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Beer taste can trigger the release of dopamine

Both alcohol and even the anticipation of alcohol may raise levels of a brain chemical called dopamine, (which is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone) which plays an important role in feelings of elation and pleasure.

A research study carried out by the Indiana University believes that increased levels of dopamine can be linked to drinking and drug abuse and also suggesting that intoxication isn’t always necessary, and just the taste of beer alone can provoke the release of the neurotransmitter within minutes.

Using a PET scanning compound that targets dopamine receptors in the brain, the scientists were able to assess the changes in dopamine levels in 49 healthy male volunteers, when they tasted beer and when they tasted Gatorade.

Each man‘s tongue was sprayed with just 15 milliliters of beer over a 15-minute period, so they would not feel the effects of alcohol and there would be no increase in blood alcohol level, and the scans showed higher levels of dopamine in the ventral striatum, a brain region linked to reward following the taste of beer compared to tasting Gatorade, and the effect was significantly more pronounced among participants who had a family history of alcoholism, but participants who were heavy drinkers but didn’t have the family history had merely averagedopamine levels.

The participants also said they craved beer after tasting the small sample and did not get the same response with Gatorade, even though many thought it tasted better.

Dr David Kareken, deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center, said: "We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain’s reward centres."

Kareken also added, "The stronger effect in people with close relatives who are alcoholics may suggest that the risk of alcoholism could be inherited."

The study from the Indiana University School of Medicine, was published in the Neuropsychopharmacology journal.

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