For many of us, cutting down on sugar is easier said than done and now, a new study has revealed why it is so.
The research by Duke University scientists suggests that a habit leaves a lasting mark on specific circuits in the brain, priming us to feed our cravings. It deepens scientists’ understanding of how habits like sugar and other vices manifest in the brain and suggests new strategies for breaking them.
Senior investigator Nicole Calakos noted that one day, researchers may be able to target these circuits in people to help promote habits that they want and kick out those that they don’t want.
Experiments by Duke neurobiology graduate student Justin O’Hare found that the stop and go pathways were both more active in the sugar-habit mice. O’Hare said he didn’t expect to see the stop signal equally ramped up in the habit brains, because it has been traditionally viewed as the factor that helps prevent a behavior.
The team also discovered a change in the timing of activation in the two pathways. In mice that had formed a habit, the go pathway turned on before the stop pathway. In non-habit brains, the stop signal preceded the go.
Calakos said some researchers are beginning to explore the possibility of treating drug addiction using transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS, a noninvasive technique that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain.
The study is published online in the journal Neuron.