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Serotonin, hunger and overeating

Are you still hungry after eating? The feeling of satiety (fullness), in part, come only from a "full" stomach. If someone eats to the point of "Thanksgiving stuffed", they have already overeaten and that discomfort of an extended stomach can trigger us to stop eating. A full stomach however, is not the only trigger contributing factor to feeling full. Conversely, an empty stomach is not the only trigger that drive us to eat.

Our brain is the command center for regulating our appetite which includes a complex dance between hormones, neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and macronutrients.
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

As discussed in a previous Examiner article, our brain is the command center for regulating our appetite which includes a complex dance between hormones, neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Our bodies are designed to maintain a balance between our needs for energy derived from foods and our intake of the food.

Hunger, fullness and the desire to start and stop eating is a complicated process controlled by this delicate balance and other body chemistry. A disruption of this chemistry can result it a disruption of the homeostasis within the body. This can lead to changes in mood that can result in emotional eating, sleep pattern changes, inability to handle stress, cravings, overeating with resulting weight gain and illness. The majority of this chemistry is controlled by the primary brain in the skull and the secondary brain in the gut ... yes we do have a brain in the gut. In fact about 95% of all of our neurotransmitter serotonin receptors are in out gut.

Serotonin, is a chemical produced by the body that enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with one another. Serotonin, the so-called inhibitory neurotransmitter, balances any excessive stimulating neurotransmitters like dopamine firing in the brain. It is the key brain chemical that generates feelings of optimism and relaxation. When serotonin levels in the brain are functioning properly, you will feel positive, happy and confident, and tend to be more flexible, and easy-going ... we are in a good mood. A deficiency of serotonin interferes with its ability to regulate, which in turn can lead to symptoms of irritability negativity, obsessive behavior (like overeating or stress eating), food cravings, and excessive worrying, sleepless or depressed. According to one source some of the key reasons for deficiencies include:

  • Lack of sufficient sleep which in turn can disrupt cortosol and our energy controlling hormone leptin, leading to overeating and weight gain.
  • Not managing our stress levels which can lead to stress related eating.
  • Lack of exercise/physical activity which can lead to weight gain.
  • Insufficient exposure to sunlight
  • Consuming pesticide-laden meat and produce
  • Insufficient consumption of high-protein non-processed food
  • Consuming too much caffeine and alcohol
  • Food allergies
  • Multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Omega-3 deficiency
  • Insulin resistance which can lead to pre-diabetes and diabetes
  • Chronic infections

Genes, chronic disease states and disruptions in the chemistry of the other hormones and neurotransmitters can result it a disruption of the homeostasis within the body including serotonin production and how the body processes serotonin.

The work of Julia Ross, author of The Mood Cure, points to specific associated characteristics that can be assessed to determine if you have a serotonin deficiency.

Some of the indicators associated with a serotonin deficiency include:

  • Craving sweets and starches
  • Insomnia
  • Negative self talk and low self esteem
  • Depression
  • Pessimistic, gloomy, distrustful, and cynical nature
  • Phobias, being apprehensive, excessive worrying or panic attacks
  • Associated medical condition such as Fibromyalgia, TMJ, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, or asthma.
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • In extreme cases, thoughts of suicide

The following actions may contribute to improved serotonin levels:

  • Adequate sleep
  • Managing stress
  • Adequate exercise/physical activity.
  • Sufficient but not excessive exposure to sunlight
  • Consume organic foods
  • Reduction in the consumption of processed foods
  • Adequate consumption of high-protein foods
  • Reduction or elimination of caffeinated beverages/foods.
  • Elimination of alcohol containing beverages.
  • Adequate intake of Omega3 fatty acids
  • Adequate intake of vitamin and mineral rich foods

This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical/nutritional/fitness advice. Information presented is subject to change as additional discoveries are made or additional research is published.

Additional information: Take the mood type self-exam by Julia Ross.


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