I wish you all a happy winter solstice no matter what variation theme you subscribe to.
It seems fitting to write about cravings. With the New Year around the corner there will be plenty written about cutting calories, losing weight, exercise, colon cleanses, juicing, coffee enemas, and all that Bah Humbug!
I am in the middle of writing a post on the Crabtree effect and in the process I started thinking about cravings.
I’m always thinking about the mitochondria.
We often say that certain energy substrates are addicting. That might be so, but I find the explanation unsatisfying. Feeding a human and/or a lab animal sucrose and noticing addictive behavior and showing an fMRI of a brain lit like a Christmas tree demonstrates cause and effect but it does not answer the question: Why?
I believe the brain can be loosely described as a blend between a psychopath and sociopath. It will whittle your body away in the name of itself while you grow tumors on your arms and legs. It will keep you up at night if you didn’t eat enough. It will send signals to hormone secreting sites on your body to increase this or decrease that. It will make you feel bouts of mania and it will make you depressed. It’s all very exhausting. It brings me back to the point in an earlier post that hormones are background until inefficient energy substrates are introduced AND/OR the organism is put into a context where there is a need for an acute response due to increased energy needs e.g. physical stress, psychological stress, injury, etc.
But what mechanism is responsible for this, what signal is the brain receiving that causes all of these symptoms? I believe the answer at the end of the day is simply inhibited mitochondrial respiration i.e. hypoxia and that the brain senses this. That is another key, that the brain senses this, although it can be quite selective in acknowledging it with its psychopath/sociopath mentality.
I think it is fair to say that the brain can sense inhibited respiration globally and locally. Local inflammation is an indicator that the brain really is aware that a toe is a toe and that when you get kicked in the balls your balls hurt not your eyes, although they probably will water a bit. Why do your eyes water when you get kicked in the balls? I don’t know but I think it is a good indicator that although we are amazing creatures we aren’t perfect. I think there are examples of other organisms with more accurate nervous systems. We’ll get there though eventually if we don’t kill ourselves first.
But you have to ask yourself why is it that if I cut off my arm my whole body feels the pain and not just the site where the arm is cut off? Is it because your brain senses a possibility of death or is it because your brain knows that you will have one less hand to stuff your face with?
If you think about that for a moment it’s quite amazing. If we assume that cravings are a result of inhibited mitochondrial respiration we can then begin to explore the cause of cravings and perhaps why certain cravings are prevalent.
Fat is all around us in the Western world. So are carbohydrates. In our culture we associate carbohydrates with energy. I witness this conditioning on a day-to-day basis with my coworkers who ask: “If you don’t eat carbohydrates where do you get your energy from?”
When I explain to them I get my energy from fat they are baffled. “Isn’t that bad for your heart?” Contrast that with traditional times where fat was a prized resource.
When you consider that then you can begin to contemplate cravings. I don’t believe that menstruating women in artic cultures craved chocolate. I don’t know maybe during menstruation the women had secret stashes of berries.
Silly isn’t it.
So why do we crave sucrose? Because there is strong enough of a cultural convention and an association with carbohydrates and energy that during stress this is what we reach for naturally. If that association was different we’d reach for the butter.
However, the difference is that butter maintains respiration. Sucrose does not, in fact over time it reduces mitochondrial density and respiration so that a craving for sucrose produces a perpetual addiction in the name of trying to maintain respiration.
For so many years we have believed that butter and fat were a guilty pleasure, we forgot that in reality it was a superior energy substrate. So we ate it when we “caved” but believed at the same time it was clogging our arteries. We slowly conditioned out of ourselves our fat loving selves by believing that it was bad for us and thus losing the association between fat and energy and stability.
Now we believe that sucrose is good for us, we believe that the swings between hypo- and hyperglycemia are normal and all the peculiar behaviors associated with it. We believe that no matter how depressed or fatigued we feel that that is part of life and it is acceptable so long as we don’t die of a heart attack. In effect, because we fear death by heart attack we have allowed ourselves to be conditioned into believing carbohydrates are healthy even while we proverbially attach electrodes to our nipples every time we drink a bottle of Coke.
When you start thinking about respiration and the Crabtree effect you start believing that the idea of “moderation” is a last ditch effort by commercial enterprises to perpetuate a legacy. I believe that people in the Western world are unsatisfied, they might not know it consciously yet, but I think the flux of TV cooking shows where Chefs prepare real food is a sign that people are hungry for something real. They just don’t know why and they have forgotten how to cook. All they know is that it fat dripping off of charred meat looks good. But I would see things in a “mystical way” like that. After all I’m a Jungian and I subscribe to Sheldrake’s morphic fields. “We” want to survive.
An addiction can loosely be defined as a failure of a substance to solve the underlying problem of restoring respiration.