catecholamines: treating "the blahs"

In the previous section, we talked about the most common form of depression which stems from a serotonin deficiency.  Its classic symptoms are irritability, negativity, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Here, we are discussing a type of depression often mistaken for a serotonin deficiency, and although you may be experiencing both, it is important to make the distinction. 

With a catecholamine deficiency (low levels of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine), rather than difficulty sleeping, you're likely to experience too much sleep, where you still wake up feeling groggy, and it's hard to pull yourself out of bed in the morning.  Unlike the obsessive type thoughts seen with serotonin deficiency, you won't feel much energy or motivation to focus on anything, let alone do it obsessively. Rather than the dark clouds of serotonin deficiency, this type of depression feels more like a dull gray color that just coats everything around you. In a word, catecholamine deficiency feels like apathy.

the three types of catecholamines


If your brain is producing adequate amounts of catecholamines, you should feel alert, upbeat and energetic. If levels are deficient, you will be experiencing 'the blahs.'  Because I'll be referring to catecholamines a lot in this section, I will use the term 'cats' to abbreviate it. The three primary cats are dopamine, epinephrine (aka adrenalin) and norepinephrine.  These are what control the 'zest' that you might notice in  someone who is energetic, passionate, and enthusiastic. Most often, drug abusers experience these states when they consume narcotics - cocaine, for example, or Adderall (amphetamine) directly stimulate the release of these chemicals. It is possible that the individual's levels were already reduced prior to developing the addiction and might partly have contributed to seeking out those types of drugs in the first place, but it's difficult to say. What we do know is that if the cats were artificially stimulated by narcotics for a long period of time, there is a pretty good chance the levels are going to be significantly depressed for a long time once the drugs get removed. 

NOTE: There is significant overlap between the ability to synthesize and regulate cat neurotransmitters and the synthesis and regulation of thyroid hormones by the adrenal gland. Before concluding that you have a catecholamine deficiency, have your thyroid levels checked to be sure you don't simply need to take thyroid hormones (e.g. Synthroid). 

A good way to determine if you may be cat deficient is observing how you respond to typically exciting events. For example, you have a trip planned that is coming up, a sports team that you like is playing, someone invites you to participate in an activity you enjoying doing.  If your levels are low, you may not have much of a reaction to anything. But more than anything, the number one sign you are low in cats is attentiveness. For example when you are reading a book, do you find yourself needing to re-read the same paragraph over and over? Are you having difficulty concentrating or paying attention? Are you one of the people for whom alcohol and opioid pain relievers acted more like an "upper"? Do you crave lots of caffeine and sugary items throughout the day to keep up your energy? These are all the tell-tale signs of cat deficiency. 

There are all kinds of prescription medications that act to artificially boost cat levels - buproprion (Wellbutrin), amphetamines (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin), modafinil (Provigil), Atomoxetine (Strattera).  Not only can a lot of these pharmaceuticals be addictive themselves, a lot of people seek to recover simply from having been addicted to one of them for a period of time.  But there is hope in repairing the depletion without resorting back to these artificial chemicals. We will discuss the two most common in the following sections - tyrosine and phenylalanine.


are you unintentionally depleting the catecholamines?



Being under too much stress for too long a period of time will slowly drain your natural pool of cats. Because epinephrine and norepinephrine are released in response to normal stressful events (e.g. fight or flight response), it is only natural to expect that prolonged and excessive stimulation of this response will eventually deplete these stores. This is the state of feeling "burned out". 



Most people entering recovery are not eating well. Substance abuse usually leads the individual to either a low-calorie or high-carbohydrate diet. Because they are not consuming adequate amounts of protein, cat production is reduced. The more sweet and starchy foods you eat, the less of those antidepressant amino acids are getting to the brain.  Additionally, animal-derived proteins are typically much higher in tyrosine content than vegetable-derived protein. So if your protein is mainly coming from soy-based products, you may not be getting as much tyrosine from your protein sources.



Physical activity is a great idea across the board. In fact, RULE 6 is entirely devoted to this. However, a Catch-22 of a cat deficiency is that exercise will help produce more cats, but low cat levels make us less motivated and energetic to begin working out. Most people who do not regularly exercise because of the difficulty to drum up the motivation, find themselves able to begin a workout plan after a couple weeks with tyrosine replacement.  



Progesterone, estrogen and testosterone interact closely with all of the neurotransmitters in the brain.  Particularly in post-menopausal women and in the peri-menopausal years, you should consider having the sex hormones tested to see if this is contributing to your labile moods.

the two primary amino acids treating 'the blahs'



The amino acid tyrosine is the immediate precursor to dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. It is naturally found in high-protein foods like eggs, beef and fish.  In the early 1990s, the Massachusets Institute of Techonology (MAT) was the first to determine that tyrosine supplementation could be used to produce the synthesis of the cats. Since that time, hundreds of other studies have shown the same thing, that tyrosine supplements can improve this particular form of apathetic depression and lessen the symptoms of inattentiveness.

In our experience it has been pretty remarkable how well tyrosine works for people with cat deficiency. Within a day or two, we'll see individuals who were complaining of feeling flat, tired, low energy, mentally fatigued, and inattentive suddenly seem to lift from that gray fog. Because tyrosine is absorbed so easily, a noticeable improvement is occasionally seen in just a couple hours. 

On top of having antidepressant and stress-protecting abilities, tyrosine is also one of the main components of the pleasure-promoting endorphins.  It is also the primary material that are bodies use to produce the two thyroid hormones - T3 and T4. So tyrosine is involved in several ways to promote a sense of well-being.



Most people who have a cat deficiency respond very well to tyrosine supplementation, but a small number of people might not respond to tyrosine alone. Tyrosine is primarily converted from another amino acid called phenylalanine, which is also found in high-protein foods. It can be used if after a couple days on tyrosine supplementation, no benefit is noticed. Phenylalanine can be taken by itself or combined with tyrosine. The usual starting dosage is one 500mg capsule in the morning before any food or drinks. The dosing frequency can be increased if the supplement is tolerated.

Tyrosine supplementation



Before we talk more specifically about tyrosine supplementation, we need to mention the possible contraindications: You should consult your physician if you have a serious physical illness including high or low blood pressure, lupus, severe kidney or liver damage, overactive thyroid, are taking methadone, or have severe mental or emotional problems, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. 


If tyrosine is recommended to you by an experienced healthcare professional, you can start by taking one 500mg capsule first thing in the morning, before any food or drinks.  If you can, try to skip your coffee this day to see how you feel without it. If you don't feel anything within thirty minutes, you can take a second capsule.  Few people need more than 2 capsules at a time unless they've been chronically consuming large amounts of caffeine or other stimulants like amphetamines or cocaine. 


Tyrosine needs to be dosed multiple times throughout the day so we recommend splitting up the dosage to early morning, mid-morning, and mid-afternoon. Each dose should be one to two 500mg capsules.  Because some people are more sensitive than others, don't take your last dose after 3pm to be sure it doesn't interfere at all with sleep as your body is acclimating to the dose. 


Monitor blood pressure over the first few weeks to be sure it's not going up with the tyrosine. If the BP is elevated, reduce the dose until it goes back down to a level normal for you.  Let your body's reactions guide you in determining how much tyrosine you need and when to start cutting back. If you feel any discomfort or no benefit from the tyrosine after a few days, you should stop taking it. If you have definite symptoms of cat deficiency but are not responding to tyrosine, it is possible that there is an undiagnosed thyroid disfunction.