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July 18, 2012

Hormones Control Appetite and Weight

hormones control appetite

Hormones Control Appetite

Hormones control appetite. That fact is frequently overlooked when discussing weight loss. Maybe the biggest stumbling block to weight loss is controlling appetite. Controlling appetite gets to the heart of willpower. But, despite our best intentions, most of us cave when our stomach tells our brain that we should eat.

All the factors that control appetite are not yet known and how they all interact is still a mystery.

Here’s a list of some of the hormones that control and regulate appetite, and therefore our weight.

  • Melatonin
  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine
  • Acetylcholine
  • GABA
  • Leptin
  • Ghrelin
  • Vitamin D3

Many of these are neurotransmitters.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and sometimes called the “happy hormone”, but most of it is produced in the gastrointestinal tract.  That’s one reason any digestive disorder can affect appetite. When serotonin is low our cravings for sugars and carbohydrates intensifies. Carbohydrates stimulate the production of serotonin.

Most of today’s antidepressants increase serotonin levels and are known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. Serotonin levels can be increased by either taking tryptophan or 5-HTP which are precursors to serotonin production. Increasing intake of protein is another great way to produce this happy hormone.

Melatonin regulates sleep and our circadian rhythms.  So when its low our body’s internal clock malfunctions. We tend to overeat when we don’t sleep well. Melatonin is made from serotonin. Melatonin levels tend to be higher in the winter months and serotonin levels tend to be lower leading to seasonal affective disorder.

Melatonin stimulates the release of growth hormone, which we learned in a previous post maintains lean body mass and minimizes fat gain.  Melatonin also counteracts the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone.  Cortisol for many leads to fat gain, though in some it leads weight loss through the catabolism of muscle.  Either one leads to unhealthy weight control.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and is known as the “pleasure hormone” as it is released during sex, eating, enjoyable activities (dancing), and is released in response to some recreational drugs playing a role in drug addiction disorders. But, some foods can be addictive, too by virtue of their ability to raise dopamine.  Drugs like Wellbutrin and Zyban raise dopamine levels and can assist with weight loss.

Acetylcholine and GABA are two other neurotransmitters that affect appetite.  Acetylcholine is the main muscle neurotransmitter including the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.  Adequate levels are needed for muscle function. Acetylcholine also enhances growth hormone production and therefore affects body composition.

GABA is the “calming hormone” and affects appetite indirectly by reducing stress and improving sleep.  We tend to overeat following a poor night’s sleep. Progesterone stimulates GABA, one reason why progesterone has a calming effect on women, and is called the “feel good hormone of pregnancy”.

Leptin is released from our fat cells and tells the brain that we our full following eating, if everything is working right.  The problem is we can develop a resistance to leptin just like we do with insulin leading us to overeat.  Leptin levels drop during poor sleep increasing our desire to eat following a poor night of sleep.

Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and when we are satisfied from eating sends a signal to the appetite center in the hypothalamus in the brain.  When the stomach is empty ghrelin is released signalling the appetite center it’s time to eat. And, when the stomach is full ghrelin release decreases, thus decreasing the desire to eat.

Leptin and ghrelin are yin and yang with their effects on the appetite center.

Vitamin D3 is really a hormone. Vitamin D3 enhances serotonin release and enhances insulin sensitivity both contributing to appetite control and fat loss.

Hormones control appetite. If you cannot control your eating then you most likely have an imbalance in these hormones.

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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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