Dopamine for Dummies – Understanding Dr. Kenneth Blum and the Reward Deficiency Syndrome
Dr. Kenneth Blum, PhD, the internationally recognized authority and researcher on neuropsychopharmacology and genetics, came to lunch the other day with his colleague Dr. Roger Waite. Here is what Dr. Blum had to say about our program:
“I am very impressed at what you have been able to accomplish. Especially in the non-pharmaceutical and non-nutraceutical arenas (diet, nutritional supplements and breathing techniques). Everything you have follows the Dopamine Agonist Modus Operandi. Your treatment program builds dopamine levels. Your low-glycemic lunch was out of this world…You have what is really going to turn a person’s life around. That includes, and that is, a lifestyle change — and more importantly — an easy program that an individual can follow for the rest of their life.”
Now coming from Dr. Blum, who has near icon status at the Malibu Beach Recovery Center™, this is BIG. I have long known that the holistic component of the Malibu Beach Recovery Center System for Treating Addiction™ is an outgrowth in great measure of Dr. Blum’s many years of breakthrough research into the relation between genetics and addiction and to his discovery of the “Reward Deficiency Syndrome.” Most addicts he has studied have chronically low dopamine levels. Our combination of diet, yoga breath work, and food supplements was specifically designed to help our clients raise their dopamine levels and re-balance their brain chemistry, enabling them to once again feel happy and get pleasure from something other than seeking and using their drug of choice.
I barely passed “Physics for Poets,” a class offered by UC Berkeley to help liberal arts majors fulfill General Education science requirements. So, to write this important blog about Dr. Blum’s visit to the Malibu Beach Recovery Center, I had to spend a lot of time on Google, on Dr. Blum’s website and talking to Dr. Waite. Here is the result, which I have dubbed “Dopamine for Dummies.” I hope no one will be offended.
Dr. Blum, who has devoted his life to studying the relationship between genetics and addiction, is credited with co-discovering the so-called “alcoholic gene” in 1990. That was the year he authored with Dr. Ernest Noble, former director of the NIH’s National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and researcher from UCLA, a study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, which found correlations between the Dopamine D2 Receptor Taq 1 A1 allele (a gene) and alcoholism.
Dopamine is sometimes called “the reward chemical,” the “pleasure molecule,” and the “anti-stress” molecule. It is the primary neurotransmitter found in the brain that is responsible for happiness and other emotions. It is essential for the normal functioning of the central nervous system. Dopamine provides feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement that motivate a person proactively to “feel good.”
Several years after discovering the “alcoholic gene,” additional studies led Dr. Blum and others to conclude that it was a misnomer and there is, in fact, no such thing as a “single” alcoholic gene. Dr. Blum came to believe that the genetic anomaly previously found in alcoholics is also present in drug addicts and other people with compulsive or impulsive disorders, including overeating and obesity, attention-deficit disorder, pathological gambling and many more. He has since clarified that this gene is more accurately defined as the “reward gene.” To date there are over 2,866 published peer reviewed articles claiming that the Dopamine D2 receptor gene is associated with addiction and reward dependence behaviors.
In 1995, Dr. Blum defined the condition that occurs when genes do not work together as a cohesive unit as a “Reward Deficiency Syndrome.” He hopes that this condition will one day be recognized officially as a disease. His evidence indicates that over 1/3 of the U.S. population has some form of Reward Deficiency Syndrome, and that genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction, including the effects of environment on gene expression and function.
In a healthy person, Dopamine and other neurotransmitters “cascade” like water cascading from one pool to another in a waterfall. One neurotransmitter flows into an area of the brain and triggers release of another neurotransmitter. The flow begins with Serotonin. When it is released in the hypothalamus area of the brain, Enkephalins are released and initiate the transmission of GABA, which acts like a traffic cop. GABA is important as it fine tunes the release of Dopamine. GABA allows just enough dopamine to be released to provide reward, comfort, and pleasure from ordinary activities and a degree of calming to fight off unwanted stress. People who suffer from Reward Deficiency Syndrome cannot cope with the accompanying angst, agitation and emotional pain. Their brains are unable to produce enough Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, and Endorphins.
When levels of these “feel good” chemicals are low or blocked from the brain’s receptors by genetic or environmental influences; stress, pain, discomfort and agitation are the result. To provide temporary relief people with low dopamine levels self-medicate with substances that will produce a short-lived Dopamine response including alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, junk foods, sugars, carbohydrates, caffeine, nicotine or other stimulants. These substances produce negative behaviors such as poor sleeping patterns that further depress their own endogenous Dopamine levels. Exposure to prolonged periods of stress and alcohol or other substances can also lead to a corruption of the “cascade.”
Some people with low Dopamine levels do not self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, but become clinically depressed and anxious.
These behaviors bring with them the possibility of more long-term consequences.
Both genetics and environment greatly affect what Dr. Blum calls the “brain’s reward cascade.” Therefore, it is often quite difficult to determine what is the root cause of Reward Deficiency Syndrome. However, if Reward Deficiency Syndrome has its origins in your genetic makeup, according to Dr. Blum’s research people have the power to change their genes’ expression. That is, they have the ability to respond to whatever life circumstances they may be in right now and change them to something better through healthier choices — be it healthier nutrition (nutrigenomics) or healthier thoughts, emotions, and lifestyle choices (epigenetics). Either way, the choice and the power are theirs.
Dr. Blum has long believed, and many studies have proven, that in order to overcome genetic predisposition to addiction, certain amino acids and other nutraceuticals must be used to bolster the brain’s ability to increase or decrease certain neurotransmitters or enzymes that control the brain’s reward cascade.
That is why at the Malibu Beach Recovery Center™, we have always given our clients an individually tailored regimen of food supplements and amino acids, which enhance the ability of the our low-glycemic Malibu Beach Recovery Diet™, along with a yoga breath work program to raise Dopamine levels. We then give our graduating clients the tools they need to sustain their now “normalized” Dopamine levels: an online cookbook with rules, recipes, shopping lists; real time DVDs of an abbreviated yoga breath work program that can be done at home every day; and a list of appropriate food supplements and amino acid products. Clients who continue to follow the diet, do yoga, take specialized food supplements and become involved in the 12 Step Fellowship have a real chance of long term sobriety. But, more importantly, because of the normalization of their brain chemistry they are happier and can now enjoy and live life.
Before they knew about the Malibu Beach Recovery System™, Dr. Blum and Dr. Waite advocated a non-specific “healthy diet” and non-specific regular exercise to accompany a regimen of taking SynaptaGenX (formerly known as Synaptose), the nutrigenomic neuroadaptogen they developed based on Dr. Blum’s many years of research to increase the endogenous production of Dopamine and reduce negative Reward Deficiency Syndrome behaviors. The scientific evidence they have thus far accumulated, they say, demonstrates that SynaptaGenX changes the plasticity of the brain synapses while balancing the endogenous neurotransmitters, positively affecting the Brain Reward Cascade. After touring the Malibu Beach Recovery Center™, Dr. Blum decided that the low-glycemic Malibu Beach Recovery Diet™ and the Exercise program based on yoga breath work were the perfect companions to Synaptose™. He wrote: “I was thinking in the addiction field each of us has the missing part to the global standard of care in this industry.”
Dr Blum stated, “The end result of all these various treatments offered by your clinic will assist the patient to become drug free because they feel so much better due to increased brain function. They do not get so depressed, stressed or anxious that they resort to drug relapse. This type of Neurotransmitter agonistic therapy you have here at Malibu Beach Recovery Center™ reaches far beyond just overcoming an addiction; it prepares the individual for the first time to have a chance at living a happy and joyful sober existence for the rest of their lives.”
We hope he is right. To find out we have started to give some alumni SynaptaGenX™ in addition to the yoga equipment, cookbooks, and a list of the best 12 Step meetings in their local area. Stay tuned for their feedback.