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Aerobic exercise may treat drug, alcohol addiction by halting flood of feel-good chemical, trials show

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Aerobic exercise


Aerobic exercise may help treat drug or alcohol addiction by preventing the flood of a feel-good chemical, new research suggests.University of Buffalo scientists believe integrating exercise into current treatment could boost success rates of addicts wanting to quit.

Animal trials show running each day can stop the flood of dopamine that can leave some hooked on harmful substances.Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter linked with substance use disorders. It plays an important role in reward, motivation and learning.

The British National Health Service (NHS) guidelines recommend adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week, such as brisk walking.It is already known to slash the risk of heart disease, arthritis and diabetes – and some studies have suggested it can prevent relapses.

How was the study carried out? The new experiment, led by Dr, Panayotis Thanos, was conducted on rats who either ran on a treadmill five days a week or were sedentary.Brain scans of the rodents were then taken after six weeks to assess any exercise-induced changes in their dopamine signalling pathways. What did the study find? The experts discovered the rats who exercised had different mesolimbic dopamine pathways – which carries the neurotransmitter from one part of the brain to another.

They also had 21 per cent lower dopamine receptor one-like binding levels in their nucleus accumbens shell – part of the brain’s reward pathway.The study, by scientists at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

How does alcohol leave you hooked? Alcohol and other drugs, such as heroin, trigger a flood of dopamine in the reward pathway of the brain. But over time, this process can leave some people hooked on harmful substances as the brain remembers the euphoria.

Frequent boozing also causes dopamine levels to plummet – meaning many turn to the bottle for a quick fix and mood boost. Thanos said: “Several studies have shown… aerobic exercise has been effective in preventing the start, increase and relapse of substance use.”He pointed to alcohol, nicotine, stimulants and opioids – which can include heroin, morphine and fentanyl – as examples. Thanos added: “Our work seeks to help identify the underlying neurobiological mechanisms driving these changes.”


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