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Importance of Fatty Acids in the Production of Dopamine

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

By Dr. Alma Barranco-Mendoza Ph.D. and Dr. Deryck Persaud, Ph.D.


The word Dopamine and the molecular structure of dopamine drawn on a notebook wit a happy face button on top of it.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter, which is a chemical messenger that transmits signals in the brain and other areas of the nervous system. It plays a crucial role in various physiological functions and is particularly important in the central nervous system. Dopamine is involved in a wide range of processes, including mood regulation, motivation, reward, motor control, and the reinforcement of behaviour.

  • Neurotransmitter Function:

    • Dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter, transmitting signals between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain.

    • It is part of the catecholamine family of neurotransmitters, along with norepinephrine and epinephrine.

  • Brain Regions:

    • Dopamine-producing neurons are concentrated in several areas of the brain, including the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area.

    • These neurons project to various regions of the brain, including the striatum, prefrontal cortex, and limbic system.

  • Mood and Reward:

    • Dopamine is often associated with the brain's reward system. It is released in response to pleasurable stimuli, reinforcing certain behaviours and motivating individuals to repeat them.

    • Imbalances in dopamine levels have been linked to mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.

  • Motor Control:

    • In the basal ganglia, dopamine plays a crucial role in motor control and coordination. Disruptions in dopamine function in this region can lead to movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease.

  • Attention and Executive Functions:

    • Dopamine is involved in cognitive functions such as attention, working memory, and executive functions. It plays a role in decision-making, problem-solving, and goal-directed behaviour.

  • Regulation of Prolactin:

    • Dopamine also plays a role in the regulation of prolactin, a hormone involved in lactation. The inhibition of prolactin release is one of the functions of dopamine in the hypothalamus.

  • Dysregulation and Disorders:

    • Dysregulation of dopamine function has been implicated in various neurological and psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, addiction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and certain movement disorders.

  • Medications Targeting Dopamine:

    • Some medications that affect dopamine levels are used in the treatment of certain conditions. For example, antipsychotic medications may modulate dopamine activity in the treatment of schizophrenia.

Overall, dopamine is a multifaceted neurotransmitter with widespread implications for brain function and behaviour. Its intricate role in various physiological processes underscores its significance in maintaining overall mental and neurological health.


Fatty Acids in the Production of Dopamine

Fatty acids play a crucial role in the production of dopamine. Dopamine is synthesized through a series of biochemical reactions, and fatty acids contribute to this process in several ways.

  • Cell Membrane Structure:

    • Fatty acids are essential components of cell membranes. Dopamine synthesis primarily occurs in neurons, and these neurons have complex membranes that require fatty acids for structure and function.

    • Monounsaturated fats, such as oleic acid, are commonly found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts. These fats contribute to the flexibility and integrity of cell membranes and can indirectly influence neurotransmitter function.

    • Fatty acids are integral components of phospholipids, which form the structural basis of cell membranes. Phospholipids, such as phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine, are important for maintaining the fluidity and function of cell membranes in neurons.

    • The integrity of cell membranes is crucial for the proper functioning of enzymes and transporters involved in neurotransmitter synthesis, storage, and release, including those involved in dopamine production.

  • Precursor for Dopamine Synthesis:

    • Tyrosine is an amino acid precursor for dopamine synthesis. Tyrosine is converted into L-DOPA (levodopa) by the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase, which is a rate-limiting step in dopamine production.

    • Fatty acids indirectly support this process by facilitating the transport of tyrosine across the blood-brain barrier, allowing it to reach the neurons where dopamine synthesis occurs.

  • Cofactors in Enzyme Reactions:

    • Enzymes involved in the synthesis of dopamine require cofactors for their activity. Fatty acids, as well as other micronutrients, can serve as cofactors or coenzymes in these enzymatic reactions.

    • For instance, certain fatty acids are precursors to bioactive molecules, such as prostaglandins, which can influence enzyme activity and cellular functions.

    • Apart from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, other polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), are involved in the synthesis of prostaglandins and other signalling molecules that can impact neurotransmitter regulation.

  • Neurotransmitter Release and Reuptake:

    • Fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, are known to influence neurotransmitter release and reuptake processes. These processes are essential for maintaining proper levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine in the synaptic cleft.

    • While omega-3 fatty acids are generally associated with anti-inflammatory effects, omega-6 fatty acids can have pro-inflammatory properties. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential, and a balanced ratio between them is important for overall health.

    • Arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, is a precursor to certain signalling molecules, including prostaglandins. These molecules can influence neurotransmitter release and other cellular processes in the brain.

    • Adequate levels of fatty acids can help maintain the fluidity and function of the cell membranes, influencing the activity of transporters responsible for the reuptake of dopamine back into the neuron after its release.

  • Anti-inflammatory Effects:

    • Chronic inflammation in the brain can negatively impact dopamine synthesis and function. Fatty acids, especially omega-3 fatty acids, possess anti-inflammatory properties, which can contribute to a healthier environment for neurotransmitter synthesis and function.


In summary, fatty acids play a multifaceted role in supporting the synthesis, release, and function of dopamine in the brain. It's important to note that ensuring an adequate supply of essential fatty acids through a balanced diet is generally beneficial for overall brain health and neurotransmitter regulation. However, the specific impact of individual fatty acids on dopamine production is complex and influenced by various factors, including dietary intake, metabolism, and overall health. Maintaining appropriate ratios between the different individual fatty acids is also crucial for optimal absorption and benefit. Wide-spectrum fatty acid supplements, such as NeuroActiv Oil, with balanced ratios based on medical research, prevent overloading on certain fatty acids or missing others. It's always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized dietary advice based on individual health needs.


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