The Difference Between Pleasure & Happiness, with Dr. Robert Lustig

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Many of the neurological issues prevalent in our society are the result of a conscious effort of the food industry to confuse and conflate the differences between pleasure and happiness. So what exactly does this mean? In the last episode of a series with “The Hacking of the American Mind” author Robert Lustig, Dr. Amen and Lustig describe how the crucial differences between dopamine and serotonin are disrupting our health.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. I am here on the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast with Dr. Robert Lustig. I am so grateful to you and your work.
Dr. Robert Lustig: Likewise, you have helped me personally, so I owe you with that.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, that is just a joy for me to share our work with you. And when your book, The Hacking of the American Mind came out, it sort of reminded me of the Brain Warrior's Way. My wife and I wrote The Brain Warrior's Way, because it's everywhere we go. Someone is trying to put a gadget in your hand, shove bad food down your throat. You get this toxic look at the news ,and it's like you're in a war for the health of your brain and your body. You need to become a warrior, armed, prepared, and aware to really be able to win the fight of your life, which is for your health.
Dr. Robert Lustig: Indeed. So the subtitle of this book is The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains. And that is exactly what is going on. There has been a corporate takeover, and that is what I described in the book. Now specifically, what I argue in scientific detail, is that what has happened, and the reason why this is a war, is because our society has very specifically, with a conscious intent, confused and conflated two separate terms. So that we don't know the difference. Those two terms are pleasure and happiness.
So there are seven differences between pleasure and happiness. What are they?
Dr Daniel Amen: I'm dying to know.
Dr. Robert Lustig: All right. Ready? Number one, pleasure is short-lived. Happiness is long lived. Two, pleasure is visceral, you feel it in your body. Happiness is ethereal, above the neck. Number three, pleasure is taking, happiness is giving. Number four, pleasure is achieved alone, happiness is usually achieved in social groups. Number five, pleasure can be achieved with substances, happiness cannot be achieved with substances. Number six, the extremes of pleasure. Now, whether it be substances or behaviors. So substances like cocaine, heroin, nicotine, alcohol, sugar, all the stuff that does bad stuff to your brain as you've shown.
Dr Daniel Amen: And your families.
Dr. Robert Lustig: And your families. Or behaviors. Shopping, gambling, internet, gaming, social media, pornography, those are all behaviors. There's an aholic after every one of those. Because excess of any of those hedonic substances or behaviors leads to addiction. So we have shopaholic, alcoholic, chocoholic, sexaholic, et cetera, and right down the line. Whereas you can't overdose on too much happiness. And number seven, the reason for the book, pleasure is dopamine, happiness is serotonin. So two different neurotransmitters, two different sets of receptors, two different areas of the brain. Two different regulatory patterns.
Why do we care? They both feel good. Why do we care? And most people substitute one for the other because pleasure, you can buy. Happiness, you can't. Pleasure is cheap, happiness is tough. So why wouldn't I want to substitute one for the other?
Here's why. Dopamine is excitatory. When dopamine is released from one neuron to the next, it excites that next neuron. That's it's job. Dopamine excites the next neuron. Now neurons like to be excited. That's why they have receptors. But neurons like to be tickled, not bludgeoned. They like to stimulate, then they like to come to rest. Chronic overstimulation of any neuron anywhere in the brain or in the spinal cord or that matter in the gut will lead to neuronal cell death.
Dr Daniel Amen: So it wears it out.
Dr. Robert Lustig: It wears it out, right. And we know this because we take care of kids in the neuro intensive care unit who are in status epilepticus, nonstop chronic seizures, and we have to stop their seizures as quickly as possible, put them into a pentobarbital coma if we have to in order to preserve brain function. Because the longer those seizures go on, the stupider they're going to be. So it is a priority to stop the stimulation.
So chronic excitation leads to neuronal cell death. Dopamine causes chronic excitation. Dopamine kills neurons.
Dr Daniel Amen: Excessive dopamine kills the neuron.
Dr. Robert Lustig: Chronic, excessive, kills neurons. Now the neurons, they don't want to die. So they have a fail safe. They have a plan B, they have a self-defense mechanism. What they do is they downregulate the number of receptors, so it's less likely than any dopamine molecule will find the receptor to bind to. So what does this mean in human terms? In terms of addiction? You get a hit, you get a rush, receptors go down. Next time you need a bigger hit to get the same rush, because there are fewer receptors. And then the receptors go down. And then you need a bigger hit, and a bigger hit, and a bigger hit, until finally you need a huge hit to get nothing. That's called tolerance.
And then when the neurons actually do start to die, that's called addiction. And those neurons ain't coming back. They don't regrow. So, dopamine leads to addiction. When it's excess.
Dr Daniel Amen: Overstimulation...
Dr. Robert Lustig: Overstimulation, chronicity leads to addiction. Serotonin on the other hand is inhibitory. So if it's inhibitory, it puts the next neuron to rest. Now, if it's going to put the next neuron to rest, is there any chance of wearing it out? No. So does serotonin downregulate its own receptor? No. So you can't overdose on too much happiness. But there's one thing that downregulates serotonin, dopamine.
Dr Daniel Amen: They counterbalance each other.
Dr. Robert Lustig: They do. But the more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you get.
Dr Daniel Amen: But let me give you a different take on this because I've thought about this a whole bunch, that if we scan you and you have sleepy frontal lobes and psychiatrists won't know because they never look at the brain. But they give you an SSRI, which boosts serotonin, it'll actually make you worse, because it'll take your sleepy frontal lobes, make them sleepier, which then will disinhibit you and cause all sorts of behavior problems.
Dr. Robert Lustig: Well, in fact, we know that if you give SSRI's to the wrong patient, they will jump off roofs.
Dr Daniel Amen: Or kill their mother or do [crosstalk 00:08:12] all sorts of bad things.
Dr. Robert Lustig: It works for three quarters of the patients and it doesn't work for the other quarter.
Dr Daniel Amen: My experience in not three quarters, but because depression's just not one thing.
Dr. Robert Lustig: That's right. Depression is not one thing.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. Sometimes it's overactivity, sometimes it's underactivity.
Dr. Robert Lustig: I agree.
Dr Daniel Amen: Sometimes it's trauma, sometimes it's toxins And in my book Feel Better Fast and Make it Last. I talk about the dopamine drip versus the dopamine dump. And I've been blessed to treat a number of young celebrities, and fame is in dopamine.
Dr. Robert Lustig: Absolutely.
Dr Daniel Amen: When they recognize you, when they want your autograph, when the paparazzi follow you and over time...
Dr. Robert Lustig: And you know as well as I do that fame wastes a lot of people.
Dr Daniel Amen: It does because it wears out their nucleus accumbens.
Dr. Robert Lustig: Totally agree.
Dr Daniel Amen: And the other thing that wears it out is obesity. That the people, they go after the dopamine hit with the cupcakes that we got after mom's for bringing to school, and the more they do it, the more treats, really the less cells dopamine to feel anything at all.
Dr. Robert Lustig: Exactly. It changes the game. So, ultimately we have been so plied with sugar that if you tried to get the sugar out of the food, it would taste terrible. And so that maintains the level of-
Dr Daniel Amen: People have withdrawal from sugar.
Dr. Robert Lustig: And they do. And also the T1CR receptor on the tongue for sugar goes down, because of all the sugar in all of our food. So you end up needing more sugar to be able to get any sweet taste. So we have basically desensitized our taste buds and our reward center, which basically keeps us coming back for more.
Dr Daniel Amen: And if you can stay off sugar just 10 days, your taste buds begin to come back, and when you eat an orange it will explode with flavor in your mouth as opposed to if you're eating a lot of sugar, the orange tastes like nothing to you. And so being a brain warrior is, you really do see sugar as the enemy. And we're here, we love to talk about food and loving food that loves you back.
Dr. Robert Lustig: That would be good, wouldn't it?
Dr Daniel Amen: And so many people are just in a bad relationship with food.
Dr. Robert Lustig: Well, it's easy to get in a good relationship with food. Two words, real food. Food that came out of the ground or animals that ate the food that came out of the ground. That's real food. Anything else is processed. If it has a label, it's a warning label, because real food doesn't have a label, does it?
Dr Daniel Amen: Oh, I love that.
Dr. Robert Lustig: Because it doesn't need a label.
Dr Daniel Amen: I love that.
Dr. Robert Lustig: In addition, if any food has five ingredients or more, leave it at the store, because that means it's processed.
Dr Daniel Amen: Do you know corn dogs have 29 ingredients?
Dr. Robert Lustig: Pop-Tarts have 36.
Dr Daniel Amen: Oh, isn't that insane? It's the insanity. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at UC San Francisco, the author of The Hacking of the American Mind, The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains. How scary is that? Also in the documentary Sugar Coated And Fed Up. I hope you just get his books. Look at the documentaries. This is going to arm you, prepare you to win the fight of your life. And what did you learn in this week of podcasts? Write it down, put it on any of your social media sites, #brainwarriorswaypodcast.
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