THE CORTISOL EQUATION:
LOW DOPAMINE = BIG BELLY FAT =
A HEAVY BURDEN TO CARRY FOR
BOTH BRAIN AND BODY
When you have a dopamine deficiency, the body naturally increases the production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the backup energy hormone; it provides us with additional power so the brain and body can continue to function without the right levels of dopamine.
Cortisol is also released when you are under stress, whether or not your dopamine is low. But, when you are stressed, you naturally burn more dopamine, which is why the cortisol is released.
While cortisol can be helpful, I call it the obesity hormone. Even though it effectively keeps your brain running, it does not improve your dopamine levels. It actually forces your metabolism to slow down, because when brain energy falters (low dopamine), the body is forced to send up to the brain its reserve units to pick up the slack, in the form of steroid hormones (cortisol) from the adrenal glands. The cortisol increases the effectiveness of catecholomines like adrenaline and creates the necessary energy, while conveying a feeling of happiness. However, this dopamine substitute is supposed to be a temporary safety mechanism.
When your brain is continually turning to cortisol for energy, it becomes a way of life. In the end, you get puffy, round-faced, blood pressure rises, your appetite increases, and you experience weight gain (especially around your midsection).
It has been linked as a direct cause of belly fat in both men and women: It causes fat to be deposited in the abdominal area where there are the most cortisol receptors. So if you’re a “high energy” individual but are stuck with an apple body shape, chances are your cortisol levels, instead of your dopamine, are supporting your body’s energy needs.
A big belly is also an indicator that you’re at high risk for metabolic syndrome, which from a brain chemistry perspective, is primarily a loss of metabolism: a low dopamine condition. When you see someone with a big belly, think of brain burnout. It is often accompanied by a poor attention span, poor sleep patterns and attention deficit problems.
Cortisol also boosts adrenaline, which can make you feel restless: When your adrenaline is pumping, you might be anxious during the day and not able to sleep at night. These two factors also contribute to weight gain. Anxiety tends to cause us to self-medicate with “comfort foods,” and a lack of sleep prevents your brain from resetting its other chemicals to the right levels.
Strategies for Increasing Dopamine:
- Eight or nine hours of restful sleep are crucial for weight loss because proper amounts of sleep increase your metabolism and lower cortisol levels.
- Try to get 15 minutes a day of quiet/rest — it can make a profound difference in diminishing stress.
- It can be difficult to reduce stress, but I’ve found that exercise is a great stress-reduction technique. It also helps to increase your levels of dopamine and increase your metabolism, giving you the extra energy you need to keep up with your busy life. Even 15 minutes a day can make a profound difference.
- Follow my Younger (Thinner) You Diet — especially adding quality, lean protein to your breakfast which is a precursor to dopamine.
- Get rid of sugary foods.
We at Path Medical can help you to re-balance your brain. Our exams include a full brain exam, because brainpower is the fire that keeps your mind alive, awake, alert and aware.
Eric Braverman MD is a Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brandeis University and NYU Medical School, did brain research at Harvard Medical School, and trained at an affiliate of Yale Medical School. Dr. Braverman is acknowledged worldwide as an expert in brain-based diagnosis and treatment, and he lectures to and trains doctors in anti-aging medicine.