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Dopamine and Obesity

  • Posted on: Mar 20 2020
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Is it possible to be addicted to food in the same way that people are addicted to drugs? 

We live in a rapidly changing world. Many of those changes have improved life dramatically, but, unfortunately, that cannot be said for all of them. 40 years ago, the obesity rate for adults in the U.S. was right around 15%. Today, that has nearly tripled. 40% of American adults fall in the obese range and, even worse, another 33% are heading that direction by already being classified as overweight. 

It’s no secret that being overweight has negative consequences. Right along with all of that weight gain we have also seen increased diagnoses of serious health issues, including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. We know that carrying extra weight has significant health risks, not to mention the effects it has on quality of life; lower self-esteem and confidence, damage to relationships, anxiety and even depression. 

So, why don’t we just stop overeating or eating the kinds of foods that we know contribute to weight gain?

Does Dopamine Encourage Overeating or Does Overeating Affect Dopamine?

Most people are aware of dopamine but are unlikely to know just how important it is to the internal functioning of the body. As a neurotransmitter, dopamine is responsible for the communication between nerve cells. These chemical messengers not only affect our ability to think and make plans but also to find interest in those thoughts and the world around us. Dopamine is crucial to our ability to feel pleasure. 

We have known for a long time that dopamine can be rapidly increased by the use of drugs, like cocaine. That dopamine rush is one of the main reasons that drug users are drawn to substances that have the potential for serious negative consequences on their lives. Repeated drug use, however, moves the bar for attaining that high, meaning that more drugs are needed to reach the same level. To make things even more challenging, those same drugs interfere with the body’s ability to make dopamine naturally, so, those periods off of drugs are even more emotionally unsatisfactory. 

Eating, especially high-fat and high-sugar foods, is also a reinforcing behavior that creates feelings of pleasure, just like drugs. Researchers believe that obese people may have abnormal levels of dopamine in the brain. They are finding that the same addictive response may be playing out in those who seriously overeat. 

Studies done with rats have shown the same tendencies that are observed in the ones who have been given addicting levels of drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. When rats have access to high-fat foods, they eat as long as the food is available. Even when they know that they are going to receive an electric shot if they eat the high-fat food, it is hard for them to not keep eating it. 

Research is ongoing. What is currently not understood is whether obese individuals started with a biochemical imbalance and overeating is an attempt to compensate for there being less than the normal amount of dopamine or whether the overeating itself has caused the drop in dopamine, which then drives even more overeating. 

Is it possible to treat what can only be described as our epidemic of obesity with drugs or special programs focused on addictive behaviors? That is also the subject of current research. What we do know is the importance of nutritional counseling. Those who may be addicted to food do not have the option of going through a period of detox and making the choice to abstain: we need food to live. Finding a healthcare professional to help guide you through this difficult process should be your first step. 

The Southern California Center for Anti-Aging focuses on the practice of advanced, preventive and regenerative medicine. We strongly believe correcting imbalances and deficiencies in nutrition, along with improving fitness and balancing and restoring hormones with Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy, can help with creating the foundation for a healthier and happier life. To learn more about our holistic approach or if you have questions about any of our services, take advantage of our Free Consultation by clicking here to use our convenient online form.

Posted in: Obesity