My dopamine is awack (my non-scientific term). I know its so because every medication I’ve tried for fibromyalgia that impacts the dopamine system has affected my feelings and actions.
Many years ago I tried a medication that enhanced dopamine receptors and thought I’d found the holy grail. For the first time in decades I remembered what I had felt like BF (before fibro) . . . It was wonderful for a few years until I developed insatiable cravings for sweets, especially cinnamon rolls. I MEAN CRAVING which I was hard pressed to control for more than a few days at a time. I periodically told colleagues and doctors that something was wrong – my obsessional craving for all things sweet checked off all the boxes on the classic addition list (including hiding my sweet loot).
Everyone either dismissed my “confessions” or told me to eat more protein. It’s a long, long story but I started Googling, and finally discovered research showing the medication I was on created addictive behavior in 25% of people taking it. I stopped the meds, my cravings vanished and my fibromyalgia symptoms reappeared.
I’m now on another dopamine enhancer and am on alert for when I start hiding ice cream under the mattress or moving to Mexico where churros are considered patriotic.
This research got my attention . . . obviously . . . .
UC Berkeley researchers have discovered that the brain neurotransmitter dopamine has a yin-yang personality, mediating both pleasure and pain. Credit: Christine Liu.
“For decades, psychologists have viewed the neurotransmitter dopamine as a double-edged sword: released in the brain as a reward to train us to seek out pleasurable experiences, but also a “drug” the constant pursuit of which leads to addiction.”
“According to a new study from UC Berkeley, that’s only one face of dopamine. The flip side is that dopamine is also released in response to unpleasurable experiences, such as touching a hot tea kettle, presumably training the brain to avoid them in the future.”
“The yin-yang nature of dopamine could have implications for treatment of addiction and other mental disorders. In illnesses such as schizophrenia, for example, dopamine levels in different areas of the brain become abnormal, possibly because of an imbalance between the reward and avoidance circuits in the brain. Addiction, too, may result from an imbalance in reactions to pleasure and pain.”
Cinnamon rolls? Can you cook me up a batch?
“Although some neuroscientists have long speculated about dopamine’s potential role in the signaling of aversive events, its dual personality remained hidden until recently because the neurons in the brain that release dopamine in response to rewards are embedded in a different subcircuit than the neurons that release dopamine in response to aversive stimuli.”
“”Having separate neuronal correlates for appetitive and aversive behavior in our brain may explain why we are striving for ever-greater rewards while simultaneously minimizing threats and dangers. Such balanced behavior of approach-and-avoidance learning is surely helpful for surviving competition in a constantly changing environment.”
Dopamine changes neural circuits and trains the brain – for better or worse – to pursue the pleasurable and avoid the unpleasurable.
Researchers used “fiber photometry which involves threading thin, flexible fiber optic wires into the brain and recording fluorescent signals given off by neurons and their axons that release dopamine. The fluorescent markers are inserted into the neurons via a virus that targets only these cells.”
“To their surprise, axons in the medial area released dopamine in response to an aversive stimulus – a mild electrical shock to the foot – while those in the lateral area released dopamine only after positive stimuli.”
There are “. . . two different subtypes of dopamine cells: one population mediates attraction and one mediates aversion, and they are anatomically separated”
The hope is these findings can be confirmed in monkeys and humans, and lead to new approaches to understanding and treating addiction and other brain maladies.