What if "dopamine fasting" isn’t Silicon Valley B.S.? The science is there – Inverse

Posted: October 10, 2019 at 7:44 pm


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Does modern life cause dopamine overstimulation?

Eric Bowman, Ph.D., a neuroscience lecturer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, hadnt heard of dopamine fasting before Inverse reached out to him, but he grasped the concept behind it right away.

My admittedly superficial understanding of the idea behind dopamine fasting is that modern life causes dopamine overstimulation, which in turn causes the molecular changes which calm down dopamine neurotransmission, but that this results in dopamine transmission being too low between rewards, he tells Inverse. A break from the fast pace of modern-day rewards would allow the system to reset, or so the theory goes.

He points out that this idea does revolve around real neuroscience, particularly one called dopamine homeostasis. Thats the concept that, when we flood our bodies with too much dopamine over time, the body makes molecular adjustments to the dopamine receptors that dwell in the brain.

But, as Bowman adds, to actually get to that level where adjustments would happen, it would require very strong changes in dopamine neurotransmission due to drugs or neurological disorders.

This mode of thought is largely derived from research on drug addiction and applying addiction science to living in modern society can be dangerous. Even though we may feel overwhelmed by normal life, are we really soaking our brains in a dopamine-rich bath every time we order takeout or scroll through Instagram? And is that enough to really cause changes in the brain?

Kent Berridge, Ph.D., is a psychologist at the University of Michigan and runs a lab that literally studies pleasure in the brain. He explains that there may actually be some truth to the idea that dopamine is all around us.

It is definitely true that we live in a reward-rich world and we live in a reward-cue rich world, he tells Inverse. Even when were not consuming rewards, were often encountering cues for them in advertisements and imagery, opening the refrigerator, on the web, the internet, and emails. So that would keep us in a kind of constant or repeated frequent repetition of dopamine activation.

But to say whether or not human dopamine receptors actually do decrease is complicated. Berridge explains, in animal studies where the animal is exposed to high-fat, dopamine-igniting diets, receptor reduction happens temporarily and receptors mostly come back during abstinence. When it comes to humans, the answer is a bit controversial, may depend partly on context, and mostly comes from studies on people who use drugs and alcohol.

Even if this is a reward-rich world, we still dont know if its rich enough to cause lasting changes in the brain. Taken together, Bowman says that, actually, some ideas behind the dopamine fast seem to check out when examined in isolation but not all of them.

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What if "dopamine fasting" isn't Silicon Valley B.S.? The science is there - Inverse

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October 10th, 2019 at 7:44 pm

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