New scientific research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory has shown that dopamine receptors are involved in weight gain. Obesity is as much a problem with brain activity as it is with metabolism — if not more so. Read on for five factors in the relationship between your weight and your brain that may surprise you.
Dopamine is linked to feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and related emotions. The media often pinpoints dopamine as a factor in drug addictions and other behavioral issues, but it may also play a role in obesity — and for many of the same reasons.
The Brookhaven study shows that obese people have fewer receptors for dopamine. Obese people may eat more to stimulate a dopamine reaction. The digestive system is separate from the dopamine reaction and will turn those extra calories into fat, but the brain needs the dopamine signals so it can regulate cravings. The more overeating is associated with the feelings dopamine creates, the more closely the two become intertwined.
Another chemical frequently mentioned when it comes to obesity is serotonin, which can lead the brain to shut down its craving-oriented neurons and start sending signals that the body is full. Serotonin is commonly controlled through diet medications like Qysmia, Orlistat, Xenical and many others, which increase levels or encourage natural serotonin earlier in the eating process. The result is a loss of cravings — the goal of weight loss drugs. Some of these require prescriptions and some are over-the-counter purchases. You may want to consider purchasing from a Canada pharmacy, which can offer significant cost savings.
Alpha-MSH is a hormone in the hypothalamus that helps to control brain cells devoted to eating and digestion, essentially telling the cells to “calm down” at the right time. This hormone also helps the brain to produce the thyrotropin-releasing (TRH) hormone, which increases calorie-burning processes. The regulation of alpha-MSH is thought to be important in managing eating and weight gain. Studies of rats have shown obese subjects have a low amount of alpha-MSH.
Currently, the best option for treating low amounts of alpha-MSH is by treating endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. The ER is a part of cells responsible for generating proteins, which can cause complications for creating hormones like alpha-MSH. A reliable drug has yet to be developed to target this issue.
BPA refers to bisphenol A, which is not a brain chemical. Rather, it is found in the environment. Specifically, BPA is used in things like canned food, certain drinks and paper toiletries. A 2012 study inspected the effect of BPA on children and discovered an interesting correlation: Those with exposure to high levels of the substance were more than five times as likely to become obese than other children. Furthermore, the study indicated this was particularly true for Caucasian children. The reason for racial specificity is still uncertain.
At the moment, research indicates that chemicals like BPA may have an effect on neuron formation in the brain and may permanently increase the urge to eat sugar. Studies like this are particularly valuable when it comes to narrowing down environmental factors that create obesity, but more research is needed to find out how the brain responds to BPA and other chemicals before a solution can be formed.
One of the most intense triggers for dopamine release is sugar. Consume a lot of sugar, especially over a short period of time, and not only will it affect dopamine levels (linking sugar and pleasure over the long term), but it will also cause blood sugar levels to spike and then rapidly fall. Doing this to your blood sugar is a bad idea for several reasons. It can cause mood changes, blood pressure alterations and immediate cravings.
Your thyroid, blood sugar levels and brain response to cravings are all linked. Binge on sugar a little — and several hours later, your blood sugar levels will quickly drop and create a state of hypoglycemia. This sends signals that something may be wrong; specifically, that you need to eat more, especially more sweets or foods with high-fructose corn syrup, to restore blood sugar levels. This creates a cycle that can lead to obesity and related problems.
Ultimately, this connection between brain and obesity is good news. It will lead to more effective treatments and a better understanding of how obesity is caused. For now, knowing how the brain reacts to eating habits may prove helpful in combating the current obesity epidemic ravaging America. Obesity is a complex condition, and a treatment tailored to an individual’s unique circumstances has the best chance of working.Brain image by Bangladesh Press from Flickr’s Creative CommonsEating image by Hans Splinter from Flickr’s Creative Commons