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Salt triggers similar neurobiological effects
Drugs stimulate the brain in a similar way to eating salt. This is the conclusion reached by American and Australian researchers in a comprehensive study that compares the neurobiological effects of salt consumption with modern drugs such as opiates and cocaine.
The consumption of salt activates the same gene patterns in the brain as when using drugs, Wolfgang Liedtke from Duke University in North Carolina and his colleague Derek Denton from the University of Melbourne in Australia report in the current issue of the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ”. The researchers used mice to compare the effects of salt consumption with the effects of drug use. They came to the conclusion that the urine instinct to absorb salt apparently forms the basis of the effects of modern drugs in the brain.
Salt activates the same gene segments as drugs The researchers from Duke University in North Carolina, USA and the University of Melbourne in Australia used mice to compare the neurobiological effects of drugs with that of the vital sodium chloride (table salt). They found that the same gene patterns are activated in the brain by salt as, for example, in opiates and cocaine. Salt intake is a vital instinct for humans and the reactions in the brain are corresponding, explain Wolfgang Liedtke and Derek Denton in the magazine "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences". According to Wolfgang Liedtke, “the appetite for sodium salts is comparable to the thirst for water. Similar to quenching thirst, drinking a salty solution brings quick satisfaction. ”According to the researchers, modern drugs such as cocaine and opiates are based on these existing mechanisms and thus generate a corresponding addiction or the urge for satisfaction, explained Liedtke and Denton . According to the researchers, some scientists previously suspected that "drug addiction could use circuits from old instincts". The current study has now succeeded in proving that "a classic instinct, the hunger for salt, provides the neuronal organization that is exploited secondarily by the addiction to opiates and cocaine", the American-Australian researchers emphasized the importance of their work.
Reward system in the brain plays a key role The evidence was obtained by the neurobiologists with the help of a study in mice that had a significantly increased salt requirement due to the extremely low-salt diet. In the genetic analysis, the researchers found that the craving for salt in the brain of the mice activated certain gene patterns of the hypothalamus, which also play a key role in drug addicts. Because the hypothalamus located in the diencephalon not only controls the balance of energy, water and salts, but is also the seat of the body's reward system, which is stimulated both by salt intake and drug use. The researchers were able to demonstrate that the same gene patterns are activated in a salt deficit as in addiction to opiates or cocaine. The activated genes also help to make a certain area of the hypothalamus more sensitive to the effects of dopamine, the American-Australian scientists explained. According to the experts, dopamine is a messenger in the brain responsible for the feeling of satisfaction and is a crucial factor in the brain addiction and reward system.
New Perspectives in Addiction Understanding As part of their study, the researchers also examined the effects that can be achieved by inhibiting the activated gene segments. They found that the salt instinct was also suppressed in this way. "We were surprised to see that the blockage of addictive circuits also severely affected sodium appetite," emphasized Wolfgang Liedtke. The researchers were convinced that their results, on the one hand, offer a new perspective on the understanding of addiction and, on the other hand, also allow conclusions to be drawn about the consequences of an excessively salty diet. (fp)
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