How Neuroscience Could Explain the Rise of Addictions, Heart Disease and Diabetes in 21st Century America

The conditions of human life began to improve with the Enlightenment of the 18th century, and we are better off now by many measures: food access, health, lifespan, and so on. But it hasn’t been an unbroken line of advancement. In the last three decades, U.S. death rates have risen steeply from suicide and compulsive consumption of alcohol and drugs, which Princeton University professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton famously termed “deaths of despair.” Exceeding these deaths of despair by tenfold are rising deaths from type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease—caused significantly by compulsive consumption of what we might call “foods of despair,” the extremely sweet, fatty, high-calorie foods that comprise much of the American diet. The medical community typically identifies each clinical manifestation as a separate “disease” or “disorder,” arising from internal “dysregulation.” Yet addictions, hypertension and type 2 diabetes are not dysregulations. Rather, they are predictable adaptations to life in a cage––a world-wide zoo where, deprived of challenges, we desperately seek distractions, quarrel, and grow fat. How did this happen? Our ancestor half a billion years ago was a marine worm equipped with a brain. The worm learned and remembered where to find food and mates, how to avoid danger, and so on. The key was a neural circuit that drove the creature to seek food, sex, and ...
Source: TIME: Health - Category: Consumer Health News Authors: Tags: Uncategorized Addiction diabetes Mental Health/Psychology neuroscience Source Type: news

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