Dopamine influences the ability to pay attention, which is more than just focus. Difficulty paying attention may encompass:
· Problems focusing on a specific task
· Trouble sitting still for long periods of time
· Being disorganized
· Inability to follow instructions
The Role of Dopamine and the Prefrontal Cortex in Attention
The part of the brain that regulates such activity is called the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC requires sufficient amounts of dopamine to function correctly, especially in focus, maintenance, and learning. The pathway in which dopamine is transported from a part of the midbrain known as the SN/VTA to the PFC, is called the mesocortical system.
The hypodopaminergic theory states that hyperactive behaviors and lack of attention may be the result of low dopamine levels. Dopamine and glutamate maintain a feedback loop involving the PFC. When low dopamine levels are present, dopamine is no longer able to increase the function of glutamate receptors (NMDA and AMPA) in the PFC and striatum, leading to lower glutamate levels. In a healthy cycle, glutamate signals are sent to the striatum and the SN/VTA, as well as to the PFC. Normally, when glutamate signals to the SN/VTA are increased, more dopamine is released, restarting this cycle. This feedback mechanism does not appear to occur in some cases where individuals have difficulty paying attention.
Dopamine, Attention, and Reward Systems
Attention deficits may also stem from lack of motivation to complete a task. Patients who have trouble paying attention have been found to require stronger incentives and prefer smaller, more instant rewards, as opposed to larger, more distant rewards. While dopamine is important for optimal PFC function, it is also important in what is known as the mesolimbic pathway. This pathway connects the VTA to the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), and is responsible for reward systems, which relies heavily on dopamine. Disruptions in this pathway have been found in individuals who require more instant gratification for rewards.
A Natural Approach to Enhancing Focus
Given the role of dopamine and glutamate in attention, consider measuring their levels using a non-invasive urinary, at-home test. Armed with the results, healthcare providers can promote healthy levels of these two markers using natural interventions such as Mucuna pruriens for dopamine support. For a list of natural ingredients shown to improve focus and attention and more detailed information on dopamine’s role in the PFC, check out our blog “Your Attention Issues Please”
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (April 29, 2016). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html.
 Erin M. Miller, Theresa C. Thomas, Greg A. Gerhardt and Paul E. A.
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