The news article offered for discussion describes the current state of fatigue and apathy among communities during COVID-19. In particular, HFHSS (2021) discusses several natural human body hormones and the possibilities of how they can be increased. In particular, the paper describes dopamine as a happiness or pleasure hormone. HFHSS cites sources that make it clear that increasing dopamine levels is possible through encouragement, experiencing pleasurable feelings, and getting those emotions and sensations that generally get a person “high,” as described in the material. For example, this could be eating, drinking coffee, or watching movies, if it is used to elicit a liking. It is the component of positive emotion, as HFHSS points out, that is key to the production of dopamine neurotransmitters as the cause of increased levels of pleasure and happiness. The proposed news is worthwhile, especially in the post-pandemic period when chronic fatigue, stress, and uncertainty have become natural parts of routine life. Understanding how biochemical mechanisms work in actual practice can help individuals get the emotions they want.
Dopamine is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter: each of these functional roles of the organic molecule has personal effects on the body, which should be taken into account. When popular sources use the phrase “pleasure hormone,” it is not entirely correct because, strictly speaking, the hormonal properties of dopamine are not pleasure-oriented. Specifically, dopamine as a hormone affects the cardiovascular system, the kidneys, and digestion by inducing changes in internal system resistance or inhibiting gastric peristalsis (El Kholy et al., 2021). In contrast, then, dopamine, specifically as a neurotransmitter, should focus on reward and internal reinforcement. In other words, the neurotransmitter properties of dopamine molecules should be responsible for initiating feelings of satisfaction, which is particularly relevant to learning and enhancing feelings of motivation in the activity being performed. Remarkably, this view, too, turns out to be utterly irrelevant to the current scientific agenda. Recent research clearly shows that dopamine cannot induce feelings of pleasure; instead, the neurotransmitter creates a sustained sense of anticipation for future activities that the individual has already experienced (Dubol et al., 2018). Such feelings are often experienced by individuals prior to sexual orgasm when the anticipation of the outcome can be matched by sensation. In this sense, it is essential to emphasize that even memories of pleasurable experiences can lead to a brief burst of dopamine molecules (Dillon & Pizzagalli, 2018). Consequently, dopamine as a neurotransmitter does perform essential motivational functions, although it does not respond as it has been thought.
Hence, a noticeable gap is created between scientific interpretations of how dopamine neurotransmitters work and widespread distortions. The proposed article and many similar sources give a false impression that dopamine is the pleasure hormone, which means that dopamine hormone replacement therapy can positively affect cognitive performance. This statement is not entirely correct, like constructing a transparent link between engaging in a favorite activity and increasing dopamine concentrations. Indeed, the emerging myth of the dopamine-hormone-pleasure triangle link was justified by a qualitative lack of scientific knowledge, with the result that ill-informed sources misinterpreted the data. Consequently, the hypothesis of this link described by the web article is not supported by recent research, and thus its conclusions may seem partially incorrect. There is some truth there, as engaging in a favorite activity can indeed lead to increased dopamine, as it is associated with anticipation and expectation of action. To put it another way, dopamine, acting as a neurotransmitter rather than a hormone, can create a strong sense of anticipation, but it is not associated with pleasure.
Dillon, D. G., & Pizzagalli, D. A. (2018). Mechanisms of memory disruption in depression. Trends in Neurosciences, 41(3), 137-149.
Dubol, M., Trichard, C., Leroy, C., Sandu, A. L., Rahim, M., Granger, B.,… & Artiges, E. (2018). Dopamine transporter and reward anticipation in a dimensional perspective: a multimodal brain imaging study. Neuropsychopharmacology, 43(4), 820-827.
El Kholy, S., Wang, K., El-Seedi, H. R., & Al Naggar, Y. (2021). Dopamine modulates Drosophila gut physiology, providing new insights for future gastrointestinal pharmacotherapy. Biology, 10(10), 1-4.
HFHSS. (2021). How to boost feel-good hormones naturally. Henry Ford.