Why your brain wants to eat when you are on a diet

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More on some of the mechanisms of the neurological correlates of appetite. When lab rats starved, they took a look at the dopamine receptors in their brain– the receptors bloomed. More dopamine receptors means more wanting, more craving, more choc-o-holism.

Lots more and full abstracts after the jump

I’m not sure what to make of the leptin receptor changes noted in the abstract. I’m biased toward thinking that leptin is so obviously part of the energy regulatory mechanism, that it’s got to be the signal to make more dopamine receptors when you reduce food intake.

Obesity is such a multi-factorial behavioral trait, that who knows the reasons why — such as binge eating being related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, or bullemia or anorexia being linked to other brain x gene x environmental factors.

The dopamine connection seems to me to be the lowest-common-denominator — there si a reason why we want food or have cravings — and that is likely the reward-type neurological effects.

One thing I’m going to look for: the effect of illness on dopamine up regulation. Feed a cold, starve a fever, and how come we aren’t hungry when we don’t eat because of the flu? This would seem to me to be an interference with the signal to the reward center of the brain, probably by the molecules which kick in once you start fighting off the flu bugs.

Food restriction markedly increases dopamine D2 re…[Synapse. 2008] – PubMed Result

Food restriction markedly increases dopamine D2 receptor (D2R) in a rat model of obesity as assessed with in-vivo muPET imaging ([(11)C] raclopride) and in-vitro ([(3)H] spiperone) autoradiography.

Synapse. 2008 Jan;62(1):50-61Thanos PK, Michaelides M, Piyis YK, Wang GJ, Volkow ND.

Behavioral Neuropharmacology Laboratory, Medical Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York 11973-5000.

Introduction: Dopamine (DA) regulates food intake by modulating food reward and motivation but its involvement in obesity is much less understood. Recent evidence points to the involvement of leptin in the DA-related modulation of food intake. Here we assess DA D2 receptors (D2R) in a genetic rodent obesity model characterized by leptin-receptor deficiency and assess the influence of food restriction on these receptors. Methods: We compared D2R levels between Zucker Obese (fa/fa) and Lean (Fa/Fa) rats at 1 and 4 months of age and in two different feeding conditions (restricted and unrestricted food access) using in-vivo muPET imaging ([(11)C] raclopride, which is a method sensitive to competition with endogenous DA) and in-vitro ([(3)H] spiperone washed to ensure no competition with endogenous DA) autoradiography (ARG). Results: Both ARG and muPET showed that D2R were higher at 1 month than at 4 months of age and that food restricted animals had higher D2R than unrestricted animals. However there were significant differences in the results obtained at 4 months between ARG and muPET. ARG showed that at 1 month and at 4 months unrestricted lean rats (Le U) had significantly higher D2R binding than obese unrestricted rats (Ob U) but showed no differences between restricted obese (Ob R) and restricted lean rats (Le R). It also showed that D2R decline between 1 and 4 months of age was significantly attenuated in food restricted rats [both obese and lean]. In contrast, muPET showed that at 4 months of age, Ob U showed greater D2R availability than Le U rats but like ARG showed no differences between Ob R and Le R rats. Conclusion: The lower D2R binding in Ob U than Le U rats observed with ARG most likely reflects decreases in striatal D2 receptors levels whereas the increased availability observed with muPET is likely to reflect reduced DA release (resulting in decreased competition with endogenous DA). Lack of a significant difference between Ob R and Le R suggests that the differences in dopamine activity and D2R levels between Ob and Le Zucker rats are modulated by access to food. The ARG finding of an attenuation of the age-related loss of D2R binding corroborates previous studies of the salutary effects of food restriction in the aging process. Because [(11)C] raclopride is sensitive to competition with endogenous DA, the higher D2R binding in obese rats with raclopride despite the lower D2R levels shown with spiperone could reflect lower extracellular DA in the Ob rats and merits further investigation. Synapse 62:50-61, 2008. Published 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

PMID: 17960763 [PubMed - in process]