Obesity

What is the link between Brain Chemicals and Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is no longer an underrated cause of obesity. A lot of research has made it possible to establish the connection between brain chemicals, overeating and obesity. Studies have demonstrated that about 75 percent of overeating is caused by emotional instabilities. In the US alone, the incidence of obesity among adults has increased to 34 percent. Among children it is 17 percent.

The hypothalamus is the part of the brain which controls satiety, hunger and thrust. It secretes neuro-hormones, or brain chemicals. These chemicals in turn stimulate the pituitary gland to secrete hormones that regulate homeostasis.

What causes emotional eating?

There are five brain chemicals which primarily influence our emotions. These are the key players which controls what we eat. These chemicals control our mood and are the main triggers of excessive eating.

  • Norepinephrine is a primary stress hormone. It has a primary role in stress induced eating.
  • Serotonin is the spirit-lifting hormone. It makes you feel good and is a major component of anti-depression drugs. Normal levels of serotonin promote general well-being and suppress appetite. When serotonin levels drop, you feel hungrier and are more susceptible to overeating.
  • Dopamine is the brain’s “fun” hormone. It helps us to perceive pleasure, feelings of enjoyment, and positive reinforcement from our actions. Dopamine is the chemical that controls how motivated we are in our weight loss goals. It is released during rewarding experiences like eating and sex. Low dopamine levels prompt you to gorge yourself to achieve the “feel-good” sensation.
  • GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid classified as a neuro-transmitter.
    It helps the body to metabolize fat better, resulting in an increase in lean tissue and less fat in the body.
  • Nitric Oxide is the chemical which calms you. It is a powerful neuropeptide in the form of a short lived gas. It relaxes blood vessels and helps us to relieve stress and can inhibit overeating tendencies.

References

What is the Pituitary Gland?; University of Pittsburgh: Department of Neurological Surgery;
http://www.neurosurgery.pitt.edu/minc/skullbase/pituitary/index.html

Mahapatra, A., et al.; Overeating, Obesity and Dopamine Receptors; ASC Chemical Neuroscience; 2010;
http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/cn100044y

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