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It's Just Like Drug Addiction EVERYONE FREAK OUT: The Role And Limits Of Reward (Why Are We Hungry, Part VIII)
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April 19, 2012
8:33 am
Exceptionally Brash
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Well, I don't care what they say, I still enjoy the sun in moderation, and I can stop whenever I want to.
http://exceptionallybrash.blogspot.com/2012/04/everything-i-want-to-do-is-illegal-war.html

April 19, 2012
4:49 pm
Craig
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Judy,

That habituation induces an intricate dance of long term synaptic potentiation and depression of dopaminergic, glutamatergic and GABAergic axons through a wide array of inter-related brain regions as well as dendritic spine overgrowth in the medium spiny neurons of the nucleus accumbens.

I think it's a little too complex to be conveyed in a blog forum to be well understood, but here is a good paper on it:

http://bit.ly/HUHcZu

April 19, 2012
4:49 pm
Craig
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Julianne,

The same Compass of Pleasure book I referenced above talks about that phenomenon. In one study women were connected to neural imaging devices and given chocolate milkshakes, which both produce a significant dopamine response and are easy to consume when you're strapped into a bunch of sensors and can't move much.

The act of eating is associated with dopamine release from the ventral tegmental area to various target regions in the brain which produces the sensation of pleasure and reward. Different foods produce different levels of dopamine release.

Interestingly, mere anticipation, prior to the actual consumption of food, is also associated with dopamine release and can actually be a stronger response than that produced by the act of eating.

In other studies, overeating, particularly with junk food, has been associated with a blunted response to dopamine via things like decreased D2 dopamine receptor density in the dorsal striatum.

The study divided the women into obese and non-obese and found that the obese women had greater activation of the dopamine reward circuit during anticipation but blunted dopamine response after eating. Thus, the experienced increased craving with a simultaneous decrease in reward. Chasing the chocolate dragan, essentially.

So your observation that the food lovers struggle with weight while the fuel needers do not has a verifiable neurological basis.

What to do with that observation is another matter entirely, but is likely to be controllable to a large degree.

April 19, 2012
4:49 pm
Craig
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Daniel,

Free will has been a hot topic lately and many leading psychologists and neuroscientists share the opinion that it is anywhere from non-existent to at least not nearly as pervasive as is commonly believed.

Most recently Sam Harris published a short book titled Free Will making a case pretty close to the former.

There is some scholarly disagreement on his stance, prominently from Dan Dennett ( http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/free-will-and-free-will ) although the philosophical commonalities outnumber the disagreements between the two.

David Eagleman's book Incognito - The Secret Lives of the Brain provides a fantastic account of the wide array of thought processes which actually occur outside of our conscious awareness and is much more thorough than Free Will.

Daniel Kahneman also recently published an outstanding book summarizing much of his life's work (as well as that of his late colleague Amos Tversky) called Thinking, Fast and Slow. It details an astonishing array of heuristics and biases we are prone to and how shaky our self perceptions of rationality often are.

April 19, 2012
6:59 pm
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First-Eater
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julianne:

I suspect the hormonal changes are a primary cause of the increased hunger…but as that's not an area of my expertise, I can't make any judgments.

Your comment about children is interesting and unsurprising: it's well-established that some people need more stimulation to reach the same levels of dopamine (or whatever metric you're measuring) as others ("daredevils").  The reward systems are extensively studied and documented, just not with food and hunger per se…but the applications to our behaviors around food and hunger are obvious.

However, we must be careful about assuming which direction the causality runs.  We know that "hunger is the best spice", and that satiety is driven primarily by nutritional status (including the ability to access stored nutrients).  Do the children derive more hedonic impact from food because their reward system is harder to activate?  Or do they derive more hedonic impact from food because something about their metabolism (e.g. lack of metabolic flexibility) leaves them hungrier?   

Jan:

I'm glad my explanation was helpful!  

I like it because it's non-judgmental.  It doesn't claim that drugs are intrinsically evil (false), that they're no fun (false), or that using them makes you a bad person (false).  It does explain why so many people use them and enjoy them — and why using them can be dangerous.

Leslie:

I generally refrain from ev-psych speculation, but it is true that a man only has to be "not starving" for a few months in order to father a child.  A woman has to be well-nourished for years in order to become pregnant, carry to term, and nurse a child.

You might be interested to read "The Old Way", linked in my Recommended Reading list.  Among the San, meat and other hunted foods are basically communal: they're brought back to camp and everyone gets some.  However, when the women are out gathering, it's finders keepers: whoever digs it gets to eat it or feed their husband with it. 

Daniel:

I know the studies you're referring to.  It's not so much that we don't have the ability to choose — it's that this ability is somewhat slow, being a function of the forebrain and having to (as mentioned above) go through all the other layers first.  As a result, we're usually not exercising rational choice: we're usually acting by rote or by emotion and rationalizing the decision we already made.

This is why I enjoy writing articles and responding online: I can carefully consider my words before publishing them!

Aaron:

Wasn't that the intellectual basis of the Victorian era?  (Though stated in less clinical terms.)

Chris:

I would hope so — but the tone of the rest of the paper (and its very title, "UV Light Tanning as a Type of Substance-Related Disorder") caused me to take it seriously.  And NSW, a province of Australia, has already banned tanning beds.  

I'm glad you find gnolls.org useful!  I do my best to make it a reliable, information-dense resource for everyone. 

 

More soon!

JS

April 19, 2012
7:50 pm
Kate
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I love that you don't write "simple articles." I come here because you present good information and critical thinking, realizing that your readers are intelligent and capable of understanding complex ideas, albeit each at a slightly different level. As well as having something to read that fits my interests and philosophy, it's nice to find something on the internet that challenges me and gives me something real to learn aside from funny little facts and statistics. Thank you!

April 19, 2012
11:38 pm
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EB:

Thanks for the plug!  And when you do your CT, be mindful of the additional DHMO exposure.

Craig:

Though I stay out of that level of detail in my articles, that's an excellent paper on the biochemistry of reward.

I've never read The Compass of Pleasure -- but I cited one of the papers you mentioned ("Weight Gain Is Associated with Reduced Striatal Response to Palatable Food") all the way back in 2010, well before reward became a hot issue in the community.  I'll put TCoP on my to-read list.

"What to do with that observation is another matter entirely, but is likely to be controllable to a large degree."

Exactly.  Most of the reward literature deals with drug addiction -- which is a much cleaner case to study, because the human body has no intrinsic requirement for heroin or cocaine.  Indeed, studying that literature allowed me to understand the reward systems much better!

However, since we do in fact have continual and complex requirements for food, the causality of appetite can run either direction.

It's interesting that our reward centers are doing what one might expect -- lowering the hedonic impact of food in the obese, who presumably don't need as much of it -- but instead of consuming less, some people consume more in order to maintain the same level of hedonic impact in their life!  This suggests many interesting ways to address that particular problem, and it helps explain the correlation between depression and obesity (people who aren't getting pleasure from other parts of their life seeking to replace it with food).

I have a copy of Incognito but haven't read it yet, so I'm glad for your vote of confidence.

Kate:

You're welcome!  

There's a lot of cynicism out there...but I prefer to assume my readers are reasonably smart people who place value on good information.  

It's easy to intimidate with a forest of citations and qualifications and claim, upon inquiry, that any point of dispute is too complex to explain to the layman -- but I usually find that if I can't produce at least a top-level explanation of how something works, my own understanding is probably incomplete.  "He who teaches learns twice," etc.

JS

April 20, 2012
6:57 am
eddie watts
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i tend to believe that a person who cannot explain things to a layperson does not really understand what they are talking about.
and the use of excessive jargon and technical language always annoys me in this sort of situation.
(i found this when working at the tax office and overhearing another advisor talk to a member of the public)

good work on keeping the blog on a layperson level.

April 20, 2012
9:10 am
Daniel
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Chris: Im more than familiar with those gentlemen; and I have my own contentions with all of them. And agreements. Alas, I haven't the time to really get in depth so I'm regulated to being a generalist- nothing wrong with that either, it has served me quite well.

JS: I have my own opinions on heuristics.....and emotions. And false thinking. Personally, I prefer eastern meditation techniques that have allowed me to stay aware of the entrained thought patterns (conditioning) and it helps me to choose NOT to run on automatic pilot. This really should've been my original comment.....lack of sleep is a killer especially for those of us that have circadian rhythm issues. Can't stress the importance of sleep enough, especially for cognition. As you've put it before tho, we live in an evolutionarily discordant age, so we must do the best we can. And I do.
Cheers

April 20, 2012
12:43 pm
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First-Eater
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eddie:

Thank you!

Daniel:

Interesting!  Now that I'm more familiar with how the brain works, I bet I would get a lot more out of Eastern mysticism, because I would be able to cut through the fog and understand at least some of what they're trying to do.

Sleep is indeed hugely important...I remember reading a study years ago which showed that the speed improvement on a specific cognitive task the next day was proportional to the number of hours of sleep above six!  (I think it maxed out at eight or nine.)  There's also some solid literature on the importance of exercise to cognitive function, and the dramatic improvements which occur immediately after exercise.

JS

April 20, 2012
4:47 pm
Daniel
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JS: If you are interested in reading about eastern philosophy and the mind you will not do any better than The Ten Paradoxes. It's a short series (but long books) written by a westerner under the pen name Master Nomi. He takes all that mystical crap out of it and writes it for our very mechanistic western minds. Highly recommended. One thing I can't stand is mystical anything. All it does is confuse and make for a master/ student dependency that is reminiscent of the catholics insistence that you go through a priest for forgiveness of sins even though there is literally no mention of that in the bible. In Mahayana Zen, they insist that there is a "direct transmission of mind" leading from the Buddha all the way down to whatever fat belly they have decided is his modern "spiritual ancestor". Really? Prove it fellas. But enough of that. Seriously.

Sleep is my other panacea, besides steak....the sleep studies are extremely insightful especially as they relate to bedtime. There is like a sweet spot for bedtime(earthly location coordinates considered) whereby the more hours before midnight you go to sleep the better quality the sleep. There is a sliding scale of diminished quality the later you crash. Basically sleeping later does nothing. What I'm researching now (one thing of many...) is biphasic sleep patterns in early man. From what I understand, before artificial light we all slept in two chunks: from dark(ish) till around 1 and then from about 3 till sunup. Mark Sisson did one post on it a while back but there is quite a bit of literature out there on the subject.
Cheers

April 20, 2012
6:07 pm
Anastasia
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Fantastic article, JS. And I will even forgive you for calling NSW "a province of Australia" (it's a state) 🙂

On a serious note, this is exactly the problem with trying to explain away the normal physiological functions of the body by brain pathways. When the thermometer shows it's freezing in the house you don't blame the thermostat. The likelihood is that it just relays information. Unless there is proof of dysregulation, which at the moment seems to be the event further down the line: your reward pathways are obviously at fault because you are overweight. 

Hunger, being a physiological response to inadequate nutrient status, should first and foremost be treated as a normal phenomenon. Is it possible that incessant hunger is caused by reward pathway dysfunction? Absolutely. But probably unlikely in the majority of people who experience it. 

Do you diagnose every thirsty person with diabetes insipidus?

April 21, 2012
4:57 pm
Jeffrey of Troy
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Maybe free will is neither automatic nor impossible, but something that has to be achieved..

April 21, 2012
9:47 pm
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Cameron, Tx
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@jeffery of troy:
"Maybe free will is neither automatic nor impossible, but something that has to be achieved"

Huh? Free will by any definition couldn't be "automatic", and whether it's possible or not isnt really even part of the discussion. The current debate in the scientific and philosophical circles is over where biology ends and conscious awareness begins(not to mention whatever the hell "awareness" really is) Trying to "achieve" something held within the mind is like trying to step into the same spot in a river twice. Not gunna happen.

But maybe I'm not understanding your comment.

April 23, 2012
4:09 pm
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Daniel:

That's a great book recommendation, and it's going on the list.

I'm not convinced that sleeping later does nothing...it's certainly better than not sleeping!  Perhaps it's a light thing, as I've blacked out my sleeping area pretty well.

Anastasia:

Great to hear from you...and congratulations on the M.D.!

"Hunger, being a physiological response to inadequate nutrient status, should first and foremost be treated as a normal phenomenon."  Exactly!  If we don't understand why people get hungry, we can't possibly understand why they overeat...it's not like people suddenly decided "I hate being slim and healthy.  Frankly, I'd rather be fat" sometime in the 1980s.

Jeffrey, Daniel:

Thus the reason I decided not to open the "free will" argument...it's a whole another topic in itself!

JS

April 23, 2012
7:57 pm
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Cameron, Tx
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JS:

"I'm not convinced that sleeping later does nothing…it's certainly better than not sleeping!  Perhaps it's a light thing, as I've blacked out my sleeping area pretty well."

Good call. I used to work strictly nights years ago and learned to black my room out too. I never quite got used to working nights but there was a massive difference in sleep quality no matter what time I actually crashed or woke up. Hormones, hormones, hormones.

I still sleep in a cave to this day. I was visiting a friend of mine in Austin a couple of months ago and slept on his couch; I slept like 10 hrs straight but his sliding glass door has those crappy vertical blinds that couldn't keep light out if you blew up the sun. Felt like total ass the next day.

Cheers

April 24, 2012
1:13 am
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Daniel:

I don't buy the dogma that if a photon gets into your room your sleep is magically disrupted: light-emitting objects called the "moon" and "stars" are part of our evolutionary heritage.

However, sunlight sneaking through mini-blinds or curtains is far brighter than moonlight, so I'm a fan of window treatments (and sleep masks, if you're traveling).

JS 

April 24, 2012
8:53 am
FrankG
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"The point that the subcortical structures of the human brain, including the reward systems, are essentially identical to those of other mammal brains is well-taken and extremely instructive. ... Our “conscious mind” (i.e. executive function, i.e. the forebrain) sits on top of these older systems: it doesn't replace them, it works through them and is mediated by them!"

Somewhere along the way, it was decided that we are *not* animals, we have a soul and make all our choices consciously, with our big brains. This I think, has been the cause of many a mistaken idea about why we do what we do -- most notably: how gluttony and sloth lead to obesity.

I agree that there is a very great deal to be learned by accepting our part in the natural world. I am convinced that just like every other animal we have innate abilities: to not only manage our energy balance but also our nutrient balance... without the need for kitchen scales or nutritional labels.

As an example: consider the craving of a pregnant woman. I dare any man to dismiss these 3am cravings with a "go back to sleep, it's all in your head!" Clearly there is some biochemical need being communicated.

Thanks for an enlightening article.

April 24, 2012
12:03 pm
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Cameron, Tx
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JS:
Maybe we are going in circles here and I do agree that the heavenly bodies are part of our heritage, but perhaps it's our almost complete disconnect with natural light and reliance on artificial light that clouds the issue a bit.
There are plenty of subjective accounts of people that were cut off from artificial lighting for months at a time and had only the sun, moon, stars, and camp fires for light. After a short period of adjustment, they state that they felt "reset" and rose with the sun and crashed with it too. And of course they all state the same positive effects of a circadian rhythm reset and everything; increased energy, etc.

I think those of us in this paleo camp understand the importance of healthy, natural sleep, sunlight exposure, and minimal nighttime exposure to blue light whether it be from computers, light bulbs, or whatever.

Ok I'm done with the sleep thing....lol
Cheers

April 24, 2012
3:59 pm
Pete Ray
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I may be a bit late to the (slumber) party, but here's an interesting piece on sleep from an anthropological perspective: http://www.sciencenews.org/sn_arc99/9_25_99/bob2.htm

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