Here we have an in-depth look into nootropics for anhedonia.
Anhedonia is a condition that makes you feel numb.
There are many small pleasures in life. From enjoying a sunset to listening to your favorite music and having chills go down your spine.
Anhedonia prevents these feelings, making the life of a sufferer feel dull, bland, and bleak.
On a side note: It’s important to mention that we aren’t doctors. If you suspect you may suffer from anhedonia, it’s always better to talk to a health professional than seek advice on the internet.
That said, this science-backed article explores anhedonia and explains which nootropics might help you with it.
What is Anhedonia?
In simplest terms, Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure. In its more extreme forms, anhedonia can even mean the inability to feel any strong emotion.
Most people know what it’s like to feel pleasure. Going out for a bike ride on a sunny weekend, watching your favorite TV series, or giving a hug to your loved one. These are some of the things that typically bring joy to people.
- People with anhedonia experience little to no joy, no matter how exciting or interesting experiences in their life might be.
Anhedonia is often a symptom of a deeper underlying issue. This includes depression or other mental disorders.
That said, some people don’t have depression but still suffer from anhedonia. That’s because there are many causes for this condition. We’ll go more into those in a minute. (1)
How to Tell if You Have Anhedonia?
According to WebMD, there are two types of anhedonia (2):
- Social – You have no interest in spending time with others. Parties, talking with close friends, or social gatherings, in general, don’t excite you.
- Physical – As the name implies, people with this form of anhedonia don’t feel physical pleasure. A hug from your partner gives you no joy. Your sexual desire can also plummet. Foods that you once enjoyed taste bland.
Here are other common symptoms that people with anhedonia experience:
- Withdrawal from social situations
- Lack of intimacy with a partner
- Emotional numbness
- Lack of expressions, both verbal and nonverbal
- Faking a smile and other emotions, pretending to be happy in front of other people when you’re not
- A weak immune system, being sick often
What Causes it?
As mentioned, anhedonia can be a symptom of depression. However, depression isn’t the only possible cause of anhedonia.
- Ironically, anti-depressants and anti-psychotics are also known to cause anhedonia in some people. (1, 3)
But it’s not just prescription medication that can make you indifferent towards life.
Recreational substance use can do the same. That’s because some of these substances interact with your neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin.
Over time, substance use may deplete your brain chemicals. It may even numb your neurotransmitter receptors. As a result, you start feeling numbed out too.
- You can also develop anhedonia if you’re under extreme stress and anxiety for prolonged periods.
There’s also Schizotypy. It’s a theory in psychology that people with certain personality traits might be more susceptible to anhedonia than others.
How Nootropics May Help
Okay, so now that we know what anhedonia is. What can nootropics do to help with it?
Natural and safe nootropics act as brain boosters. They improve your brain’s capabilities, including:
Certain nootropics interact with your dopamine and serotonin brain pathways. These two neurotransmitters are critical for your mood. Many times, it’s precisely a fault in one of these two pathways (or both) that leads to anhedonia, amongst other problems. (12, 13)
If you feel a lack of energy, motivation, and drive when you wake up in the morning, your catecholamine brain chemicals could be to blame. These are dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Dopamine is the one that gives you that drive and motivation to own the day. (12)
Serotonin, on the other hand, is what makes you calm, relaxed, and happy. It also regulates countless other bodily functions like sleep, appetite, and movement.
By supporting your dopamine and serotonin systems, nootropics may help you regain some of that zest for life.
Let’s look at which nootropics may help with anhedonia.
Best Nootropics For Anhedonia
L-Tyrosine is a precursor to your catecholamine brain chemicals. As we said, those are epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
In people with low motivation, depression, and anhedonia, there’s sometimes a lack of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is what gives you those tingles when you listen to your favorite music.
Tyrosine is nothing more than a building block to this critical neurotransmitter. (14) You typically get tyrosine from food, but due to various factors, you may not be able to absorb this amino acid properly. Resulting in a lack of raw material for your brain to create dopamine.
That’s why Tyrosine could be such a powerful nootropic for cutting through the fog of anhedonia. It might help bring some of those feelings of pleasure back.
Oat straw has several benefits for your brain. The most important one, in this case, being the increase in dopamine.
Much like l-tyrosine, oat straw may help balance your motivation neurotransmitters. But it does it differently.
In some studies, wild oat extract is shown to inhibit MAO-B enzyme. This enzyme breaks down your dopamine and reduces its levels in the brain. (4)
By potentially inhibiting this enzyme, oat straw and its extract help to increase your levels of available dopamine.
Moving on, we have L-theanine. It’s a natural compound found in all teas, and particularly in green tea (source).
It works well with caffeine in boosting your mood and increasing feelings of pleasure. Mainly because the two have opposite effects.
While caffeine amps you up, l-theanine calms you down and makes you feel good without drowsiness. You know that saying the opposites attract. L-theanine and caffeine are perfect examples of that.
So what exactly does l-theanine do to you? It does a few things (15):
- Boosts GABA – Much like glutamate is your excitatory neurotransmitter, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Making you feel at ease with life. It might sound contradictory for people with anhedonia, but GABA gives you feelings of peace, contentment, and joy. GABA and indifference aren’t good friends.
- Enhances Alpha Brain Waves – These types of waves link to states of calm focus, creativity, and overall good mood. The opposite of what anhedonia brings.
Cat’s Claw is an herb that’s gained attention for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects.
But what makes it belong to nootropics for anhedonia?
As it turns out, flavonoids in Cat’s Claw fight depression, which is one of the main culprits of anhedonia. (5, 6)
What’s more, by reducing inflammation, Cat’s Claw supports healthy serotonin production in your brain. And as we learned before, serotonin is critical for a happy mood.
Vinpocetine is one of the most well-known nootropics out there.
It enhances your brain blood flow, helping with nutrient and oxygen delivery to your neurons for better cognition.
But that’s not where the benefits of vinpocetine stop.
See, this nootropic is also serotonergic by nature. Meaning it boosts your ‘happy hormone’ levels in the brain. (7, 8)
As a result, it helps alleviate symptoms commonly linked to anhedonia and depression.
B vitamins, particularly B6, support your brain health in a variety of ways.
Most importantly here, B6 helps to relieve anhedonia by supporting dopamine and serotonin synthesis. (16) Specifically, vitamin B6 helps your brain produce:
- Dopamine from L-DOPA
- Serotonin from 5-HTP
- Serotonin from Tryptophan
As we explained above, both serotonin and dopamine are critical for having that energy and drive. As well as being in a good mood and feeling pleasure in your day to day life.
Fish oil is one of those classic supplements that has many benefits for our bodies. From supporting joints, cardiovascular health, to being a potent anti-depressant. Yes, it can also help alleviate symptoms of anhedonia – especially if its cause is depression. (9)
What’s more, you can stack the ingredients from this list with fish oil to potentiate their positive effects on your mood.
Leucine is an amino acid that’s touted to have nootropic properties. One of these is a reduction in depressive symptoms. While it may not be the most potent nootropic for anhedonia on its own, leucine is a part of the most effective nootropic formulas on the market. Along with many other ingredients on this list. Combined, they have a more profound effect than leucine on its own. (17)
Lifestyle and Anhedonia
Nootropics for anhedonia are just one of many natural methods that can potentially help with symptoms of the condition.
The foundations are still foundations – exercise and sleep being the two most important factors to how you feel and act in your day to day life.
Let’s take a closer look below.
Exercise doesn’t just give you bigger muscles. According to research, it also strengthens your brain. Multiple studies proved that regular physical activity – from weightlifting to long walks – has a positive effect on our mental health. It boosts endorphins and other brain chemicals that make you feel ‘alive,’ which is the exact opposite of what anhedonia feels. If you don’t visit the gym often, now could be the time to give it a go. (21)
Sleep is critical for every aspect of your health. And your brain is no exception. If you’re chronically sleep-deprived, there’s a high chance you’ll feel depressed and anxious. When you don’t sleep well, your brain’s neurotransmitters go out of whack. (18)
Not to mention the increase in the inflammation due to a lack of sleep. (20) Higher inflammation is what tells your body to use amino acids to create more antibodies instead of serotonin or dopamine. (19) This, in turn, creates a perfect environment for symptoms of anhedonia to occur.
Meditation is shown to change certain brain regions linked to depression. According to health.harvard.edu, meditation is extremely effective at improving how your brain responds to stress, anxiety, and depression. (11) Some studies show that mindfulness meditation may notably alleviate symptoms of depression. Anhedonia potentially being one of them. (10)
Anhedonia is a severe condition that can reduce the quality of your life. Talk to a healthcare professional if you haven’t already to decide the best course of action to treat it. Typically, anhedonia is just a symptom masking a more serious issue, which is, in many cases, depression.
With proper treatment, you should start feeling joys and pleasures of life again. Anhedonia will typically go away when you manage its root cause.
That said, if you’re looking for nootropics for anhedonia, they may help. These natural compounds work to improve mood and brain function. They are particularly good at supporting your feel-good neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin.
You may want to try some of the nootropics we listed here. From Cat’s Claw, L-Tyrosine to Oat Straw Extract. Combined with a healthy and active lifestyle, they could help. But they are in no way a replacement for proper treatment.
>>Further Reading: How do Nootropics Work? Your Brain on Nootropics
Anhedonia - Healthline. (source)
What is Anhedonia? WebMD. (source)
SSRI-Induced Indifference. (source)
Chronic Effects of a Wild Green Oat Extract Supplementation on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. (source)
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities of Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa and Uncaria guianensis) are independent of their alkaloid content. (source)
Antidepressant Flavonoids and Their Relationship with Oxidative Stress. (source)
Vinpocetine: Revitalize Your Brain With Periwinkle Extract. (source)
Fish Oil. (source)
An update on mindfulness meditation as a self-help treatment for anxiety and depression. (source)
How meditation helps with depression. (source)
The molecular role of dopamine in anhedonia linked to reward deficiency syndrome (RDS) and anti- reward systems. (source)
Anti‐anhedonic effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors with an affinity for sigma‐1 receptors in picrotoxin‐treated mice. (source)
Dose-Dependent Effects of Oral Tyrosine Administration on Plasma Tyrosine Levels and Cognition in Aging. (source)
L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. (source)
Low serum concentrations of vitamin B6 and iron are related to panic attack and hyperventilation attack. (source)
Sleep Deprivation Differentially Affects Dopamine Receptor Subtypes in Mouse Striatum. (source)
Reviewing the Effects of l-Leucine Supplementation in the Regulation of Food Intake, Energy Balance, and Glucose Homeostasis. (source)
Inflammation Effects on Motivation and Motor Activity: Role of Dopamine. (source)
Sleep loss and inflammation. (source)
Physical Exercise for Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Critical Review. (source)