Dopamine vs. Serotonin: What's The Difference?

"Studies show that patients with major depressive disorder have elevated levels of the S100B protein, a key regulator of many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes."
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If you’ve ever felt a rush when eating a piece of chocolate cake or a sense of peace when taking a nature hike, you have dopamine and serotonin to thank. Often referred to as “feel-good chemicals” or “happy hormones,” these neurotransmitters don’t just boost our mood, they also play key roles in sleep, digestion, memory, and other bodily functions. Find out more about how these neurotransmitters compare and how they work in the body.

What is Dopamine? 

Strongly tied to pleasure and reward, dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that plays an active role in mood, motor function, and even how we make decisions. Produced in the brain, dopamine hormones carry messages between neurons to boost our motivation and attention, playing a central role in our reward system. While dopamine doesn’t actually produce pleasure, it does reinforce pleasurable feelings by connecting specific behaviors to the pleasure they produce. Sometimes, these behaviors are healthy and productive like eating a delicious meal or going for a run. Other times, we get dopamine hits from vices like overloading on sugar, drinking too much, or scrolling through social media.1 For this reason, dopamine is often associated with addiction. 

Though mighty, dopamine makes less than one percent of the brain’s neurons.2 But for some individuals, even less dopamine is available. Besides diseases and disorders like depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease, low dopamine levels can also be caused by inadequate sleep, obesity, and stress.3 Having low dopamine can make  a person feel unmotivated or apathetic toward things that would excite most people.4

Some ADHD medications like Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin increase dopamine in the brain, but they are associated with a variety of undesirable side effects like sleep problems, decreased appetite, headaches, and moodiness.5 Some antidepressants, like Wellbutrin (bupropion), also increase dopamine in the brain, but may cause dry mouth, nausea, insomnia, dependence, or in rare cases, seizures.6  

What is Serotonin? 

A hormone and neurotransmitter, serotonin is a mood stabilizer that plays a crucial role in our happiness and cognition, as well as our sleeping, eating, and digestive processes.7 Like dopamine, it is made in the brain, but it can also be found in the stomach, intestines, and blood platelets. 

As a neurotransmitter, serotonin carries messages between nerve cells throughout the body. Low serotonin levels are linked to depression and anxiety disorders. While reasons for low serotonin levels vary, there is some evidence that links decreased levels of vitamin B6 and vitamin D may contribute. A diet low in the essential amino acid tryptophan can also play a part.

Some prescription drugs for depression and anxiety, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), function by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. However, these drugs come with a variety of side effects such as loss of appetite, headaches, dizziness, and loss of libido.8

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Comparing These “Happy” Neurotransmitters 

Though dopamine and serotonin are both neurotransmitters that carry messages between cells and affect our mood, they work in different ways. You can almost imagine the chemicals on a seesaw: when serotonin levels go down, dopamine levels go up.9  When serotonin is secreted, we feel happy, calm, and centered, which are all good feelings. But when dopamine is secreted, we feel motivated, focused, and aroused, also good feelings. Where increased levels of dopamine might lead to impulsive behavior, increased levels of serotonin prevent impulsivity. When it comes to the reward system, neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., tells Mind Body Green that while serotonin elicits euphoria, dopamine reinforces the reward-seeking behavior that brought on that euphoria, increasing the likelihood of repeating the activity and linking serotonin and dopamine in a give-and-take relationship.10 

How to Boost Feel-Good Chemicals Without Prescription Drugs

Though our bodies make dopamine and serotonin naturally, there are ways to give these feel-good chemicals a boost and keep your levels balanced.

Some ways to naturally boost dopamine include:

Some ways to naturally boost serotonin include:

  • Combining tryptophan-rich foods with a side of carbs, such as salmon with brown rice or a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread11
  • Engaging in moderate aerobic exercise
  • Getting a massage
  • Spending some time in the sun
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Supporting your gut health
  • Practicing mindfulness

Though many individuals take prescription drugs to restore balance to their serotonin and/or dopamine levels in efforts to boost mood, decrease anxiety, and increase focus, there are non-prescription routes that produce similar effects without the risk of harmful side effects. Studies show that patients with major depressive disorder have elevated levels of the S100B protein, a key regulator of many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes.12 Elevated S100B levels may also induce neuroinflammation according to this 2019 study, which may lead to acute stress and a dysfunctional blood-brain barrier.13

Brillia is a non-prescription medication that reduces anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and impulsivity with targeted antibodies to the S100B protein. When Brillia binds to the S100B protein, the overall shape of the protein is altered, hindering its ability to bind to its target molecule and thereby controlling its activity in the body. In short, Brillia stops the S100B protein from acting in the body by changing its shape, consequently regulating levels of anxiety and hyperactivity. As a result of the regulating effect of Brillia on the protein S-100, the level of monoamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin) in different parts of the brain normalizes.

Unlike prescription drugs, Brillia gently and efficiently normalizes the processes related to the S100B protein without harsh, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects. Brillia can even be taken alongside other medications or supplements because there are no contraindications. 

Even more, Brillia works best in combination with many of the lifestyle factors listed above to boost dopamine and serotonin naturally, such as healthy nutrition, adequate sleep, mindfulness practices, and controlled screen time. This holistic approach is known as the 5-Pillar methodology, which equips users with various tools to support a balanced mood and healthy lifestyle.

Find more resources on how to live healthier and feel happier at the Brillia blog.

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References: 1https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/, 2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958859/, 3https://www.verywellmind.com/common-symptoms-of-low-dopamine-5120239, 4https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adhd-dopamine, 5https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/dopamine-reuptake-inhibitors, 6https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/serotonin, 7https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/medicines-and-psychiatry/antidepressants/side-effects/, 8https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6400041, 9https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-balance-between-neurotransmitters-and-how-they-influence-pleasure-libido-arousal_fig3_333616586, 10https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/serotonin-vs-dopamine, 11https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4390598/, 12https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1a32/4152467317daeeeeef6e1f08d76341c19440.pdf, 13https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1a32/4152467317daeeeeef6e1f08d76341c19440.pdf

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