Building neurotransmitters for healthy eating behavior‡
By James Greenblatt, M.D. and Kelly Heim, Ph.D.
Eating is the instinctive and life-sustaining response to the sensation of hunger. However, in developed countries where food is abundant, emotional and neurochemical cues, not hunger, comprise the predominant motives of food consumption.1 Indeed, eating evokes positive emotions due to food-induced changes in brain chemistry. For over four million Americans, the desire to maintain this emotional reward on an ongoing basis drives consumption of more calories than the body needs.2
Appetite is regulated largely by the brain via chemical messengers that also influence emotions and behavioral patterns. Known as neurotransmitters, these molecules coordinate the balance of hunger and satiety signals that tell us when to eat and when to stop.3,4 Among these, dopamine and serotonin are extensively characterized with respect to appetite regulation and food-associated mood changes. A major role of dopamine is the transmission of positive emotions upon eating, while serotonin supports the sensation of satiety and cessation of a meal. Therefore, optimizing production and function of both neurotransmitters comprises a key objective in addressing emotionally-driven eating habits.
The production of neurotransmitters begins with amino acids obtained from the diet. Dopamine is synthesized by the conversion of l-phenylalanine to l-tyrosine and L-DOPA, the immediate precursor of dopamine.5,6 This pathway requires activated folate (5-methyltetrahydrofolate; 5-MTHF), activated vitamin B6 (pyridoxal 5′-phosphate; P5P) and zinc.6 Other dietary factors, such as phytochemicals, also support this pathway by maintaining healthy reuptake balance and dopamine stability. DopaPlus delivers these precursors, cofactors and functional phytonutrients to support multiple steps in dopamine signaling. Together, they promote positive mood and healthy behavioral responses to food cravings. Since dopamine also supports alertness, DopaPlus additionally promotes mental sharpness and cognitive performance.‡
Serotonin is essential for emotional well-being, relaxation and the perception of satiety following a meal. Its synthesis begins with the amino acid l-tryptophan, which is converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) in a pathway that requires 5-MTHF, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.5,6 Once serotonin is generated, its function depends on healthy reuptake balance and activation of serotonin receptors.7 By providing serotonin precursors, cofactors and support for healthy reuptake balance and receptor function, SeroPlus promotes healthy satiety signals. Since serotonin also promotes relaxation, SeroPlus is preferable to DopaPlus in patients seeking support for occasional stress.‡
Building blocks from the diet
Since neurotransmitters are derived from dietary amino acids, adequacy of protein intake is a fundamental point of assessment. If dietary intake is sufficient, the efficiency of protein digestion remains an important consideration, as the release of amino acids requires adequate gastric hydrochloric acid (HCl) and digestive enzymes.5,8 Betaine HCl Pepsin provides both HCl and the enzyme pepsin to support amino acid bioavailability from dietary protein. Digestive Enzymes Ultra delivers a comprehensive spectrum of vegetarian digestive enzymes to maximize overall food nutrient bioavailability.‡
Modifying the diet to consist of whole, nutrient-dense foods will help deliver the essential precursors and cofactors required for many aspects of neurotransmission, thereby supporting a natural shift toward healthier eating behavior.5 As part of a comprehensive approach, the formulas mentioned in this article will deliver additional multifaceted support for critical neurotransmitter pathways, promoting healthy behavioral responses to food and overall emotional wellness.‡
- Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of Obesity in the United States, 2009–2010 NCHS Data Brief, No. 82, Jan 2012.
- Godfrey JR. Toward Optimal Health: The Experts Discuss Eating Disorders. J Women’s Health (2004) 13(6): 662-667.
- Bello NT, Hajnal A. Dopamine and binge eating behaviors. Pharmacol Biochem Behav (2010) 97(1):25-33.
- Capasso A, Petrella C, Milano W. Pharmacological profile of SSRIs and SNRIs in the treatment of eating disorders. Curr Clin Pharmacol (2010) 4(1):78-83.
- Fernstrom JD. Large neutral amino acids: dietary effects on brain neurochemistry and function. Amino Acids (2012) Jun 8.
- Kaplan, BJ, Crawford, et al. Vitamins, minerals, and mood. Psychological Bulletin (2007) 133(5), 747-760.
- Lakhan SE, Vieira KF. Nutritional therapies for mental disorders. Nutr J (2008) 21;7:2.
- Greenblatt JM. Answers to Anorexia: A Breakthrough Nutritional Treatment that is Saving Lives. (2010) Sunrise River Press, North Branch, MN, USA.