Catecholamines are naturally occurring amines that function as hormones and neurotransmitters in the body.

In chemistry these hormones have a benzene ring with two OHs; hence the odd name.

Catecholamines are produced by the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys.

The adrenal glands create large amounts of catecholamines to prepare the body and brain to deal with extreme physical and emotional stress.

Catecholamines are then released into the blood stream usually when adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) increases and cortisol levels are elevated.

The three main catecholamines are dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine, and all three have different functions.

Catecholamines and Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Children with autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder or those with chronic illnesses often have irregularies and/or irregular functioning of catecholamines.

Sometimes not enough catecholamines are released, and children under-respond in highly stressful situations.

Other times, too much catecholamines are released, and children over-respond in highly stressful situations.

The individual functions of the catecholamines are all very important functions for children.

Dopamine is more involved in brain functioning, while epinephrine and norepinephrine are both involved in activating the sympathetic nervous system in the fight-or-flight response to stressful situations.


Dopamine is one of the most important brain hormone/neurotransmitters for children with autism.

Low dopamine affects the ability to focus and think, while high dopamine causes an overload on the brain’s ability to process information.

Here are some of the important functions of dopamine which are all crucial to children with autism:

  • Memory
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Clarity
  • Attention
  • Focus
  • Motivation
  • Motor control
  • Movement
  • Appetite
  • Problem-solving
  • Emotional responses
  • Sensitivity
  • Processing information
  • Relaying information
  • Perception of change
  • Posture


Epinephrine is involved in the body’s adrenaline drive in the fight-or-flight response.

It is usually released in situations of arousal such as anxiety, excitement, fear and response to stress.

Epinephrine regulates:

  • Metabolism
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Respiratory function
  • Appetite
  • Sleep
  • Memory
  • Learning

Elevated levels of epinephrine are associated with:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Low levels of epinephrine can cause:
  • Decreased energy
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Insufficient cortisol production
  • Chronic stress
  • Burnout
  • Poor recovery from illness
  • Dizziness
  • Persistent adrenal stimulation

Epinephrine is more commonly known to treat a very severe allergic reaction with an EpiPen.


Norepinephrine’s primary role is to create more alertness, arousal, awareness and generally more responsiveness when confronted with a stressful situation.

Unlike the hormone cortisol, norepinephrine is released on an as-needed basis and returns to normal after a stressful event.


  • Improves memory
  • Focus
  • Attention
  • Mood
  • Restless leg syndrome

However, a lack of norepinephrine can cause:

  • Attention deficit issues
  • Fatigue
  • Mental fogginess
  • Little interest in life
  • Moodiness
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Depression

In addition, an extreme amount of norepinephrine may be released during a mania experience such as bipolar.

To increase catecholamines, L-tyrosine is the precursor.

Good sources of tyrosine are:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Legumes

Good food sources for catecholamines are:

  • Chocolate
  • Bananas
  • Walnuts
  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Watermelon
  • Wheat germ
  • Avocados
  • Fava beans
  • Cheese
  • Vanilla
  • Licorice root

L-tyrosine can increase norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain to help improve moods, allergies and depression.

Rhodiola rosea (artic root) and CDP Choline can increase dopamine.

For younger children a company called Energiqiue sells catecholamine liquid homeopathics. .

To reduce high dopamine levels, mangosteen is beneficial.

The following supplements can reduce high epinephrine and norepinephrine levels:

  • Active B vitamin complex
  • Pantothenic acid (B5 is the stress vitamin and supports the adrenals)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D3
  • Zinc
  • Rescue Remedy for emotional outbursts
  • L- theanine
  • GABA
  • Homeopathic and herbal adaptogens
  • Phosphatidylserine
  • Cordyceps mushrooms

These all support the adrenals and are calming to the body.

Daily exercise and sports activities are also very helpful in keeping stress levels down.


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