People eat too much in anticipation of a dopamine release
New research from the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research has revealed new details about how eating delicious food triggers a rewarding boost of dopamine in the brain. The experts discovered that dopamine is actually released at two different times – when food is first ingested and again when it reaches the stomach.
Study senior author Marc Tittgemeyer is the head of the Institute’s Translational Neurocircuitry Group.
“With the help of a new positron emission tomography (PET) technique we developed, we were not only able to find the two peaks of dopamine release, but we could also identify the specific brain regions that were associated with these releases,” said Tittgemeyer.
“While the first release occurred in brain regions associated with reward and sensory perception, the post-ingestive release involved additional regions related to higher cognitive functions.”
The investigation was focused on 12 healthy participants who received either a milkshake or a tasteless solution while their brain activity was recorded. The craving or desire for the milkshake was proportionally linked to the amount of dopamine released in specific brain areas at the first tasting. However, the higher the craving, the lower the level of dopamine released after the food reached the stomach.
“On one hand, dopamine release mirrors our subjective desire to consume a food item. On the other hand, our desire seems to suppress gut-induced dopamine release,” said study co- first author Heiko Backes.
The suppression of the gut-induced dopamine release could cause individuals to overeat the foods that they crave the most. While the theory requires further testing, Backes believes it is possible that people continue to eat until sufficient dopamine is released. This research provides the very first evidence of gut-induced dopamine release humans.
The study is published in the journal Cell Metabolism.