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Parasympathetic for Sugar Cravings

By Jodi Cohen

A woman gazing longingly at a colorful piece of cake on a plate in front of her, possibly contemplating whether to indulge in the sweet treat.

Sugar Cravings can be controlled through vagus nerve signaling.

New Research has correlated food-seeking behavior, such as sugar cravings, with “sugar signals” sent via vagus nerve pathways between your gut and your brain.

A recent study in mice found that post-ingestive signals from the digestive system reach the brain through dopamine signals sent through the vagus nerve pathways correlated with the liver, known as the hepatic branch of the vagus nerve.

The neurotransmitter dopamine is known as your pleasure, or reward, neurotransmitter Dopamine is considered a “modulatory”  neurotransmitter in the brain, meaning that it is both excitatory and inhibitory.  It supports feelings of pleasure, movement and motivation. As you are likely to repeat behaviors that lead to dopamine release, it can also play a role in addictive behaviors. In fact, addictive substances like amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates potentiate the actions of dopamine by inhibiting dopamine reuptake or increasing the activity of dopamine neurons.

In terms of sugar cravings, a “reward” message (or vagus-mediated dopamine neuron activity) is sent in response to rewarding stimuli (like sugar).  This post-ingestive signal then influences your food-seeking behavior.

The research found that the vagus nerve appears to modulate both dopamine neuron activity and food-seeking behaviors.

More specifically, the study shows that [vagus-mediated dopamine] neurons are activated when nutrients reach the gut and this signal drives food-seeking behaviors. The study found “a causal connection between post-ingestive sucrose sensing and vagus-mediated dopamine neuron activity in the VTA, supporting food-seeking. These data establish a necessary role of vagus-mediated dopamine neuron activity in post-ingestive dependent food-seeking, which is independent of taste signaling.”


Parasympathetic for Sugar Cravings

Activating your parasympathetic nervous system can block sugar cravings by helping to block the signals going up into your brain.

Energy is required to fuel your ability to fight or flee (activated by the sympathetic nervous system).  Energy-rich sugar helps to fuel the sympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic response seems to drive sugar cravings.

Additional research zeroed in on a specific “sugar-transporting protein” called SGLT-1 that appears to communicate the presence of sugar in the gut up to the cNST brain region via the vagus nerve.  Understanding how this glucose-sensing vagus nerve pathway works can help us unravel sugar cravings.  The researchers also found that  modifying this gut-brain circuit abolishes sugar cravings in mice and created preferences to otherwise less-preferred stimuli like healthy food.

For example, research with mice in Sweden correlated a significant drop in blood sugar levels as a direct result of the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. The research found that the sympathetic nervous system prepares you to fight or flee by reducing insulin release and increasing blood sugar to boost your energy. The parasympathetic nervous system operates in reverse, lowering blood sugar levels, when you are at rest. (Study)


How Parasympathetic Regulates Appetite and Weight

Your vagus nerve controls communication between your gut and your brain, including messages of hunger and satiety that are best communicated in the parasympathetic state. Poor communication leads to over- or under-eating and can contribute to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. When your vagus nerve stimulates the parasympathetic state and is able to clearly communicate signals of hunger or fullness to your brain, you feel appropriately hungry or satiated and are then able to achieve healthy body weight.

Research from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine has found that individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa respond differently to hunger signals, noting that “brain circuitry differences in anorexics make them less sensitive to reward and the motivational drive of hunger.” (Study)

Applying Parasympathetic® blend behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone helps improve brain mechanisms that help control sugar cravings and support appetite regulation.


Other Essential Oils for Sugar Cravings

Essential oils, both topically applied and inhaled, can help you minimize cravings, reduce appetite and decrease food intake, boost your metabolism and promote weight loss.

The part of your brain that controls hunger impulses is your hypothalamus.  Your sense of smell can directly access your hypothalamus by way of your olfactory system and your amygdala.  It is this direct channel between smell and your hypothalamus by which essential oils stimulate your hypothalamus to release hormones that support healthy metabolism and body weight, along with your endocrine, stress and digestive systems.

In fact, inhaling essential oils can directly affect your brain’s satiety center, helping you feel full and support weight loss.


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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.