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).