Dopamine (DA) is a neurotransmitter renowned for its association with happiness. For years science has understood its role in sending mood altering messages between cells in the brain. Research has found, however, that this thing keeping us happy may be responsible for much more - it may be keeping us slim.
Studies have shown that a deficit of dopamine receptors in the brain leads to an elevated risk of not only addiction disorders and depression, but also overeating and obesity. When dopamine levels drop, the pounds pile on.
The logic behind it is simple:
- Addictive substances, such alcohol and drugs, create their euphoric sensations by spiking dopamine levels in the brain. Palatable foods do the same.
- People with insufficient DA receptors may turn to these tasty, DA boosting foods as a form of self-medication.
- Due to their reduced capacity for pleasure, such individuals are unable to feel satisfied after appropriate amounts of food. This causes them to eat in excess, often leading to weight gain.
In other words, an underperforming reward system may heighten a person’s risk of obesity by inducing compensatory overeating of foods rich in fat and sugar.
But why do some people have fewer functioning dopamine receptors than others? Genetics, of course!
Let’s zoom in on DRD2 - the gene that regulates the expression of D2 dopamine receptors.
Gene in Focus: DRD2
There are two well-studied versions of DRD2 associated with addictive behavior. Carriers of the T allele (TT and genotype) display significantly reduced brain dopamine functioning due to a 30-40% decrease in D2 receptors in key brain regions.
Therefore, if you happen to carry a T allele, you may be at higher risk of faulty eating behaviors.
T allele carriers often have to over-ingest to reach the same level of satisfaction someone with the CC genotype would attain after consuming a normal quantity of food. They are more likely to use food as motivation, and are more prone to emotional eating.
Want to know if your genes are a part of the reason you aren’t losing weight? Take our AGS Premium Health & Wellness Genetic Test to gain insight into your unique genetic makeup (Premium test only). Your test report provides your specific genotype for the DRD2 gene along with tips and suggestions on how to adjust your behavior to compensate for outcome. Learn your genotype for DRD2 along with 60 other genes directly related to overall health. Armed with actionable data, you can start on the path to become a healthier you.