child’s symptoms might add up to more than just a behavioral issue or developmental phase consider taking my free PANS/PANDAS quiz.

Additional Resources: