While you can easily relate things like healthy eating and exercise to your body weight, you may be less familiar with the effects that the chemicals in your brain can have on losing weight. Some studies suggest that higher levels of dopamine may help you to better control your eating. However, more research is needed to directly link higher dopamine levels to weight loss in otherwise healthy people.
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Your brain uses neurotransmitters such as dopamine to regulate mental functions and communicate with your body. In an article for the eNotAlone website, psychologist Joseph Carver says dopamine allows your brain to regulate mental abilities such as attention and motivation. Dopamine also allows your body to make fluid motor movements. It is important to note that dopamine affects your mental and physical well-being in a variety of ways. Carver states that elevated dopamine levels can have negative effects such as addiction or motor ticks.
Having higher levels of dopamine may decrease your body weight. In an August 2009 article in the “European Journal of Neurology,” C.G. Bachmann and colleagues showed that Parkinson’s sufferers who take medication to raise their dopamine levels tend to lose weight. Bachman and colleagues also show that the amount of weight that Parkinson’s sufferers lose relates directly to the amount of dopamine-raising medication they take. However, it is not clear if Bachmann and colleagues' findings relate to adults who do not have Parkinson's.
Higher levels of dopamine may reduce your impulse to eat. In a December 2008 study in the journal “Nutrition & Metabolism,” J. Reinholz and colleagues suggest that your brain uses dopamine to tell your body when to stop eating. Low dopamine levels may play a role in overeating for people with a genetic predisposition to low dopamine levels as well as people who stop using medication that increases dopamine levels.
Eating fava beans increases your dopamine levels. The University of Maryland Medical Center website says that fava beans contain high amounts of levodopa. Your brain converts levodopa directly into dopamine. Some clinicians prescribe levodopa to sufferers of Parkinson’s disease to raise their dopamine levels. However, the University of Maryland Medical Center cautions that fava beans can actually raise dopamine levels too much for some people. MayoClinic.com warns that you should not eat fava beans regularly if you take depression medication such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs.
The amount of food that you eat may also affect your dopamine levels. Patients who undergo gastric bypass surgery show higher dopamine levels, according to a March 2010 study published by K.E. Steele and colleagues in the journal “Obesity Surgery.” Dopamine levels increase proportionately with how much weight people lose after gastric bypass surgery. Therefore, while there is evidence that higher dopamine levels cause weight loss, your dopamine levels may also simply vary according to how much food you eat.