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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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June 9, 2012
11:52 am
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Ed:

Yes, the brain is involved in biochemistry: it's part of most homeostases, because that's why brains exist -- to help coordinate the function of the trillions of cells in a body (human or otherwise) so that they function as an individual, not as an undifferentiated soup of competing cells!  (And lest we forget, the brain and nervous system are made out of cells, too.)

That being said, the trillions of cells in a human (or any other animal) aren't mindless hand-puppets of the hypothalamus, or any other part of the brain: each one has its own energy needs and expresses receptors according to them (e.g.: "insulin resistance", which is usually the result of trillions of muscle and liver cells saying "No thanks, we're full of glycogen already")...not to mention performing its own unique function (e.g. excreting digestive enzymes, conducting nerve signals), excreting its own waste products, etc.

"Do the cellular processes work the same irrespective of signals from the brain?"

Yes and no.  Yes, because each cell is its own little biochemical unit, with its own function.  No, because most cells are responsive in some way to hormones, peptides, and other signaling molecules (including innervation), which the brain is often involved in maintaining the balance of.

We like to think of the body as a car and our brain as the driver.  Unfortunately, it's far more complicated than that!

JS

June 15, 2012
12:22 am
Edward
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Great series, especially the piece on hyperpalatibility being foods that simply don't provide satiation and satiety (even though they might not even taste that good [i.e. have only moderate hedonic impact]). It also explains why Paleo works so well, as I don't have to make an effort (exercise willpower) to limit great-tasting foods like organic beef, eggs, grassbutter, peaches and berries, because they satiate and sate and thus, reduce my appetite at the right moment because these foods are nutritional.

As for the brain chemistry stuff:
I don't think it's neccessary to pussy-foot around the issue like that, though. Mild addictions run rampant in our society nowadays and most people know it about themselves, but just refuse to face the facts as their life remains fairly functional in spite of their addictions. We need a more mellow approach to this and that means every single person has to start making addiction a regular part of their vocabulary and more importantly: a matter-of-fact aspect of their own behaviors. The attitude must be: Everyone has addictions and it's no big deal. But even though it's no big deal, it's still something that needs to be adressed, as addictions have negative long-term impact on our lives.
I think we agree on this 'no-stigma' on addiction approach, but in my opinion you've got to say it like it is, not walk on eggshells around the issue.

June 15, 2012
1:47 pm
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Edward:

I'm glad you find my explanations helpful!  It's easy to make "Science!" say almost anything we want through selective citation: it's much more difficult to make sure it's useful and relevant to our own lived experience.

I'm curious how you believe I'm "pussy-footing" around addiction.  Addiction lies on a spectrum of behaviors, all mediated by the same brain circuits -- so defining something as "addiction" instead of "normal behavior" is very much a definition of social norms.  For instance, we consider a daily glass of wine with dinner to be normal behavior, but we do consider daily usage of cocaine to be "addiction".  However, if you're in the Peruvian Andes, however, daily chewing of coca leaves is normal behavior!  And so on.  

Basically, once your habit starts to impact your ability to conform to local norms of behavior, we start calling it "addiction".  

Another example: continual hand-washing and hand-sanitizing was considered OCD twenty years ago: now wet-wipes and buckets of Purell are everywhere, and their use is strongly encouraged!

If that's pussy-footing, then I guess I need to understand how and why.

JS

August 8, 2012
11:52 am
Susan
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Hi J.S.,

I hope this isn't a dumb question I have diligently plowed through all of your series on hunger. I may have missed or not understood something. I have kind of a grasp on satiety vs. satiation. Why, (provided we have a good diet that includes all essentials for satiety, AND we are adapted to burning fat as a fuel source AND we have excess body fat available AND our diet includes enough protein)do we get hungry at all? I certainly get hungry less (I eat 2 good-size meals a day) but I still get hungry at times even though I consume a lot of protein and have plenty of body fat for fuel. Thanks.

September 1, 2012
6:49 pm
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Susan:

We get hungry every day primarily because there are many nutrients our body can't store.

Protein is the most obvious: we need a certain amount of complete protein each day, or we'll start cannibalizing our own muscle mass to get it.  Many vitamins and minerals (such as Vitamin C, AFAIK) are not stored either, and we must consume them regularly in order to maintain health.  And we have a very limited facility for storing carbohydrate...perhaps 50-100g in the liver, which must power both the brain and our red blood cells (among others), and which must be continually replenished somehow.  (If you eat nothing, it will be replenished via breaking down muscles for protein and turning them into glucose via gluconeogenesis.)  People on hunger strikes die of muscle wasting and lean tissue atrophy long before they run out of body fat.

So even if we have plenty of calories available, in the form of body fat, we still have not decreased our requirements for protein and many micronutrients.

Does this help?

JS

September 20, 2012
8:47 am
Susan
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Hi JS,

Yes! The light bulb finally went on! I had been a little frustrated because my weight and body fat (145#, 28%, 52 y.o.) had plateaued despite dedicated dairy-free paleo and regular exercise. I know I'm eating enough calories, but was still feelig very hungry at times. When I try and restrict calories further, I get starved and binge (but on paleo stuff!)

I eat almost no fruit on a regular basis, but crave it occasionally. Your explanation makes that make sense if I need the vitamins and minerals. Thank you so much for geting back to me on this!

Susan

September 20, 2012
4:39 pm
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Susan:

Your body's micronutrient needs don't decrease with caloric intake (as a rule)...if you're eating 1200 calories instead of 1800, that doesn't mean you magically need less vitamins or minerals!  Therefore, you'll have to eat far more nutrient-dense foods when trying to lose weight.

And yes, cravings for real foods can result from a need for micronutrients.  For instance, my cravings for seaweed-wrapped sushi handrolls decreased dramatically when I started supplementing iodine.

JS

September 20, 2012
4:53 pm
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Halifax, UK
Gnoll
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Awwww ... J! Sups are for saps, mate!

Seaweed and beef soup? Chilli, garlic and ginger? What a ride! Iodine kick, good, real food and a tasty little pre-dinner slurp. Raw beef, naturally, which sliced, cooks in the hot broth. I get a big bag of dehydrated sea vegetables which lasts ages - the tiny amount balloons out into a full pack of seaweed.

Your point though is bang on the nail! Listen to your body and then think - we have big brains and can think around problems. I crave X because it is made up of A, B and C. It's the C that I want, so eat C.

Living in the Ice Age
http://livingintheiceage.pjgh.co.uk

December 24, 2012
4:28 am
Susan
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Hi J.S.,

Can you offer any recommendations for type and amount of iodine supplements? Do I need iodine as well as iodide? I'm finding wildly conflicting information elsewhere. thanks!

January 3, 2013
9:02 pm
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Paul:

Yes, I should theoretically be able to get along without supplements...but often I'm not eating all the beef liver I should, and it's tough to get magnesium when the water treatment plant is stripping out all the minerals from the groundwater.  No, I don't go wild on them...but there are a few which make sense for me and my life.

Susan:

I already responded to you via email.  Hope it helps!

JS

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