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Understanding Your Reward System

By Lucy Rose Clinic

September 3, 2020

We help so many people succeed with their weight loss goals. 

Many times the reason the weight gain started was because of a sluggish thyroid, but it can also coincide with a psychological condition called reward deficiency syndrome (RDS) or low dopamine production.

Let’s look at what the symptoms are, and how functional medicine can help.

Which do you relate to more?

Type 1 – Worrier

  • I struggle with high-pressure exams or interviews.
  • I have a good memory and am creative.
  • I am good with complex problem-solving tasks, but shut down to high-pressure situations.
  • I get anxiety, depression, or overwhelm quite easily when under stress.

Type 2 – Warrior

  • I need deadlines and steady pressure in order to be productive. I work better under pressure.
  • Coffee wakes me up, and I tolerate it well.
  • When I do vigorous exercise I feel enlivened.
  • I am not overly emotional.

Type 1 describes someone with a possible COMT gene variation. This defect can affect the breakdown of dopamine and stress hormones by 40% slower than someone without that gene defect. You can be a bit of both as well. It goes to show that a type 1 stress response is going to be very different based on this genetic factor.

What is COMT?

COMT (Catechol-O-Methyltransferase) breaks down estrogen, catecholamines and neurotransmitters including dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine.

The main area in the body this is happening is in the prefrontal cortex (front area of our brain), but other tissues, including the liver, kidneys, and blood, produce a shorter form of the enzyme called soluble catechol-O-methyltransferase (S-COMT). This form of the enzyme helps control the levels of certain hormones.

What does this have to do with weight loss?

I have mentioned this today because many people with a weight issue also have a dopamine issue due to the COMPT gene.

If your dopamine is low, then so is your adrenaline and energy. Plus you have very low feelings of satisfaction and motivation. You may find that you don’t get excited by things, there is no feeling of anticipation, and this can lead to feelings of anxiety, anger, and craving for a certain substance to help alleviate negative emotions.

One way to feel some type of dopamine boost is by eating. And for some gene types, addictive, compulsive, and impulsive behaviors easily set in.

So how can we remodel an out of control reward system?

We need to see why the dopamine reward system is not working – then we can reclaim balance so food isn’t the only reward in our life!

Some examples of stressors that cause this are:

  • work or relationship stress
  • shift work
  • depression
  • stressful life event – such as divorce, violence, job loss, injury, death of spouse or family

If you have had any of these stress events and are living with any suboptimal health situation and weight gain, then looking at your neurotransmitter balance, nutritional status, and other hormone systems is needed to help you get back your healthy and vitality.

Depending on your particular health situation, natural medicine has some powerful options to correct your neurotransmitters. This will generally include nutritional therapy – because nutrients are the ingredients that your genes need to build hormones and neurotransmitters. When our nutrient levels drop, so do these functions. We also will recommend herbs which are scientifically proven to remodel the dopaminergic reward system depending on if you need more or less production. Then to tie it all together, specific diet recommendations based on your pathology will reduce inflammation in the body, support digestion, and improve your microbiome.

Rekindle your dopamine production! Feel free to book a call with one of our naturopaths to discuss your health!

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