Which neurotransmitters have roles in appetite suppression

Neurotransmitters that have roles in appetite suppression

April 23. 2021

Have you ever wondered what makes you crave certain foods? What makes you hungry soon after you’ve had lunch, or how come you’re not feeling hungry even if your last meal was hours ago? To get answers to these questions (and eventually gain control over your appetite), you first need to understand the roles of neurotransmitters in appetite suppression

If you feel like you’re doing everything you can to lose weight but can’t see the results, keep in mind that there’s always room for improvement and progress. Just because a healthy diet and an exercise regimen don’t seem to be getting you closer to your weight goal doesn’t mean you should give it all up. Instead, consider using some additional tools (such as lipotropic injections for weight loss) and expanding your knowledge about the psychological aspect of your appetite and eating habits.

The neurotransmitters basics

Appetite control in humans is a pretty complex process. Your nervous system transfers messages in the form of electric signals through your brain and nerves. Even though this system reminds you of electric wiring, your nerve ends are not actually connected. Instead, a neurotransmitter chemical needs to be released so that a message can transmit from one nerve to another.

Neurotransmitters are divided into two types: inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters. The first type calms the brain, while the second one stimulates it. Both of them affect your mood, sleep, memory, motivation, focus, libido, and energy. If these chemicals are out of balance, they may cause adverse symptoms. One of those symptoms can be weight gain.

We usually don’t think about the brain when we talk about weight, nor its connection to weight loss. Nevertheless, your brain has a tremendous impact on your body composition. To be more precise, your appetite doesn’t only come from your physiology but also the interaction of neurotransmitters and hormones. We’ll see which neurotransmitters play the most significant roles in weight management and appetite suppression.

Dopamine

Dopamine is typically referred to as the pleasure hormone. When it comes to weight loss, this neurotransmitter plays the most significant role of them all. Depending on the receptor it connects to, it can be both inhibitory or excitatory, making it unique. It’s derived from tyrosine (an amino acid), and it is released during gratifying activities (for example, food consumption, exercise, sex, and several drugs). Its function is diverse since it plays a role in mood, attention, pleasure/reward, and motor skills.

People who are low in dopamine often use stimulants and foods to get through the day. However, most of these stimulants and food people typically crave (candy, chocolate, energy drinks, coffees) eventually lead to bad eating habits and even obesity. These stimulants boost dopamine production, but it’s crucial not to self-medicate by indulging in sweets. Since repeated cravings and overindulgence are both consequences of dopamine-induced behavior, it’s essential to have the right amount of dopamine in your system. If that’s not the case, you’ll keep eating but will never be emotionally or physically fulfilled by food.

Not having enough dopamine in your system can quickly leave you exhausted, but too much of it causes addictive behavior. This chemical is one of the reasons food becomes addictive. Therefore, one of your weight loss goals should be having a dopamine signaling system that balances and regulates your energy and motivation. Above all that, proper levels of dopamine will naturally suppress your appetite and help you lose weight.
Here’s how to positively influence your dopamine levels:

  • Eat foods high in tyrosine, such as bananas, almonds, beets, apples, cherries, eggs, meat, and fish.
  • Limit caffeine intake because after you experience the initial kick, your dopamine levels will start decreasing.
  • Limit your sugar intake because it disrupts dopamine levels and alters your brain chemistry.
  • Relax and avoid stress. Have a hot bath now and then, get a massage and meditate to increase your dopamine levels. You may also want to consider starting a stress management program.

Serotonin

Serotonin (also known as the happiness hormone) often gets the most attention. It’s derived from tryptophan (an amino acid), and it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This chemical provides a sense of happiness and overall well-being. If you find yourself feeling depressed, experiencing insomnia, or low self-esteem, odds are – you need a serotonin boost.

Serotonin is an appetite suppressant; therefore, its deficiency is directly related to weight gain. Low levels of this neurotransmitter can cause carb cravings since tryptophan can only enter the brain after you’ve eaten starchy or sweet food. Although tryptophan can be found in all proteins, so can all the other amino acids; therefore, it needs to compete to enter the brain. Another disadvantage is that several different amino acids in your blood enter the brain faster. The process looks like this: the carbs you eat stimulate insulin, which then pushes nutrients (including amino acids) to enter the cells of your organs. As this happens, tryptophan gets left behind. Eventually, your blood becomes “overcrowded” with tryptophan, so it beats other amino acids and enters the brain. It’s immediately converted to serotonin, and it starts curbing your cravings and appetite. The final result is you feeling full, eating less, and losing weight.

Here’s how to positively influence your serotonin levels:

  • Supplement with B vitamins and tryptophan because B vitamins make an essential precursor to serotonin production. Tryptophan supplements can increase your serotonin levels more efficiently than tryptophan found in food.
  • Get enough sleep because if you don’t, the optimal neurotransmission of serotonin in your system will be disrupted.
  • Enjoy the sunlight since it will provide you with enough Vitamin D to support the synthesis of serotonin. Keep in mind that Vitamin D supplementation is not as nearly as beneficial as direct sunlight. 
  • Eat carbs after you’ve had some protein because of the process we explained above.

Acetylcholine

Acetylcholine is known as the memory hormone, and it is an excitatory neurotransmitter. A high-acetylcholine, healthy brain is quick-thinking and fast-moving. Without it, you wouldn’t remember when’s the last time you ate, so you’d keep eating again and again. If you’re struggling to focus, remember or find the right words, you may have an acetylcholine deficiency, which often triggers people to reach for fried foods, fast food, or greasy snacks. This is because choline (the building block of acetylcholine) is mainly found in fat. A reasonable amount of good fats in your diet is necessary to have stable acetylcholine levels. However, make sure not to go over the board if you’re trying to lose weight.

Let’s see how you can boost your acetylcholine levels the right way:

  • Eat foods high in choline, such as eggs, avocados, nuts, olive oil, and seeds.
  • Supplement with L-carnitine, an amino acid that makes an excellent brain antioxidant and supports the use of fatty acids for energy production.

GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid)

GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter since it acts as your brain’s calming agent. The correct levels of this chemical support calm and stable brain chemistry that aids your weight loss in several ways: reducing stress, nervousness, anxiety, and improving sleep. It can also prevent psychological causes of overindulging, and overeating since people with GABA deficiency often eat too much and too fast to cope with their anxiety and stress.

If you feel overwhelmed, over-stimulated, or stressed out, you should try to positively influence GABA levels in your system by: 

  • Consuming GABA-producing foods, or in other words, food high in glutamine (the amino acid precursor to GABA), such as cabbage, animal protein, raw and leafy vegetables.
  • Eating fermented foods, such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi. 
  • Supplement with taurine, an amino acid that activates GABA receptors in your brain, encouraging GABA formation. Although GABA supplements can be found, they’re not the best choice because the molecule is too large to transfer from your blood to the brain. 

Final thoughts

Understanding the roles neurotransmitters have in appetite suppression can help you recognize certain deficiencies. If you happen to notice any of the symptoms we mentioned above, try influencing the neurotransmitter levels in your system.  Healthy levels of these chemicals will support your psychological health, which is often directly connected to your weight loss.

But still, make sure you do it in a healthy, sustainable way. In case you need more information on the subject or professional guidance on your weight loss journey, please contact our weight loss clinic Chicago, and schedule your appointment. 

 

Nurse Walton

Author

Nurse Walton

Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Chanay received her Practical Nurse licensure and went to work in clinical specialties such as Home Health, Assisted Living, Long-Term Care and Dialysis Centers. Through this work, she realized the importance of diet, nutrition and weight loss among her patients. This led her to open A Better Weigh, Inc. Medical Weight Loss Center in 2009.

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