Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sugar Addiction, Dopamine, and What I Eat: The July Edition

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is tied to the amount of joy that we experience from an event: greater amounts of released dopamine lead to greater levels of pleasure experienced.  Addictive drugs and positive surprises can produce significant pleasure due to their effects on dopamine (according to Jonah Lehrer in How We Decide, positive surprises trigger a dopamine response that is three times greater than the response from an expected positive event.  This is why gambling is addictive.).

Researchers at Princeton University found that dopamine levels in rats increased over a 21 day span for those who were allowed to binge on sugar for a few hours per day.  Dopamine levels rose as high as 130% of the baseline measurement during the first hour of binging on several days.  Three control groups that either allowed only two days of sugar, constant access to sugar, or no sugar whatsoever failed to show a significant improvement in dopamine.  What's worse is that the rats in the binge group increased their daily sugar consumption from 37 to 112 ml over the course of the experiment: that's a 302% increase!

Here's what to take from this: sugar binges in rats produce above normal pleasure responses.  Over time, the rats became desensitized to sugar ("developed a tolerance") and needed to consume more to achieve the same level of joy. Does this translate to humans?  From my past personal struggles and numerous experiences with clients, I believe so. We seek the immediate joy that sugar brings us, just like what the rats get during the first hour of the binge.  With that in mind, we need to distance ourselves from the rush of joy that sugar provides and look to different, healthier dopamine-stimulating sources. 

What I Eat: The July Edition

The May Edition of What I Eat featured a few things I don't regularly consume.  Along with the fact that my diet is constantly (yet slowly) evolving, I decided to post a more recent version.  Here is a three day sample leading up to the conclusion of yesterday:


11 AM: 3 egg omelette with ham, bell peppers, and onions. Also, a few tomato slices and a few slices of bacon.
3 PM: 2 hard-boiled eggs, a handful of carrots, and olive oil.
6 PM: A few sardines in olive oil.
7 PM: 2 meat patties, pickles, spinach, tomato slices, and olive oil. 


5:30 AM: 2 hard-boiled eggs, a handful of carrots, and a handful of Brazil nuts.
12 PM: 2 hard boiled eggs, 1 medium-sized tomato.
3:30 PM: A bag of organic beef jerky.
5:30 PM: Alaskan salmon, spinach, arugula, pickles (pickles in salads...mmmm), olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
8 PM: Handful of pecans, a few sardines, and a glass of red wine. 


10:30 AM: Sardines, 2 HB egg, one medium-sized tomato, spinach, arugula, olive oil, pickle slices, and juice squeezed from a lime.
4 PM: Bowl of mixed greens with bleu cheese, a few slices of roast beef, diced red bell pepper, 1 HB egg, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
6 PM: Alaskan salmon with a few handfuls of pecans and almonds.

I am still taking a multi vitamin on most days but have stopped taking an additional 200-300 IU of vitamin D. The vitamin D change is due to increased seafood intake and sun exposure (without sunscreen, which blocks vitamin D-producing UVB rays).


Tauno said...

Thank you for the post! How many grams of protein approximately do you get with such a menu (which is delicious)? Or do you not count it and just eat right foods until you feel full? The first impression without counting the grams is that maybe there is not enough protein for muscle growth. But I may be wrong.

Floriana said...

Isn't winning while gambling more of an expected positive event than a positive surprise? What's the point of gambling if one is not expecting to win?

For those of us who do get desensitized to sugar the advice to get joy from healthier sources is invaluable. Fortunately, some people can eat sugar without binging, get their fix of joy from a small dose and stop there. Not that sugar does much good to overall health, so any way we turn it, it's good to minimize its consumption. I absolutely agree with you on that.

Always fun to see what you eat. I vote for making this a regular feature from now on. Any reason for a very frequent use of olive oil?

Anonymous said...

Wow...really interesting post!! Sounds like the way they describe drug addictions. I'm new to your blog, but had to comment on powerful! It reminds me, did you see the show Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition? It's on Monday nights on ABC at 10pm/9c. Anyway, this Monday focused on a guy with food addiction and he ended up in rehab and OA...after reading this post about sugar addiction and how it behaves in your body, food addiction really powerful stuff!!

Anyway, thanks for posting and look forward to reading more...

Dr. Sean Preuss said...

Hi Tauno,

Thanks for reading. If I had a target, it would be .8-1.2 grams per pound of lean mass per day (which is about 120-180 grams daily for me), but I just do exactly as you said: I eat the right foods till I'm full. According to Fit Day, I was just below (110-120) on two days and towards the high end of my range on the first day.


Ha! Well said. Unfortunately, I have been to Vegas too many times (my family loves to go...I'm not a big fan) to know that while people hope to win, the actual percentage of wins out of the overall times played is so low that each win is a surprise.

As mentioned, one of the rat control groups were exposed to sugar all the time but didn't binge. This makes me think that you are right in having small doses of sugar for people who crave it, contrary to my prior stance.

Thank you. Perhaps I will make it a monthly segment. The olive oil is just for vitamin E, selenium, and something to put on my leafy greens. If you have any suggestions for other fats to put on greens, I'm all ears!

Btw, did you see this:


Thanks for checking out H-A. It's scary how sugar can affect the brain and compel people to eat it. I haven't seen EM: WLE. Do you recall the name of the episode? Perhaps I can check it out On Demand.

Tauno said...

As to adding fat to greens, what about eating one avocado per day?

Anonymous said...

Yes...sugar is such a struggle! I just went to the website to check it out...his name was Wally and they posted the episode:

Would be interested to hear what you think!

Dr. Sean Preuss said...

Tauno - I meant a fat in the form of a dressing, but you're onto something: guacamole! Thank you.

Liv - Thank you for the help. I will probably check it out this weekend and post a comment afterwards.