Food choice in hyperthyroidism: potential influence of the autonomic nervous system and brain serotonin precursor availability.

Pijl H, de Meijer PH, Langius J, Coenegracht CI, van den Berk AH, Chandie Shaw PK, Boom H, Schoemaker RC, Cohen AF, Burggraaf J, Meinders AE

We explored energy and macronutrient intake in patients with Graves' hyperthyroidism. We specifically hypothesized that hyperthyroidism is associated with increased appetite for carbohydrates, because of enhanced sympathetic tone and diminished serotonin mediated neurotransmission in the brain. To test this hypothesis, we measured food intake by dietary history and food selected for lunch in the laboratory in 14 patients with Graves' hyperthyroidism. Twenty-four-hour catecholamine excretion was used as a measure of activity of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the plasma [Trp]/[NAA] ratio was measured to estimate (rate limiting) precursor availability for brain 5-hydroxytryptamine synthesis. All measurements were repeated after the subjects had been treated to establish euthyroidism. In addition, the effects of nonselective beta-adrenoceptor blockade upon these parameters were studied to evaluate the influence of beta-adrenergic hyperactivity on food intake. Hyperthyroidism was marked by increased SNS activity and reduced plasma [Trp]/[NAA] ratio. Accordingly, energy intake was considerably and significantly increased in hyper vs. euthyroidism, which was fully attributable to enhanced carbohydrate consumption, as protein and fat intake were not affected. These results suggest that hyperthyroidism alters the neurophysiology of food intake regulation. Increased SNS activity and reduced Trp precursor availability for 5-hydroxytryptamine synthesis in the brain may drive the marked hyperphagia and craving for carbohydrates that appears to characterize hyperthyroid patients. Because propranolol did not affect food intake in hyperthyroidism, the potential effect of catecholamines on food intake might be mediated by alpha-adrenoceptors.