Brain-Powered Weight Loss
Nutritional support can make it easier to maintain your pound-shedding
motivation by unlocking the door to your brain’s reward center.
By Karen Tenelli
Matt Teller of Telford, Pennsylvania, knew that he had to lose some of his 261 pounds—but it wasn’t easy.
“I tried to go to a gym five days a week. I tried not to overeat,” says the 56-year-old corporate controller for Godshall’s Quality Meats in nearby Harleysville. “But I was making some wrong choices. I was eating too many sweets, and I was probably eating bigger portions than I needed to.”
A lot of people have been in Teller’s shoes, trying to drop extra pounds but finding it nearly impossible despite their best intentions. And if they do manage to lose weight it often slowly creeps back on as they have one “cheat day,” and another, and another. This phenomenon is known as “rebound” weight gain, in which people gain more pounds than they originally lost.
The problem is that dieters are fighting two genetic mandates: to survive and to find pleasure and reward while doing so. They are also fighting history; people faced calorie shortages much more often than calorie overloads until the middle of the 20th century. As a result anything the body sees as a survival threat causes a defensive response: Energy is conserved by lowering the basal metabolic rate (energy the body expends at rest) while dialing up fat storage. At the same time energy intake is increased through cravings for high-calorie foods.
In trying to lose weight dieters are actually battling their own brains and bodies. Guess who wins.
What’s more, the body can’t conserve and expend energy simultaneously. Body cells, generally those in the muscles, must be able to produce energy before fat cells will be allowed to release stored energy in the form of excess fat. Keeping that fat off is crucial. Otherwise pounds shed six months ago come back, and bring five or 10 of their friends along with them.
Researchers now realize that the secret to sustained weight loss lies in helping the brain override its default setting—conserving and even increasing energy stores in the face of possible shortages—by providing better control over metabolism, energy management, cravings, the interplay between hormones and the nervous system, and immune response. These factors are controlled by the brain reward cascade (BRC), a sequence of brain events that leads to feelings of satiety, satisfaction and pleasure when it works correctly. When the BRC goes out of kilter, though, the brain desperately seeks fulfillment in all the wrong things: Drug-taking and excessive alcohol usage, out-of-control gambling, smoking, inappropriate sexual behavior—or cravings for sugary, starchy, greasy foods.
Society generally views such cravings as a matter of individual weakness. However, researchers are starting to see a lack of willpower in terms of brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, gone awry. Teller has been helped by Synaptose, a unique amino acid-based formulation (known among researchers as KB220Z neuroadaptagen complex) that bolsters motivation by supporting proper neurotransmitter function.
The Craving Brain
The BRC involves a number of neurotransmitters that interact in a waterfall-like effect to produce a sense of contentment and satisfaction, a state scientists refer to as reward. The neurotransmitter produced at the end of this cascade is dopamine, the key to reward. Dopamine has been shown to control cravings and influence energy production.
Without dopamine the brain cannot be satisfied by the things that normally make people happy, such as a good meal or an occasional drink. Instead, dopamine deficiency leaves the brain frustrated, anxious and vulnerable to cravings for drugs, tobacco, a bottle of wine instead of a single glass or a pint of ice cream instead of a single scoop—all in an effort to satisfy an urge that can never be satiated, like a lamp with a broken switch that cannot be turned on. This condition is called reward deficiency syndrome.
Not surprisingly, links have been found between overeating and other addictive behaviors. For example, women in one study whose parents or siblings had alcohol problems were 49% more likely to be obese (Archives of General Psychiatry 12/10).
“Dopamine deficiency is the result of a combination of not enough good lifestyle choices and too many bad ones, stressful challenges, which contribute to poor lifestyle choices, and genetic predispositions,” says Kenneth Blum, PhD, professor in the department of psychiatry and the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
According to Blum, someone can experience nutritional deficiencies that limit the body’s ability to either synthesize enough dopamine or form dopamine receptors, the part of the brain cell that dopamine latches onto. What’s more, at least 30% of the population has genetic variants that can also reduce the number of dopamine receptors. When this happens, “there will be a genetically predisposed condition of dopamine resistance [an inability to use dopamine properly], prompting a need to stimulate more dopamine production through excessive behaviors,” says Blum.
As with people who drink too much, people who eat too much tend to get less satisfaction from food—and make up for it by eating more. In a study conducted by Blum and his colleagues, the brains of people who overeat were found to be less sensitive than normal to dopamine (The Journal of Neuroscience 9/10). Food cravings have also been associated with reduced energy expenditure and higher levels of body fat (Journal of Addiction Medicine 3/09).
In working with alcohol and drug addicts, Blum realized proper nutrition could help stop their cravings by supporting proper production of, and response to, dopamine—an idea that naturally carried over to people who couldn’t stop eating unhealthy foods.
What’s more, genetic predisposition did not have to sentence someone to a life of excessive eating. “Keep in mind that while we can’t change a person’s genes, we can optimize and transform gene expression [how genes play out in one’s life] with specific nutraceuticals,” Blum notes.
The nutrient combination Blum developed, Synaptose, has been shown to help reduce cravings and improve energy by balancing the brain and supporting better brain function (Medical Hypotheses 9/09, Advances in Therapy 9/08 and 3/09). Synaptose “addresses all three factors for optimal health: lifestyle, stress and genetics. We have shown this approach to be effective in, up to now, 26 clinical trials,” says Blum.
Synaptose contains the following ingredients:
• DL-phenylalanine (DLPA), L-tyrosine, L-glutamine and 5-HTP—These amino acids play vital roles
in maintaining proper neurotransmitter levels and have been found to help improve mood and ease stress.
(L-glutamine is also crucial to good intestinal health; see Supplement Savvy.)
• Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata) and Rhodiola (R. rosea)—Passion flower, native to the Americas, helps ease anxiety, insomnia and pain. The Siberian herb rhodiola promotes enhanced physical endurance and mental function, especially under stressful conditions.
• Vitamins B1 (Thiamine) and B6 (Pyridoxine)—Vitamin B1 is required for healthy nerve function and the creation of ATP, the main form of cellular fuel; deficiency has been linked to dementia. Vitamin B6 helps control amino acid processing and is needed for neurotransmitter creation.
• Chromium—This trace mineral helps the body maintain healthy blood sugar levels by enabling insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar, to do its job. In one study, mice whose BRCs could not properly respond to insulin ate excessively and became obese (Cell Metabolism 6/11).
• Metallosaccharide Complex—Molecules involved in energy management, stress reduction, neuroendocrine function, weight management and overall health and vitality.
As important as these nutrients and herbs are individually, it is their combination in precise ratios and dosages that allow them to help reset a malfunctioning BRC. Blum and his colleagues performed a number of studies before discovering the proper nutrient blend as found in Synaptose.
In one of those trials, this supplement was able to regulate electrical activity in the brains of drug abusers (Postgraduate Medicine 11/10).
Synaptose has helped Teller cut his food cravings. “I don’t have any desire to eat any sweets anymore. I feel like I have a lot more energy,” he says. “I can see that I have lost several inches off my belt size and my clothes fit much better.” As the result of a gym buddy’s challenge for Teller to change his dietary ways, he has cut out all sweets, reduced his portions and increased his intake of fresh produce and lean meat.
Today Teller weighs 238 pounds, 25 pounds down from his high weight, an achievement he told the world about through Facebook. He says Synaptose “has made me feel younger. I have to be disciplined, but I feel like something is helping me be disciplined. It helps me stick with it and not have any urges to deviate.”
Like Teller, people who try to improve their dietary and lifestyle habits aren’t trying to fail; they just need some assistance. Synaptose can help by boosting willpower to make healthy habits stick for good—and to make carbohydrate cravings a thing of the past.