03 December 2008

Slimming: The psychiatric effect

Certain slimming diets depress important neurotransmitters and components in certain slimming pills have such drastic effects that they can change a person’s entire personality.

In a previous article, DietDoc considered the effects that psychiatric drugs (i.e. antidepressants, anxiolytics, lithium, MAO-inhibitors, anticonvulsants) can have on appetite, weight gain or loss, and food interactions.

One dietary aspect that can have a pronounced effect on mood and psychological reactions is slimming. Certain slimming diets depress important neurotransmitters and components in slimming pills have such drastic effects that they can change a person’s entire personality and doom users to addiction and drug abuse.

Slimming and neurotransmitters
The use of unbalanced or very-low-energy diets (‘starvation diets’) for the purpose of losing weight can cause deficiencies of all known nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, especially the essential omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and bioflavonoids).

All these nutrients play a role in keeping the brain and central nervous system (CNS) functioning properly. If you use a slimming diet that deprives the brain or CNS of nutrients, you should not be surprised if you suddenly feel nervous, anxious, irritable, depressed, moody, or weepy, and think that you are losing your grip on life and sanity.

Psychological reactions caused by diet-induced derangements in neurotransmitter levels are often the reason why people stop dieting when they are trying to lose weight. They feel so depressed or anxious that they cannot keep up with the drastic slimming regimen they have imposed upon themselves. When they stop dieting, they usually regain the weight they have lost, or their weight shoots up to an even higher level, which plunges them into even greater gloom.

The solution is to use a balanced slimming diet that still contains sufficient nutrients to keep your brain and CNS healthy, but promotes steady weight loss. Such diets should contain foods from all the food groups and not be so low in energy that your brain is starved of glucose. Combining a balanced slimming diet with regular exercise will ensure that you do lose weight, and keep depression and anxiety at bay.

Slimming pill ingredients
Certain slimming pill ingredients can have a devastating effect on your normal psychological functioning. Ingredients such as epinephrine and norpseudoepinephrine, which are chemicals that mimic the hormones excreted by the adrenal glands, are often used in slimming pills to depress appetite and increase energy output.

Fight or flee?
Over millions of years, the human body was designed to preserve itself in the face of danger. When faced with a threat, animals and humans are programmed to “Fight or Flee”. To achieve this, the adrenal gland contains two endocrine organs, the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex. The adrenal medulla secretes so-called catecholamines called epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine.

Norepinephrine and epinephrine cause the following physiological changes in the body:,/p>

  • increase the force and rate of contraction of the heart muscle which can cause erratic heartbeats (tachycardia and arrhythmias)
  • vasoconstriction to make more blood available to the muscles (increase in blood pressure which can cause hypertension)
  • channelling of blood supply away from the body surfaces and digestive tract, to the muscles so that the individual can ‘flee’ (pale appearance, loss of appetite, dry mouth, feelings of nausea, tremors, feeling cold and sweaty)

Under normal circumstance, these ‘fight or flee’ reactions are protective and enable the animal or human to stand up to, or escape, from danger. Such episodes also do not last long and are generally isolated occasions so that the body and nervous system can recover from the drastic effects of these hormones.

However, if you take slimming pills that contain derivatives of the adrenal hormones such as norpseudoepinephrine (a common ingredient in many slimming pills) or synephrine (a herbal form of epinephrine) for weeks and months and even years on end, your body and nervous system never get the chance to relax and recover from the ‘fight or flee’ response.

Side effects
MIMS lists the following side effects for a typical appetite suppressant that contains norepinephrine or norpseudoepinephrine. Note that some of these are CNS reactions:

  • suppressed appetite, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, thirst
  • hypertension
  • rapid, irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrhythmias, palpitations and even heart arrest
  • fear, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia
  • dizziness, faintness, flushing, tremor and muscle weakness
  • headache, irritability
  • changes in glucose metabolism
  • psychotic states

Remember that slimming products that contain citrus aurantium or bitter orange (citrus) extract contain synephrine, which can produce all the symptoms listed above. Taking a herbal slimming product because you think it is ‘safe and natural’ can be just as much of a mind-altering experience as taking a pharmaceutical appetite suppressant.

Danger of addiction
Appetite suppressants containing norepinephrine or norpseudoepinephrine or synephrine can also become addictive. These chemicals give you a ‘high’ and make you feel more energetic (‘flee’ reaction), so you can easily become hooked on such pills and develop a full-blown addiction.

One other disadvantage of appetite suppressants is that their effect wears off over time, so that you may need more and more pills to achieve that ‘high’ and before you know, you are hooked and abusing slimming pills.

For the sake of your overall health and the health of your brain and nervous system, be sensible and don’t take appetite suppressants to lose weight. Don’t think ‘I’ll never get addicted. I’ll just use these pills for a short while until I have lost weight.’ Rather leave such pills alone and lose weight with a balanced, moderately energy-reduced diet and exercise. – (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc


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