October Update

Bought a standard poodle puppy.  Bringing him home October 5, so October will be full of housebreaking, and FUN.

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WONDER OF THE MOMENT

Entries in dopamine (3)

Thursday
Jul142011

Dopamine and Eating Disorders: Obesity

Judging by popular beliefs about obesity, we might think weight and eating, like drug use, are also controlled by dopamine, but this is only partly true.

         We have a built-in “weight thermostat.”  Our bodies store energy in the form of fat.  When our fat cells are full, they secrete the hormone “leptin” and we feel less hungry. 

         Also, when we lack nutrients, our brain secretes “orexin” to make us feel hungry.  When we eat and have plenty of circulating nutrients, the brain secretes “CRH” to make us feel full.

         However, eating results in higher levels of dopamine as well.  So the news isn’t completely clear when it comes to dopamine and obesity.

         Genetic components of weight also include sensitivity to all these signals.  We may have more or fewer receptors for the signals, or more or less sensitive receptors.

         So weight regulation is more complex than drug addiction.  We don’t “need” drugs and alcohol, so leaving them out of our lives is a more straightforward cure.  But we do need to eat, so it’s not surprising to discover that regulation of eating is complicated.   



Tuesday
Jul052011

Dopamine and Eating Disorders: Anorexia

Recently, I’ve been posting about dopamine and addictions.  Since dopamine is a “feel good” neurotransmitter, and has connections to food addiction, I’ve been wondering what it has to do with anorexia.

         Research on eating disorders is really in its infancy.  But there seem to be connections to dopamine.  Apparently, people who suffer from anorexia have an unusual reaction to this substance.  When dopamine flows in their brains, instead of feeling pleasure, they feel anxiety and fear.

         Not only do anorexics feel anxiety when they eat, they feel anxiety and worry about other things as well.  Some of their fears are similar to what happens in the brains of people suffering from obsessive/compulsive disorder.  The lives of anorexics are unpleasant and scary, to say the least.

         There are so many myths about anorexia, it’s a relief to realize that anorexia is very much a product of the anorexic’s brain chemistry.  But there is clearly a great deal more to be learned about eating disorders in general and anorexia in particular. 

         Stay tuned 

Tuesday
Jun282011

Dopamine, Learning, and Addiction

Yet more about brain chemistry and addiction:  A few years ago, the Harvard Mental Health Letter pointed out that the dopamine link is important with respect to learning.

         That is, when we do something pleasurable, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in our brain and tells us to repeat the experience. 

         But dopamine is also involved in parts of the brain having to do with forming memories and learning.  So not only do we get the message to repeat the pleasurable experience, we also truly “learn” to repeat it.  Hence, we may become addicted.

         Of course, from the standpoint of evolution, we need to feel pleasure in learning, because learning was and is essential to our survival.  And we still enjoy learning new things, whether they are in in academics or entertainment or gossip.  I know I get a kick out of learning about the connection between dopamine and addiction—it explains a lot.

         Dopamine apparently is part of becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, thrill seeking, etc.

         But ironically, dopamine also rewards use of recovery techniques, especially in twelve-step programs.  Recovering addicts experience the pleasures of spiritual practice and fellowship.  Clearly, we have a lot to learn about dopamine, the human brain, neurotransmitters, and who knows what else?