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Neuro Chemical Diet Warfare: Is Fat Loss Pharmacology In Your Head?

Today I will be talking about improving your chances of diet success by balancing your mindspace through the use of Neuro Chemical Diet Warfare. Get the scoop on what controls appetite and the stacks that go with them.

Over the years, I've probably been asked more about getting ripped than about any other fitness-related topic related. I'm totally cool with that because my focus has always been on the cosmetic aspects of nutrition and exercise.

While some may balk at the idea of cosmetic fitness, it is my view that people are more likely to put forth the effort it takes to get the health benefits associated with fitness, if they are doing it the name of vanity.

Arguably, improving your appearance seems to have more immediate "benefits" than for example, promoting heart health, making it a much more motivating pursuit. Ironically, what it takes to improve cosmetic fitness in fact delivers superior health benefits, but that's another article all together.

Needless to say, the topic of getting ripped is an area that really intrigues me, and I've got more than a few theories that I'd like to elaborate on. But beforehand, we all need to get on the same page and understand that if you wanna get ripped — if you really want to get lean — there is no such thing as a free ride.

Next, let's agree that any serious "cutting regimen" includes an eating strategy based on some type of macronutrient control and manipulation. The wide range of eating strategies includes everything from protein/carb cycling to simple calorie control, but for the sake of this conversation it doesn't matter.

Now, if you're still with me, understand this: I believe that no matter what "diet" you're on, going beyond your previous best "muscle to fat" ratio will eventually come down to a game of mental Russian roulette.

That's right. Think about it! When you attempt to go beyond your normal limits in any endeavor the mind calls the shots. Those who've been there know what I mean. Like Christopher Walken's character in the Deer Hunter, you take your diet to the point where each day, you roll the cylinder and see if you can escape the bullet in the chamber that will be your mental breaking point.

Don't be confused; I'm not talking about a breakdown of mental motivation, that's another discussion. I'm talking about improving your chances of diet success by tweaking the balance of your "mindspace" through the use of what I like to call "Neuro Chemical Diet Warfare."

Engineering Irrational Minds To Prevail

I could be way off, but my opinion is that concentrations of neuro chemicals that can benefit dieters are scarcer, or simply less affective when the body is deprived. My reasoning? Well, it seems when deprived, the mind automatically obsesses on the exact thing you're being deprived of - even if the obsession is irrational.

For example, I remember during those last weeks of contest dieting, the mere thought of being "allowed" to eat anything "extra" was always top of mind. I'd often say to myself; "Maybe I screwed up my food journal and can eat another meal." Knowing full well that my food journal was always followed to the letter — to the last morsel. So why would I begin this debate with myself? Sound familiar?

Vince Andrich

Author, Vince Andrich.

I know it has been written about many times before, but it's worth mentioning again; dietary restrictions kick in untold years of programming that tells your brain that "you're starving." So even if you really aren't starving — even if you have plentiful food within your reach — your mind becomes irrationally obsessed with eating.

Quite possibly our starvation radar goes off even sooner when we are simply attempting to go below a certain level of body fat, often called the "set point." This effect is most pronounced and extremely exaggerated when restricting water, say for a bodybuilding contest or making a weight class.

All you can think about is liquids, or something wetter than your dry like the Sahara desert mouth! Seriously, until you REALLY restrict water intake you just don't know how good a thimble of water or ice cube sounds. These thoughts take precedence over everything.

No doubt food (and more so, water) top the charts for survival and so getting an extra edge in this arena will be tough, but certainly worthwhile. IMO, this survival or pleasure mechanism can be overridden. Why?

Because it happens naturally in everyday life, and is most easily seen when a person either falls in love or they have issues with their love interest such as the possible break-up of a marriage/relationship. Simply stated, the desire for food has been known to significantly change whenever a person experiences something very pleasant or unpleasant.

These are just a few of the reasons I believe tweaking your supply and balance of serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine is seriously a BIG DEAL when it comes to fat loss. No matter how experienced you are as a dieter, understanding the power of these neurochemicals holds the key to suspending or minimizing those unforgettable feeding signals that are hardwired into our biology.

Talking Points, Theories & Situation Analysis

The talking points set out below outline a possible prototype for future neurochemical diet strategies. Take these points for what they are; theories, but they are theories with the added insight of what really goes on inside the mind of a serious dieter.

Some experts in the applicable fields will probably cringe, at least in places, because inevitably, some of my pop neuroscience is simplistic to the point of perversion. But I am not here to talk about mental illness; but I do want to give YOU a mental advantage so you can lose more fat with less pain and suffering.

So that's all the apologies I'll make. I feel the subject matter is relevant and in the near future will be key a factor in any high level athlete or serious dieter's fat loss plan. It is almost insane NOT to realize, quite intuitively that is, that the mind is the ultimate decision maker and all diets succeed or fail because of these decisions.

Willpower & Anti-Food Psychotropics ///

There is a whole host of psychotropic players that can affect food intake, but for the most part your brain levels of two key neurochemicals — serotonin and dopamine — seem to be most notable. The problem is that when it comes to making neurochemical connections to food intake, not everyone has the same wiring, and thus, there is not one off-the-shelf solution.

Take serotonin for example; this neurochemical has been linked to carbohydrate cravings and is, in fact, released in response to eating carbohydrates. This is why dieters who want to naturally increase their brain levels of serotonin often take the supplement 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin.

The simple reasoning for increasing serotonin in the brain would be to reduce or delay your carbohydrate cravings. Put another way, your mind knows that eating carbs will eventually lead to the release of serotonin, but if brain levels are "artificially" adequate (through supplementation) your cravings might be minimized. On the surface this seems to be a great idea for low-carb dieters or those with heavy carb cravings.

Too bad it's not that simple.

Serotonin Drugs ///

Let's take a look at some popular drugs that work on serotonin. It is well established that many people who use Prozac®, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), eat less and therefore can lose weight (although in some cases weight gain does occur).

In contrast, Paxil®, another brand name SSRI, lists weight GAIN, not LOSS, as a side effect. In fact, I've spoke to many people who use Paxil and swear it is the cause of their weight gain.

Now, it can be argued that the two SSRI compounds listed above are similar, but not exactly the same. However, it would seem that inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin would result in many of the same side effects or benefits. But it doesn't always work that way. Something else must be going on.

Prozac ///

    The answer may be found in a study comparing the effects of fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft®), citalopram (Celexa) and fluvoxamine (Luvox®) on extracellular concentrations of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

    In this study, only fluoxetine (Prozac) showed robust and sustained increases in extracellular concentrations of norepinephrine and dopamine after acute systemic administration. This simple difference might explain why Prozac could be a better drug for dieters. Of course this study doesn't take into consideration what happens when you're faced with dietary "restrictions."

    Keep that thought...

Dopamine ///

    On the flip side, dopamine, a naturally produced neurochemical, functions as a neurotransmitter that activates dopamine receptors. Dopamine is also a neuro-hormone released by the hypothalamus.

    Dopamine is a precursor to epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and is part of the catecholamine family, which plays a key role in releasing energy from fat and inhibiting fat storage. So, maybe we should just find a way to crank up the dopamine, right?

    Well, take a look at this...

    Bupropion ///

      One drug affects dopamine and in my opinion, deserves much attention when it comes to dieting. The drug is Bupropion (amfebutamone), which is better known by the brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban. I'm fascinated because the chemical is both a dopamine reuptake inhibitor and a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.

      Also, Bupropion has only a small effect on serotonin reuptake. Not surprisingly it is similar in structure to the stimulant cathinone, and to phenethylamines in general. It is a chemical derivative of diethylpropion, an amphetamine-like substance that is prescribed as an appetite suppressant. Pretty, cool so far, right?

      For an athlete looking to get ultra ripped however, we want a reduction in appetite, not an amphetamine induced condition that will grind up our mind and muscle and spit it out. You see if you flip the dopamine switch on high and break off the knob, you'll be headed for a downhill spiral.

      This is because the closer you chemically get to amphetamines such as methamphetamines or cocaine, you beat on your dopamine system to the point where the desired signal is always ON and the neurotransmitters are not recycled. The net result is that dopamine gets severely depleted and the user becomes mentally addicted and in no condition to positively alter body composition.

      The good news is that when dopamine rises to higher ranges in an intermittent fashion, our body handles the increase by engaging dopamine transporters (DAT's) to remove excess dopamine from the receptor, effectively ending the signaling of the neurotransmitter and recycling the transmitter.

      So a transitory boost in dopamine levels when food cravings are imminent could be a very useful appetite suppressor. For sure it seems any positive neurochemical diet protocol would require the availability and proper recycling of serotonin and dopamine.

    Vince Andrich calves and hammies

    Author, Vince Andrich.

    Smoking ///

      Coincidently, Bupropion is also used to for smoking cessation, and since people who quit smoking seem to gain weight, there must be another food connection. So what's the big deal with smoking?

      In a word; Nicotine

      Smoking is really a dirty and toxic delivery system for nicotine — the chemical that is linked to the pleasure and addicting qualities of cigarettes. Scientists have long known that nicotine, like other addictive drugs, attaches to the core neurons of the brain's reward system, where beneficial behaviors (such as drinking water when thirsty) are rewarded and reinforced.

      These reward-system neurons, called dopaminergic neurons, trigger the release of dopamine. Nicotine also acts on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. In small concentrations it increases the activity of these receptors, among other things, leading to an increased flow of adrenaline, a stimulating hormone.

      The release of adrenaline causes an increase in respiration, as well as higher glucose levels in the blood. Dumping extra glucose in the blood may be one reason why cigarette smokers eat more in an attempt to quit. The reduction in adrenaline and, in turn, blood glucose, perhaps signals the brain to eat more to bring glucose levels back to previous levels.

      However, it appears that the combination of increased dopamine release and decreased inhibitory GABA response results in an amplification of the rewarding properties of nicotine. This is very complex stuff but for our theoretical discussion here, inhibiting GABA, which has a sedative effect, seems to allow the excitatory effects of dopamine to maintain dominance.

      From a feeding standpoint this makes sense because an increased brain level of GABA has been shown to increase food intake. So, the take-home message here is that nicotine exerts at least two actions that affect the reward centers of the brain, which may explain why it can help mitigate eating to get the same feelings of pleasure.

      Love ///

      We can now see a pattern of dopamine releasing agents and a marked change in appetite. Still, the last area we want to look into is the neurochemistry of love.

      Now, if you're thinking, "the chemistry of love can't have anything to do with ME getting ripped" try and hear me out. First, almost no other human condition delivers the chemical currency with the ability to provide such a marked biological change that alters our innate need for sleep or food.

      Think about it, when you're in love, you forget to eat and sleep. Next, one could argue that the biochemical forces that fuel this emotion in fact trigger many other "semi-auto hypnotic" states such as jealousy, rage, envy, etcetera, etcetera.

      You get the point...

      So what is the biochemistry behind this powerful emotion?

      There are several hormones and neurochemicals involved in our pursuit of the multitude of feelings we know as LOVE. On one hand, researchers have known that oxytocin and vasopressin are released to help create a bond of familiarity, which of course is comforting.

      However, the initial feelings of attraction, or "limbic drive" so to speak, are heavily associated with the chemicals b- phenylethylamine (PEA), norepinephrine and dopamine. Norepinephrine triggers the breakdown of glycogen and fatty acids, which provides the body a boost of energy and is strikingly similar to the nicotine and glucose connection mentioned above.

      This stimulant functions by binding to the surface of liver cells, signaling them to produce cyclic AMP (cAMP). cAMP then breaks the active parts of protein kinase A (PKA) away enabling them to alter certain proteins. The exact fate of these proteins, once altered, is unknown, but what is crystal clear is their end result on the human psyche.

      Clinical studies have found that increased PEA causes support in energy, attention and mood with a corresponding reduction in appetite. In fact, PEA and dopamine seem very similar when it comes to being assertive.

      Dopamine is not only in play when we do things we ought to do, but also when we do things we shouldn't do. Thus the addictive nature of many drugs, nicotine, love and of course FOOD.

      Food & Dopamine

      Not A Simple Matter Of Pleasure Or Survival ///

      For those of you who believe that food and dopamine are associated because of survival or pleasure mechanisms, think again. Research at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have found that the mere display of food — where food-deprived subjects are allowed to smell and taste their favorite foods without actually eating them — causes a significant elevation in brain dopamine.

      Vince Andrich, side chest

      Vince Andrich, side chest.

      This activation of the brain's dopamine motivation circuits is distinct from the role the brain chemical plays when people actually eat and may be similar to what addicts experience when craving drugs.

      According to psychiatrist Nora Volkow, the study's lead investigator, "Eating is a highly reinforcing behavior, just like taking illicit drugs," "But this is the first time anyone has shown that the dopamine system can be triggered by food when there is no pleasure associated with it since the subjects don't eat the food. This provides us with new clues about the mechanisms that lead people to eat other than just for the pleasure of eating."

      Manipulating the Feeding System To Go Beyond Ripped

      By now, it should be obvious to any dieter, neurochemicals alter our relationship to food. This is especially true when you are attempting to fool Mother Nature into "allowing" you to eat less. To the serious dieter it doesn't matter if our attitudes towards food are based on survival or pleasure or addiction, because to succeed we must overcome.

      So what can you do about it? Certainly something. We have looked at some of the most advanced pharmaceuticals, and even addictive behaviors, that alter our neurochemistry, so we have the playbook of chemicals that we are dealing with. Our goal now will be to find compounds in nature that can trigger these very same chemicals. Sound far-fetched? Well it's been done before.

      For example, research has shown that one of the most celebrated "natural" fat loss compounds, ephedrine, helped to increase norepinephrine and dopamine. It is well established that ephedra-based fat loss products worked extremely well in part because of their appetite suppressing effects.

      Now with ephedrine gone, are there any other dietary supplement ingredients that offer similar or greater neurochemical advantages?

      The good news is that the answer is, YES. For example, Cocoa seed extract and theobromine trigger the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. The natural substance pheylethylamine (PEA) can be found in the algae Aphanizomenon flos aqua (AFA) and exotic cocoa extracts.

      The amino acid L-tyrosine is a precursor to catecholamines like norepinephrine and dopamine. Even "old faithful" caffeine stimulates norepinephrine pathways and can potentially stimulate dopaminergic pathways.

      The following is a list of natural substances that have neurochemical dieting effects.

      Ingredient Primary Function Dose Range
      L-Tyrosine or L-Phenylalanine Increases dopamine production 250-1250mgs (lower levels needed for L-Tyrosine)
      Cocoa extract(s) Increased phenylethylamine (PEA) 250-900mgs (standardized for PEA, Tyramine and Theobromine)
      Theobromine Neural stimulant 10-30mgs
      Hordenine Prolongs PEA's effectiveness 20-50mgs
      Clary sage Increases cAMP 25-50mgs (standardized for 99% salvia sclarea)
      Aphanizomenon flos aqua (AFA) Increased phenylethylamine (PEA) 360-1000mgs (standardized for 5% PEA)
      Caffeine Increased epinephrine/dopamine 75-300mgs
      Vitamin B6 Neurochemical co-factor 30-50mgs
      Zinc Neurochemical co-factor 30-50mgs
      Magnesium Neurochemical co-factor 200-400mgs
      5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) Increased serotonin 100-500mgs
      DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) Inhibits GABA 120-250mgs
      Mucuna pruriens Increased dopamine 100-600mgs (standardized for 20% L-dopa)
      Vinpocetine Increases cerebral blood flow 5-10mgs
      L-Theanine Increased serotonin 100-250mgs
      Huperzine-A Prevents breakdown of acetylcholine 25-100mcgs

      Practical Methods For The Neurochemical Dieter

      Since we all have different "factory settings" on our personal neural wiring, we need a systematic approach for finding the compounds that can modify our relationship to food. While there is no foolproof method, here are some guidelines for getting the balance right.

      1. At first, do not try to abruptly increase serotonin and dopamine levels at the same time.

      2. It is best to increase either the serotonin or dopamine side of the equation first, to see how each particular chemical affects food intake.

      3. Look for signs of greatly increased sleepiness when working on serotonin release, and excessive agitation for dopamine. Adjust dosing accordingly.

      4. Rotate the use of three or four compounds as listed above and note the effects. Using too many compounds at once makes it impossible to learn which work best for you. Keep it simple, you can always add more into the mix, but you need a point of reference.

      5. Note conflicting information and use it to your advantage. For example, you may find increasing serotonin prior to sleep works well, but not in the daytime. Conversely, increasing dopamine prior to sleep could give you insomnia, but in the daytime it might just be the boost you need.

      Here are sample stacks (see chart above or formulas below for more details):

      Higher Dopamine #1 ///

      • Caffeine 200mgs
      • PEA 50mgs
      • Tyrosine 200mgs
      • Vinpocetine 5mgs
      • (co-factors optional)

      Higher Dopamine #2 ///

      • L-Dopa 80mgs
      • Caffeine 200mgs
      • Clary Sage 25mgs
      • Huperzine-A 25mcgs
      • (co-factors optional)

      Higher Serotonin #1 ///

      • 5-HTP 100 mgs
      • Plus co factors

      Higher Serotonin #2 ///

      • L-Theanine 200 mgs
      • Plus co factors

      Higher Serotonin #3 ///

      • L-Theanine 200 mgs
      • 5-HTP 100 mgs
      • Plus co factors

      Sample Dopa-Serotonin Dual Action Stack ///

      • Caffeine 200mgs
      • PEA 50mgs
      • Tyrosine 200mgs
      • Vinpocetine 5mgs
      • L-Theanine 200 mgs
      • Plus co factors

      Neurochemical Diet Formulas

      To date there a few companies that have undoubtedly embraced the concept of neurochemical diet warfare. These companies are leading the way with excellent products that will take us into the Next Frontier in Legal Fat Loss Pharmacology. Here is a list of some highly potent off the shelf products that I've personally used.

      • Xenadrine Super HardCore - high dopamine response
      • Designer Supplements Basic Cuts - good dopamine response
      • Syntrax Fyre - good dopamine response
      • MyoChem Myo Phenitropin - good serotonin response
      • ErgoPharm Psychotropin - good serotonin/mild dopamine response


      For years, bodybuilders and athletes have realized that a properly structured diet, exercise plan, and motivation are essential to reducing body fat. It is also true that as diet and exercise regimens evolve, which they already have, and are able to produce predictable results, the limiting factor will be the mind's ability to cope with untold years of hardwired survival mechanisms.

      In the future, any serious program to alter body composition will have at least one neurochemical trick to help overcome our biological limitations.

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