A Moment of Science

Food And Mood

Why do some doctors give antidepressants, but not diet pills, to overweight patients?

A yummy chocolate cake

Photo: 427 (flickr)

This cake may look delicious but it's loaded with carbohydrates. Doctors are starting to prescribe antidepressants to people who crave carbohydrates and have a hard time losing weight.

When we think about a pill that helps an overweight person take off the pounds, we usually think of an appetite suppressant.

But suppressing your appetite will only help you lose weight if the reason you eat is because you are hungry.  Some people eat because they are depressed rather than because they’re hungry.

When these people want to lose weight, doctors may prescribe, not traditional diet pills, but antidepressants.

High-Calorie Carbohydrates

These antidepressants have helped many overweight people stop craving high-calorie carbohydrates.  Depressed people often crave carbohydrates because eating carbohydrate-rich food lifts their mood.  As a side effect, they gain weight.

Neurotransmitters

Though scientists are not exactly sure how carbohydrate intake influences mood, they do know that it has to do with the chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that allow two areas of the brain to communicate: the area responsible for appetite and the area responsible for mood.

More specifically, an intake of carbohydrates increases the levels of the neurotransmitter responsible for mood, called serotonin.  Though only a small percentage of the brain’s neurotransmitters are made up of serotonin, if this small amount is even minutely tinkered with, a patient can experience fairly drastic mood shifts.

Stopping The Craving

A patient taking antidepressants may stop craving carbohydrates because these drugs function like carbohydrates. They alter the serotonin that communicates messages between the mood and appetite centers of the brain.  Once an antidepressant drug begins to work, the abnormal craving for carbohydrates is interrupted and the patient can start losing weight.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science