The Hacking of the American Mind—Report #2

by Robert H Lustig, MD, MSL

Synopsis of Report #1

Lustig’s central thesis is that corporations and governments are purposely conflating (mixing up two opposite concepts) pleasure and happiness. This is being done for their gain and at the expense of the person that is left confused by the conflating of these two distinctly different but related concepts.

Pleasure: Enjoyment or satisfaction derived from what is to one’s liking; gratification. While pleasure has a multitube of synonyms, it has a specific, well understood “reward pathway” in our brain.

Happiness: The quality of being happy or contentment. I’ll skip over the philosophy of Aristotle that he cites to further explain happiness. Contentment says that I’m satisfied; it’s not necessary to seek more.

 

Chapter 1: The Garden of Earthly Delights

Chapter 1 to a large extent reiterates the concepts that Lustig proposes in his introduction. Let’s see what we can gleam, however, from this chapter.

Lustig poses the question, why are so many people miserable? He also points out that many rich people are unhappy. Additionally, he points out that some people claim that the argument between pleasure and happiness is a “straw man.” He asserts that it does matter and that the differences between these two otherwise positive emotions forms the narrative arc of this book.

He explains that pleasure is the “reward pathway” and happiness is the “contentment” pathway. Lustig also concedes that the definition of happiness has changed over time.

He spends page 19-20 discussing how various religious traditions have dealt with the concepts of pleasure and happiness. He says that the definitions of these words are a moving target.

Because people want to learn how to be happier, numerous pop psychology books have appeared in recent decades, ostensibly leading people on the way to the happiness that they seek. However, most of these books confuse pleasure with happiness.

Until you can distinguish the difference between these two emotions, you can’t recognize either one as unique and you can’t understand, let alone fix, the problem for yourself and for your family.

One Origin of the Confusion

Lustig says that if you “google” happiness you will find definitions such as pleasure, joy, bliss, contentedness, etc. He points out to the reader that this is a classic example of conflating pleasure and happiness. I’ll skip past his references to Aristotle. He shows how academics such as those at Stanford University have conflated pleasure and happiness. He quotes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

 Happiness: Hedonism (maximization of pleasure) …

Lustig is not happy about Stanford’s conflating his two key concepts that drive his book. He spends the reminder of page 24 discussing some philosophical nuances of pleasure and happiness.

Lustig concludes chapter one:

And as corporations have profited big from increased consumption of virtually everything with a price tag promising happiness, we have lost big-time. America has devolved from the aspirational, achievement oriented “city on a hill” we once were, into the addicted and depressed society that we’ve now become. Because we abdicated happiness for pleasure. Because pleasure got cheap.

My comments: All through school I struggled with abstract concepts, and I’m struggling again. I’m fully sympathetic with anyone who thinks the following as he/she reads this summary: “I’m not sure that I understand all of this. Let’s see if this helps.

As a pre-adolescent emerging into adolescence, I loved drinking soda pop. It was sweet, fizzy, and tasted good. Back in those days soda pop was marketed in returnable bottles with deposits. I marveled with a friend when we bought a bottle of Royal Crown Cola. Why? The Royal Crown came in a 16-ounce bottle instead of the standard 12-ounce bottle. Coke was still being sold in 8-ounce bottles.

That extra 4 ounces of pop delivered more pleasure that lasted longer as I drank it down. As it fed my sugar addiction, it certainly didn’t add to my long-term happiness. In fact, because the massive sugar fix that I was imbibing contributed to weight gain, which contributed to me becoming more depressed.

Fast forward from the 1950s to today. Pop is still marketed and sold in 12-ounce cans. However, the 20-ounce plastic bottle has now become the new norm. That 20-ounce bottle has 67% more bad stuff compared to the old, 12-ounce can. And don’t think you’re getting off the hook if you consume “diet.” It’s all bad.

If the 20 ounce “new” serving size wasn’t big enough, the liquid candy purveyors are now marketing 24 ounce and 1-liter single serving sizes. However, the sales in recent years has been lagging for these super-sized servings, so the liquid candy folks have originated a clever new marketing gambit.

The liquid-candy-in-a-can folks are now marketing a 7.5-ounce can that sells for more than 12-ounce cans! This is something like $0.50 per can versus the $0.31 for a 12 ounce can. Or put another way, the liquid candy drinker now pays more for his/her smaller sized fix compared to a larger size.

A couple of years ago I attended an insurance meeting in Denver, and as a treat for the attendees, the sponsoring agency bussed us to a Colorado Rockies baseball game at Coors Stadium. The last major league baseball game I attended was around 50 years ago at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Was I in for a rude shock.

During every inning break we were bombarded with a plethora of advertising, especially for soda pop, on the brightly lit, monster outdoor screens. I vividly remember one of the scenes of the HAPPY young adults romping around and having fun while guzzling down their liquid candy. Their heads were tipped back with their pop bottles tipped upside down at a 60-degree angle. The close-up shots showed the imbibers’ throats flexing as they swallowed their caffeinated candy. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that the scenes had sexual overtones.

I can’t think of a better example of Lustig’s narrative of the conflating of pleasure and happiness. He also repeatedly hammers at the theme that the corporations’ conflating of pleasure and happiness is done at the expense of the consumer, or more accurately, the unwitting victim. That could be you!

Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway collects around $500 million dollars per year in dividends from the Coca Cola stock that he purchased around 30 years ago.  On December 1, 2012 the value of one Class A share of Berkshire Hathaway’s stock (BRK-A) was around $152,000. BRK-A hit $325,000 plus on January 22, 2018. That’s a doubling of wealth in a little over five years!

Every consumer that purchases Coke products (or any other liquid candy brand for that matter) has contributed to that explosion in wealth. It’s a they win, and you lose proposition. Meanwhile we hear on the news that America’s middle class in shrinking. We hear reports of the startling high percentage of seniors that are living at or below the poverty line. An exhaustive study of the causes of this occurrence is way beyond the scope of this chapter summary.

However, here is what Lustig is trying to get across to his readers. Drinking that liquid candy offers temporary pleasure, but let’s look at what happens for all too many people. That after effects include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Weight gain and obesity
  2. Please remember that the “diet” form of liquid candy introduces toxic substances such as aspartame or sucralose (Splenda) into your body. The evidence is clear that “diet” increases your appetite and is totally counter-productive as far as losing weight goes.
  3. Type 2 diabetes
  4. Heart disease
  5. Stroke
  6. Cancer
  7. Increased dental costs due to the phosphoric acid in colas eating away the enamel on your teeth. I have received many calls from people needing thousands of dollars with of crowns, implants or other expensive dental work.
  8. Financial ruin. The money spent on soda pop might as well be money flushed down the toilet. Worse yet, for those whose health has been damaged by the consumption of pop, there are increased medical costs that somebody is paying for. I have heard many people anguishing over the copays for their insulins (especially when packaged in pens) such as Lantus, Humalog and Novolog. Additionally, major pharmaceutical companies have developed expensive new diabetic drugs such as Januvia, Victoza, Onglyza, Byetta, and Trajenta. The costs for some of these are so high that some people simply cannot afford them.
  9. Depression caused by a combination of the above occurrences.

I think Dr. Lustig would whole-heartedly agree that the drinking of soda pop may give temporary pleasure, but not only does it not lead to long-term happiness, but it contributes to depression when the negative results begin to occur. Please remember that too much pleasure leads to addiction and not enough happiness leads to depression.

Continuing:

Chapter 2: Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places

I thought Chapter 1 was a little on the technical side, but Chapter 2 is even worse. Lustig delves into the physiology of how the reward pathways work in our brains. For details, please read pages 26-32. He summarizes his commentary by stating:

These three pathways generate virtually all human emotion, and in particular, those of reward and contentment.

Because of how dopamine works on the reward pathways, virtually any stimulus that generates reward can lead to addiction. These addictions can include drug addiction, but they can also include behavior such as gambling or internet use. Sugar along with high fructose corn syrup sweetened foods or beverages are also highly addictive.

Happiness depends on serotonin, but the brain’s interpretation of these signals isn’t as simple as the pleasure signal.

Lustig explains that when the THC in marijuana binds to our CBI receptors it heightens mood and alleviates anxiety, which is partially why people become so giddy when they smoke pot…in those who toke, anxiety is thrown to the wind, leaving plenty of room for pleasure.

He discusses the drug Rimonabant which suppresses pleasure receptors. This drug was supposed to help people curb their eating as they received less pleasure from eating. The only problem was that when a person loses motivation for reward, he/she also lost motivation for life. Some suicides were the end result.

No pleasure means no happiness. Pleasure is the straw that stirs the drink. Happiness is the drink. Anxiety melts the ice cubes. We all need reward, because reward keep anxiety at bay . . . for a short time.

Lustig discusses the reward-contentment paradigm in relationships. Infatuation is the spark that may start a relationship, but for the long-term run, here is what he says:

Studies of married people show that the contentment derived from the commitment of an interpersonal union generates added individual benefit; people within such unions tend to live longer and develop fewer diseases then those who never married or those that are previously divorced.

Lustig points out that romance novels run on infatuation (reward) while love (contentment) is boring. Infatuation leads to alteration in the brain chemistry that resembles drug addiction, almost assuredly due to dopamine.

He concludes Chapter 2 by mentioning how the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin physiologically work in our brains. He explains that these two pathways influence each other.

When taken to the extreme, these two pathways can take you to the highest mountain or the lowest valley—addiction, depression, and just plain misery. The science in Part 2 and 3 says so.

End

Too Much Salt?

Note from Lance: This is a reprint of an article by Dr. Sears with my comments after.

by Al Sears, MD

You’ve probably heard the expression that something important is “worth its weight in salt” and that a person who’s decent and good is the “salt of the earth.”

These expressions have their origin in the fact that up until about only a hundred years ago or so, salt was one of the most valuable and sought-after commodities in the world.

Today, it’s one of the most vilified. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently made a shocking announcement in the journal, Hypertension. They claimed that one in 10 Americans dies from eating too much salt.1

I’m sure you’ve heard the dire warnings about salt from your own doctor, the media, the FDA and just about everyone else. It makes great attention-grabbing headlines. But these recommendations are not just misleading; they’re downright dangerous.

Current FDA and AHA guidelines recommend that to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease, you should consume no more than 1,500 mg of salt per day.

Their hypothesis goes like this… You eat salt and get thirsty, so you drink more water. The excess salt causes your body to retain that water. And retaining excess water increases your blood volume, which leads to higher blood pressure… and therefore to heart disease and stroke.

It seems to make sense in theory. But there’s a big problem. The facts don’t back it up. Repeated studies have failed to show a causal link between salt intake and high blood pressure. In fact, a lot of research even points in the opposite direction.2

Most doctors will never tell you that multiple peer-reviewed studies published over the last 10 years reveal that when your daily sodium intake drops below 3,500 mg, your body reacts with a rapid rise in the hormones renin, angiotensin and aldosterone.3

This can lead to insulin resistance and trigger chronic diseases, like diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease — precisely what salt restriction is supposed to prevent.4,5

Let me explain…  In a 2016 Harvard study — involving 130,000 people across 49 countries — researchers put healthy people on a low-salt diet. Within just 7 days, these previously healthy participants developed insulin resistance! In fact, the researchers found that low salt intake raised their risk of heart attack, stroke and death, compared with an average salt intake.6

I’m all for better labeling and your right to choose how much salt you consume. But if you were to slash your salt consumption by 30% or more, as the FDA and AHA recommend, the chances are we’d be struck by a major health crisis.

Decades of pushing a low-salt diet may even be partly responsible for the epidemic in insulin-resistance and diabetes faced by millions of Americans today.

Salt craving is normal. It’s a biological need, just like your thirst for water. The truth is, you can’t live without salt.

Salt carries nutrients across cell membranes and into your cells. Your heart, kidneys, liver and other organs need it to function. It helps regulate fluid balance and muscle contraction. You can’t digest food without it. And humans are salty people. We cry and sweat salt. Even our blood is salty.

Studies show that when people are allowed to use as much salt as they like, they tend to settle at about a teaspoon-and-a-half a day — around 3,500 mg of sodium. This is true all over the world, across all cultures, climates and social backgrounds.7

The real question you should be asking is not, should you eat salt or not — but what kind of salt should you eat? Because not all salt is created equal…

Don’t Buy Into the Big Salt Lie

Here’s what I tell my patients who are worried about their salt intake: Toss the processed table salt. The salt you find on supermarket shelves is refined table salt. And table salt is not even anywhere close to the kind of salt Mother Nature intended. Table salt is superheated and bleached until it’s devoid of nutrients and minerals.

Stop eating fake foods. Americans get almost 80% of their salt intake from processed foods. And these fake foods are loaded with sodium — even if they aren’t traditionally “salty” foods. It acts as a food preserver and works by removing water from the food so bacteria can’t survive.

Salt has been used to preserve food for thousands of years. But the salt Big Agra uses is loaded with chemicals and can be listed in the ingredients under names like sodium ascorbate and sodium lactate.

Choose natural salt alternatives. Here are two of my favorites:

Sea Salt: Natural sea salt is unrefined. It contains sodium chloride like ordinary salt, but also has 50 other minerals, with all the co-factors and trace elements nature intended real salt to have. Sadly, most sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastics pollution. But it’s still better for you than processed table salt.

Himalayan Crystal Salt: Himalayan salt is mined from ancient salt beds in the Himalayas. Since these salt beds are ancient and dried, they don’t have a risk of contamination. They also contain many trace minerals. For example, 500 mg of Himalayan salt has 250 mcg of iodine. Its pinkness comes from its rich iron content.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Lance’s Comments: The website for the brand Himalayan Crystal Salt contains some excellent information as to the why’s of this type of natural salt. They list “Five Factors that differentiate the different types of salt:

  1. The amount of trace minerals in each salt.
  2. The ratio of those minerals.
  3. The particle size and structure of those minerals.
  4. The level of contamination with additives, chemicals or pollution.
  5. The research on that specific salt showing its health benefits.

They next list a useful spread sheet that shows why their brand of salt is superior compared to others.

There is another brand of unrefined salt called Real Salt. It is mined from an underground salt deposit in central Utah. Their website does not get into the detailed specifics as does the one for Himalayan Crystal Salt.

Another entry in the healthy salt lineup is Celtic Sea Salt. Again, this salt is mined from ancient sea beds. End

 

References

  1. “Sodium and Salt.” American Heart Association.
  2. Brownstein D. “Salt Your Way to Health.” A Grain of Salt Winter. 2006 issue.
  3. Graudal NA., Hubeck-Graudal T., et al. “Effects of Low-Sodium Diet Vs. High-Sodium Diet on Blood Pressure, Renin, Aldosterone, Catecholamines, Cholesterol and Triglyceride [Cochrane Review].” Am J Hypertens. 2012 Jan.
  4. Alderman MH., Madhavan S., et al. “Association of the Renin-Sodium Profile With the Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Patients With Hypertension.” N. Engl. J. Med. 1991.
  5. Ruivo GF., Leandro SM., et al. “Insulin Resistance Due to Chronic Salt Restriction is Corrected by α and β Blockade and by l-arginine.” Physiology and Behavior. 2006.
  6. Mente A., et al. “Associations of urinary sodium excretion with cardiovascular events in individuals with and without hypertension: a pooled analysis of data from four studies.” Lancet. 2016 Jul 30.
  7. Alderman MH. “Dietary salt and cardiovascular disease.” Hillel Cohen. Published: 10 Dec 2011.