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Two for One: How Our Brains Reward Us Twice for Every Meal

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Feel the dopamine. (Credit: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Food. It’s probably on your mind quite a bit this holiday season, whether you’re anticipating festive meals or dreading the pounds you might pack on during a bout of epicurean overindulgence.

Though tips on managing our cravings for all things sweet and fatty abound, it’s also worth remembering that the odds are stacked against us when it comes to resisting the call of another slice of pie.

Our brains respond to food, and even the sight or thought of it, with a heady rush of chemicals aimed at convincing us to eat. It’s a relict of bygone days when a steady food supply was no guarantee and the best strategy was to stuff ourselves every chance we got. Our brains evolved to deliver a rush of neurotransmitters to both motivate us to and reward us for eating. Is it any wonder we still enjoy it so much?

Double Feature

And it turns out that we actually get not one but two chemical rewards for satiating ourselves. Using a new imaging technique, a team of researchers led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Germany have discovered that our brains release the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to a tasty snack both when the food hits our mouths and after it’s entered our stomachs — a real twofer.

With a modified version of a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan, the researchers were able to track the movement of dopamine through the brains of 12 participants who had just been given something to eat. Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system, and it’s released both when we see or think about food and when we actually eat it. The researchers gave the participants either something tasty to eat (a milkshake, of course) or a bland control food (a “tasteless solution”) and watched to see when and where the neurotransmitter appeared.

Dopamine blossomed in the participant’s brains as soon as the milkshake hit their tastebuds, as expected. It was concentrated in areas involving reward-value signaling, memory and inhibitory control, among others — again, no surprise. But, 15 to 20 minutes after the milkshake had gone down the hatch, the researchers found another wave of dopamine in people’s brains. Even more odd, it was in totally different regions than the first rush. This time around, the dopamine appeared in regions related to higher cognitive functions, compared with the more primal areas stimulated in the initial release of the neurotransmitter.

Further analysis picked out another trend: If people had been craving the milkshake, the first rush of dopamine was quite strong, but the second was much smaller. If they hadn’t been craving the milkshake as much, the first release was small, but the second was larger. In short, the people who really wanted a milkshake got a bigger reward when it first hit their tongues. The less milkshake-happy saw a smaller reward at first, but they got a more substantial dopamine hit later on.

The work was published Thursday in Cell Metabolism.

From Tongue to Stomach

It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but the double whammy reflects the fact that our mouths and our stomachs like food for two different reasons. Our mouths like food because it tastes good, and our stomachs like it because it’s full of nutrients. So when we taste something good, our brains reward us with dopamine. And, when our stomachs get the stuff they need to fuel our bodies, they also send signals to the brain telling it to release a chemical “thank you.”

The researchers think that the people who craved milkshakes got more dopamine upfront because their payoff was bigger, and then less later on in an attempt to curb overeating. Those who got a bigger hit later on were seeing their bodies respond to the nutritional value of the food: Their stomachs were simply telling their brains “This is good! Let’s get more!” by rewarding the behavior. It’s proof that our bodies do reward us for eating food that’s good for us, not just stuff that tastes good.

Though the response has been observed in mice, this is the first time it’s even been found in humans. The discovery has implications for how we treat obesity, the researchers say, as it seems that the more we crave food, the less we get rewarded for it later on when our stomachs are counting nutrients. By choosing meals that favor in-the-moment gratification — things with high sugar and fat content — over long-term satisfaction, we’re also forgoing that second dopamine hit, the one actually related to nutritional content. The result could be choices that are less healthy.

If anything, it’s also a reminder that less immediately-satisfying foods do have their own reward. We just have to wait a little to get it.

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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