Chronic Inflammation, Dopamine, & Motivation
Last updated: May 2023
A friend of mine posted an article on her Facebook page recently that I thought was interesting: "Chronic Inflammation Removes Motivation by Reducing Dopamine in the Brain."1
Chronic inflammation's effect on dopamine
A study done by Emory University claims that the presence of chronic inflammation in the body decreases the amount of dopamine in a person's brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, and it plays a major role regarding motivation and pleasure, among other things.
According to the article:
"The underlying hypothesis [of the study] is that the body needs more energy to heal a wound or overcome an infection, for instance, both of which are associated with low-grade inflammation. To ensure that energy is available, the brain uses an adaptive technique to reduce the natural drive to perform other tasks which could potentially drain away the energy needed for healing. This is essentially a recalibration of the specialized reward neurons in the motivation center of the brain, so that ordinary tasks no longer feel like they’re worth doing. According to the new study, the mechanism of this recalibration is immune-mediated disruption of the dopamine pathway, reducing dopamine release."1
The constant need for dopamine with chronic inflammation
In other words, when you're sick or if you have an inflammatory process going on in your body, some of the dopamine in your brain is needed to heal these problems. In the cases where people have chronic, autoimmune diseases such as RA, the dopamine is constantly getting recalibrated and drained (in a sense) to try to heal the inflammation. That's my simplified take on it, at least. For those of us with RA and chronic inflammation, our dopamine reserves are being stretched too thin.
So, of course, this study makes me wonder: Is this why I have such a hard time getting and staying motivated with things? I feel like I'm constantly struggling with motivation: to find it, get it, hold onto it, not forget it. The "side effects" of RA are vast and complicated and can be different for each person, of course, so there is no clear answer.
Dopamine decrease - the reasoning behind a lack of motivation?
There are many things that can affect a person's motivation, such as: pain, sickness, fatigue, emotional/mental state, environment. But the thought that there's maybe something actually going on in my brain that's contributing to my extreme lack of motivation makes me feel a little better. Better about myself and that maybe I'm not just lazy or have a major character flaw. And if a decrease in dopamine is a result of RA and chronic inflammation, maybe someday treatments can be developed to help with this.
Whatever the reason(s) for my constant struggle regarding motivation, I know that I need to keep reminding myself that I'm doing the best I can. That's good enough. And maybe I'll check out if there's anything I can do to help give my dopamine a little boost. That can't hurt, right?
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