Depression, Neurotransmitters & Obesity

The relationship between obesity and mental health is complex. There are several theories about how the two are linked. Some, suggest that obesity can lead to common mental health disorders, whilst others say that people with such disorders are more prone to obesity. I say, it all depends on the person and how the person handles a situation/ problem.

The brain uses a number of chemicals as messengers to communicate with other parts of itself and with the nervous system. These chemical messengers are called Neurotransmitters and are received or released by the brain’s nerve cells. Depression. has been linked to problems or imbalances in the brain with regard to the neurotransmitters: Serotonin, Noradrenaline and Dopamine.

Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known for its antidepressant properties. There are Serotonin receptors in the brain as well in the gut (intestines) and blood vessels. Several studies indicate that Serotonin can lower the appetite  and here is where Obesity and depression are linked. Drugs that enhance the brain’s release of Serotonin have shown to help people lose weight.

Dopamine: High levels of Dopamine are associated with increased anger and aggression, but when in balance, Dopamine gives a feeling of relaxation, happiness and pleasure. It is also known to prevent Sodium and water retention.

GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid): Is the anti-stress, anti-anxiety, anti-panic neurotransmitter. Low levels of GABA could affect sleep patterns causing anxiety and stress.

Noradreanline (Norepinephrine): Noradrenaline causes several changes in the body. It increases the amount of Oxygen going to the brain -this helps think faster and clearer. Noradrenaline (along with Dopamine), has come to be recognised as a major contributing factor in attention and focus and for lowering blood pressure. Attention, Noradrenaline is not Adrenaline. There is a major difference between these two. Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter that is produced naturally in the body and manufactured as a drug. Adrenaline, is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and stimulates the heart rate, dilates blood vessels, air passages and a number of other functions. It is naturally produced when the body is in high-stress or physical exhilarating situations. The term “Fight or Flight” is often used to characterise the circumstances under which Adrenaline is released into the body.

An imbalance of one or more of these neurotransmitters could be a contributing factor towards depression.

In terms of nutrition, it is important to examine whether physical activity is low if or a person has a poor diet in essential nutrients. High protein diet is always beneficial, but in this case, carbohydrates are essential as they help to move Tryptophan to the brain. Tryptophan is an amino acid and when in the body, is converted into Serotonin. Foods rich in Tryptophan: Turkey, Chicken, Egg whites, Pulses, Beef, Tuna and Soya products. Refined carbohydrates such as biscuits, pastry white bread etc, are not recommended. It is best to keep blood glucose stable with the help of protein and complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, wholemeal bread, legumes. Vitamin D is essential so a supplement of Vitamin D or a B Vitamin complex could often be recommended.

Giovanna De Angelis Terzaki