Low Dopamine in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

Why should you know about low dopamine symptoms – that is, the effects of low dopamine – in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome?

A woman clutching her shoulder from muscle strain
Bartomeu Amengual / Getty Images

First, because dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical released by nerve cells (neurons), it has a number of important functions in your brain. 

Second, people with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) generally have low dopamine levels, which makes them prone to a variety of symptoms and conditions.

What Does Dopamine Normally Do?

The different functions of dopamine in your brain include helping you:

  • Focus your attention and concentrate on tasks – low levels of dopamine are linked with the development of ADD/ADHD
  • Control how your body moves – extremely low levels of dopamine can lead to Parkinson's disease, characterized by tremors (shaking) and problems with balance and coordination

Understanding Low Dopamine Symptoms 

No neurotransmitter acts alone. They all work together in your brain and body, forming a complex web of activity that scientists are only just beginning to understand. There has been progress, however: experts have been able to 1) link different neurotransmitter imbalances with certain symptoms and disorders and 2) find ways to help boost or decrease neurotransmitter activity.

Low dopamine levels are associated with the following symptoms:

  • Stiff, rigid, achy muscles
  • Tremors
  • Impaired fine motor skills -- problems making small movements, such as picking up small things or holding a fork
  • Cognitive (thinking) impairment (often called brain fog or fibro fog)
  • Inability to focus attention
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • A noticeably odd, small-step walking pattern (gait)

Does Taking Certain Medications Risk Lowering Dopamine Levels?

Neuroleptic (antipsychotic) medications typically lower dopamine levels. If you're taking any of them, check with your healthcare provider about any symptoms you may have that could be due to low dopamine levels. You'll want to work with your healthcare provider to balance benefits and side effects of these medications. Common medications in this class include:

  • Clozaril (clozapine)
  • Haldol (haloperidol)
  • Risperdal (risperidone)
  • Seroquel (quetiapine)
  • Zyprexa (olanzapine)

Ways to Increase Dopamine Levels

Treatment of low dopamine levels may include therapy with a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant medication containing methylphenidate, such as Ritalin, Concerta, or Metadate.

There isn't a lot of research confirming that food can boost dopamine levels in your brain. What's more, even if it does, it's believed you'd need to consume huge amounts to get the desired effect. Nevertheless, despite the lack of hard evidence, some experts believe that the following foods may help:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Unprocessed meat
  • Dairy foods
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Dark chocolate
  • Beans

Supplements believed to help raise dopamine levels include:

  • Rhodiola rosea, an herb sometimes called golden root or Arctic root
  • L-theanine, also known as suntheanine, an amino acid derived from tea leaves

A Note on L-Theanine

Researchers aren't sure how L-theanine impacts levels of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter found mainly in your brain, bowels, and blood platelets. If you think you may want to try L-theanine, get your healthcare provider's okay first. You can also learn about serotonin-related symptoms; if you notice any, tell your healthcare provider.

What Else Should I Know?

While it's generally safe to experiment with these kinds of foods and supplements, don't expect miracles or make extreme or sudden changes to your diet. Instead, make changes slowly and track your dietary changes and symptoms in a symptom journal, which will give you an accurate sense of what's helping and what isn't. And remember, always work with your healthcare provider about managing your diet and taking medications and supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which supplements can increase dopamine?

    Supplements believed to increase dopamine levels include L-tyrosine, L-DOPA, L-theanine, and rhodiola rosea (golden root). Speak with a healthcare provider before using these supplements.

  • What are symptoms of low dopamine?

    Symptoms of low dopamine can include cognitive impairment, difficulty with focus and concentration, poor balance or coordination, impaired fine motor skills, stiff muscles, tremors, and more. In some cases, low dopamine levels can be the result of certain conditions such as Parkinson's disease.

  • Does L-theanine increase dopamine?

    It is unclear how L-theanine impacts dopamine or serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects memory and mood regulation. However, it is hypothesized that L-theanine found in black or green tea may improve dopamine levels in people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  8. Drugs.com. CNS stimulants.

  9. BBC. What is the dopamine diet?

  10. University Health News Daily. Dopamine supplements to improve depression symptoms, mood, and motivation.

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By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.