Obesity and the Brain
The number of Americans suffering from the disease of morbid obesity is growing at an alarming rate. While bariatric surgery is the most effective treatment for morbid obesity, there are some patients who are much more successful at losing weight and maintaining weight loss than others.
Scientists do not believe that this is solely related to the type of surgery performed. Many believe that there are genetic components, as well as neurochemical factors that help determine a patient’s ultimate success.
A recent article in the Bariatric Times cites a study that was done on the neurotransmitter, dopamine, and it’s relation to the bariatric surgery population.
Dopamine is sometimes called the “pleasure molecule” It is the primary regulator of eating behavior and is released in response to appropriate and excessive eating.
A study done in 2001 showed that some patients with obesity had reduced dopamine receptor availability when compared to the control group. There are two theories to explain this. One is that patients with obesity are born with a deficiency in receptors. The other theory is that the receptor activity is initially normal but down-regulates due to over stimulation.
To sum this up in more layman’s terms, if an individual carries a reduced sensitivity to dopamine, he may require excessive reward stimulation just to feel normal. For some people, this may take on the form of overeating, while others may have a tendency towards compulsive gambling, shopping or drugs and alcohol.
This subject is complex, and much more research needs to be done, however, this is one theory why 30% of patients experience significant weight regain after initial success with surgery.