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The Brain’s Protein Reward System

Posted by Dr. Robert Portman on 6/16/2022 to Performance Tip Of The Week
The Brain’s Protein Reward System


There are specific reward centers of your brain responsible for food cravings. Dopamine is the brain chemical associated with reward. For example when you eat chocolate, dopamine is released and you feel rewarded. This same mechanism has been shown to influence food cravings for fat rich and high sugar foods. Scientists have now identified, for the first time, that within the same reward center of the brain are mechanisms that increase our cravings for protein.  

 

Researchers discovered that animals on a low protein diet had increased activity in the specific area of the brain called the VGA. From an evolutionary standpoint, a protein regulating mechanism makes sense since a low protein diet can have severe consequences in terms of muscle development. Researchers discovered the protein-seeking response by switching laboratory animals from a normal to a low protein diet. They saw a large increase in brain activity within the VGA region and the response was quite rapid.

 

This latest finding again shows how sophisticated our food-seeking and reward mechanisms are. For the most part since the western meat based diet is quite high in protein, this evolutionary mechanism probably doesn’t get as much of a workout as those involving fat and sugar.


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