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Dopamine Is the Key Allowing Our Brains to Change Beliefs — Short-Term Ones, at Least

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

In a fascinating study that sounds like something out of a Star Trek movie, scientists have captured the first images of a brain changing its beliefs, ZME Science reports. How they did this is a story in itself, but the most interesting finding was that there is a direct link between dopamine activity and the process of belief-changing in humans, ZME Science said. The implications are huge for research involving dopamine’s effects on such things as drug addiction and mental disorders.

Your brain is a powerful instrument that often seems to have "a mind of its own," and if you've ever wondered about the roots of addiction and the role played by your brain, you should know that all addictions — whether it be food, sex, drugs or alcohol — have a similar hijacking effect on your brain.

To understand how this happens, you need to know how the body’s pleasure neurotransmitters work. Pleasure — the good feeling you get in response to drugs, food, sex and other stimulants, including the simple act of doodling — is driven by the release of various neurotransmitters throughout your brain, including dopamine.

When dopamine is released, it tells your brain to expect something rewarding. It also drives you to seek rewards and modulates how rewarding each one will be. Furthermore, dopamine plays a role in supporting cognition and voluntary movement.

When it comes to drug abuse, such as with cocaine and heroin, dopamine plays a huge role, as do other rewarding experiences like eating, gambling and having sex. On the flip side, we also know that decreases in dopamine within reward systems are associated with depression, a lack of pleasure or motivation and withdrawal.

It follows then that mental illnesses like schizophrenia are characterized by too much dopamine release, thereby resulting in psychotic symptoms. In contrast, neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease are thought to be tied to the premature death of dopamine cells responsible for motor coordination.

But dopamine also goes one more step, as it’s also correlated with another kind of addiction — and that is to food. To that end, certain foods, particularly those with sugars in them, are even more addictive. Add refined carbs, table salt, trans fats and MSG to the mix and you have a recipe not only for addiction, but obesity. This is why, no matter what disease you’re trying to conquer, you have to address the basics of diet.

Another help if you are feeling trapped in an addiction and are wondering what steps you can take to find relief, in addition to seeking professional help, you may want to try exercise and mindfulness meditation. With respect to exercise, physical activity prompts neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, which contributes to healing in your brain's frontal cortex and reward center.

Similarly, meditation has been shown to epigenetically turn off inflammatory gene groups, while turning on genes responsible for increasing neurogenesis. As such, both activities are important with respect to long-term recovery from addictions of any kind.

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