Researchers from the Aalto University and University of Turku recently discovered how surgery for obesity, along with associated weight loss, could improve the brain’s opioid neurotransmission. The latter is involved with generating sensations of pleasure, thus the surgery could help normalize these neural circuits that stimulate feelings of pleasurable when one eats. This suggests a novel mechanism as to how obesity surgery could help with weight loss.
The Obesity Epidemic
Obesity is one the main health challenges that’s exists around the world today. It is also associated with increased risks of various medical complications, such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.
A lack of opioid receptors in the brain could be the reason obese individuals are predisposed to overeating, compensating for the reduced hedonic response in their system. In simpler terms, they need to eat more in order to gain satisfaction and pleasure. Professor Lauri Nummenmaa from Aalto University suggests that obesity surgery could recover this aspect in the brain.
What Obesity Surgery Does To The Brain
Researchers used Positron Emission Tomography scans (PET-Scans) to measure the availability of mu-opioid and type 2 dopamine receptors in obese and normal-weight individuals. The obese individuals then had bariatric surgery, and PET-scans of their brains were taken again.
The findings point towards an association between obesity and molecular changes at the neural level. It also highlights how weight loss affects appetite control via molecular mechanisms in the brain. The research was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Significance Of The Findings
Since the brain’s opioid system seems to recover after losing weight, it can be assumed that lower levels of their neurotransmission in obese individuals are because of weight gain. Hence, altered levels of neurotransmitters are not a cause, but a consequence of obesity.
These findings help understand the mechanisms behind appetite and weight loss, providing greater insight into pharmacological and behavioral treatment regimes.