Good news for those who crave cigarettes. Scientists recently discovered a molecular switch to shut off nicotine cravings. The key is to effectively block hypocretin-1 receptors that lead to craving for nicotine, and thereby lessen people’s desire for cigarettes. Is it possible to adjust one’s molecular switch to control craving? If so, how is dopamine a key element in this transformation.
Yearning and the Human Brain
The human brain triggers a yearning for food, nicotine or alcohol, when certain chemical reactions occur. Can you imagine a novel way to help addicted smokers or alcoholics to break unhealthy habits? Or can you imagine craving food that fuels your brain as you fill your plate?
Do you crave calorie laden desserts or fast foods? Whether that chocolate box or doughnut platter gets passed or projects scrumptious images onto your mental screens, dopamine increases most in people who crave and overindulge. In addictive people, this chemical then acts as an alert signal that links food to pleasure. How so?
When a Brain Craves
Check out Kristin Leutwyler Ozelli’s description of what’s going on in the brain during cravings at ScientificAmerican.Com. It seems that the brain of a person who exercises and maintains a steady weight using brain imaging technologies, and you’ll see less dopamine.
Interestingly human brains are highly sensitive to food stimuli … researchers are still trying to figure out … why some produce more dopamine when they see favorite foods. Without question though, the dopamine increase is linked to foods to which they’ve been conditioned to enjoy most.
Dopamine for Rewards and Motivation
Research shows an increase in dopamine in the striatum which is a brain region involved with reward and behavioral motivation.
Interestinglythis increase comes simply from smelling or seeing the food, even in cases where people are told they will not be able to eat it. In fact, fatty foods, according to research, renders the brain resistant to chemicals such as insulin and leptin which tell your brain to stop eating, so that you can easily overeat in that state.
Dopamine increases come in similar ways to people who crave foods. For instance, these neurochemical responses come to drug addicts who watch images of people taking drugs. It’s often thought to be a matter of balancing this chemical – since both extremes can be harmful.
Unfortunately, both drug addicts and obese people show reduced numbers of D2 dopamine receptors in the brain’s reward areas, compared to people with healthier appetites. Researchers suggest that fewer receptors is the brain’s attempt to compensate for the repeated surges of dopamine stimulation with drugs or food. It more a matter of balance though, than of simply decreasing dopamine. Why so?
While too much dopamine can cause compulsive behavior – too little brings boredom and lack of motivation at work? Or worse, too little dopamine can spell ADHD.The jury is still out on why some get rushes of dopamine and others struggle with too little at times.
Could researchers help people who crave and over-indulge, to turn off that molecular switch in the brain and end some obsessive behaviors? For instance, dopamine production can be increased by practices such as adding more vitamin C in your diet.
What do you think?