In recent years it's become clear that there's more to fat loss than just cutting calories. And now, a group of scientists just released a study demonstrating how serotonin—an important neurotransmitter—is a major factor when it comes to fat metabolism.
Wait, serotonin can help you burn fat?
Serotonin—also known as the happiness chemical—has long been known to contribute to feeding behavior (meaning the amount, what, and when we eat) in humans because of its activity in response to the appearance, smell, and taste of food. Research in this area is pretty substantial, but the exact mechanism by which serotonin affects fat metabolism has been pretty mysterious—until now.
This new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, deleted genes in roundworms until the scientists identified the exact one (called FLP-7) that was responsible for fat-burning activity. They then discovered that when activated by serotonin, FLP-7 is secreted from the brain and travels through the body to help with fat burning in the gut. This means we can now draw a direct connection between the amount of serotonin in your brain and the amount of fat your body is converting into energy. Pretty amazing, right?
It's further proof that weight loss is more than just calories in and out.
Even more fascinating? This phenomenon is completely separate from serotonin's involvement in appetite and impulse control. This study essentially shows that the central nervous system plays a role in your body fat that is completely separate from calorie intake and eating habits. This means that serotonin may be even more relevant to weight-loss strategies now because of its direct link to fat burning in the gut. This could be huge for the development of pharmaceutical treatments for obesity, but it could also mean a great deal to those of us just trying to maintain optimal health.
Even more good news: You can increase your serotonin without drugs.
If you are looking for increase your serotonin, exercise and natural sunlight are two great options. Light therapy is a common treatment for seasonal depression and research points to bright light and sunshine's ability to naturally increase serotonin. Exercise is another proven way to improve mood and release happiness chemicals in the brain. Another serotonin-friendly option is an infrared sauna sesh.
Want one last option? Think positive thoughts—especially if you are trying to lose weight. You aren't releasing much serotonin if you're forcing yourself to run when you hate it or constantly criticizing your own body to get yourself to the gym. Happy thoughts are shown to increase serotonin activity and according to this study, that can not only help you manage healthier eating habits but directly lead to fat loss.