I first blogged about dopamine on 1 June. Now, there’s more research demonstrating other aspects of our lives that it affects. However, some of the researchers were not looking at the issues from a dopamine point of view. [Their loss is my gain- or yours in your quest for knowledge.]
Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University. Besides serving as the scientific advisor for Chemistry.com (part of Match.com, by the way), her efforts revolve around the evolution and future of human sex and love, as well as how our personality shapes who we love. Her recent publication centered upon examining people who could not get over their lost loves. When these folks saw pictures of their former partners, portions of their brain were activated. Which portions? Those affiliated with rewards and addiction. And, if you read my blog, you know this is the portion affected by dopamine. This may explain why it’s so hard for these people to stalk their exes. Strong stuff that dopamine.
What about another kind of love? (Or, is that craving?). That chocolate, the cake, the doughnuts we crave- guess what? Dopamine made us do it! It seems that the reward pathway (the interconnected neurons with the dopamine receptors) has evolved to provide this “benefit”. Until recently, these foods that fed the brain “feel-good” chemicals (dopamine and serotonin) were scarce- so the brain made sure you ate these high-calorie/high-fat foods.
Water, vegetables, and other similar items were easy for prehistoric man to locate. So, we did not evolve a craving for them. That was great until now- when we could “feed our munchies” all day long. Our true hunger, the request for nourishment, which does not involve the high fat/caloric foods, actually comes from our stomach. When the body requires energy, our stomach releases ghrelin. This hormone reaches the hypothalamus (brain center controlling metabolism)- and we seek out food. When we are full, the fat cells in our body release leptin. This hormone tells us we are done eating.
So, now we know that dopamine helps us be creative. It lets us become addicted. It’s involved with schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. It also is partly responsible for our obesity (we following its actions creating cravings for fat-laden, high calorie foods). And, it keeps us pining for our lost loves. Tune in for more, soon.