Duped by dopamine

Duped by dopamine

Dopamine is considered a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Studies have shown it to increase during various reward-driven behaviors.

Dopamine is considered a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Studies have shown it to increase during various reward-driven behaviors.

by Dr. Shawna Eischens — 

Do you feel like you are a slave to sugar or notice how your mood is affected by what you consume? Are you having difficulty losing weight even with a regular workout routine and only eating moderate portions? Are you struggling with an addiction? Read on to understand how you may be one of millions of people who are being duped by dopamine.

More than 30 percent of U.S. adults are considered obese. This percentage continues to increase, while affecting younger populations every year. Of course, activity level and portion size of dietary choices are major factors for health and weight, but you may not be getting the full story of the why and how our nation is becoming fatter and more depressed as a whole.

Dopamine is considered a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Studies have shown it to increase during various reward-driven behaviors. Street drugs and alcohol increase the release of dopamine, but food and sex can as well. This increase in dopamine is paired with an increase in the body’s natural opiates — enkephalin and endorphins. So now you feel good and are less sensitive to pain — no wonder sex, exercise, food, alcohol and other drugs or behavior are common addictions.

The limbic system is an area of the brain involved in motivation, emotion and memory. When you hear a song or scent that brings back a particular memory, your limbic system is doing its job. Fat, sugar and drugs initiate dopamine responses in the brain and pleasure in the limbic system. Addictions can occur as the brain is wired to seek more of that familiar and pleasurable stimulus, which is only reinforced through habit.

Your brain is not necessarily different than it was thousands of years ago, but most of us are no longer facing the threat of famine; additionally, our brains are more tempted by higher calorie foods than ever before. The more sugar, calories and fat an item contains, the more pleasurable it appears to the ancestral brain, which biologically prepared for an extended fast. Even when consuming the same amount of calories, your body is more likely to gain weight when consuming a diet loaded with sugar.

The increased release of dopamine affects other neurotransmitters as well. When the brain senses too much dopamine, it increases enzymes that break down other monoamines, such as serotonin. Since dopamine goes on to produce norepinephrine and epinephrine, it down-regulates all of these essential neurotransmitters as well, resulting in an overall imbalance affecting mood, cognition, digestion and sleep.

There is hope. Instead of battling your body, your physician can work with you in various ways to help you overcome addictions and imbalances.

Proteins are the building blocks for all enzymes, neurotransmitters and receptors in the body. Therefore, proper diet recommendations can help balance mood and weight.

Neurotransmitter testing can be done to assess which specific imbalances may be present. Intravenous nutrients can help replenish deficiencies and have been shown to drastically improve sleep, mood and help overcome addictions.

Supplements, herbs, acupuncture and homeopathy may assist in the overall balancing process for a person to feel content and capable of dealing with life’s stressors in healthy ways. Know that your mind and body are powerful and are capable of healing.


Dr. Shawna Eischens is a naturopathic physician at Pingel Progressive Medicine. Her practice focus spans from pediatrics to geriatric care with strong passions for physical medicine, nutrition, homeopathy and acupuncture. 602-845-8949, or 

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 33, Number 1, February/March 2014.

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