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TEDx Wall Street: Elements’ Dr. Pamela Peeke on How to Reclaim Your Brain From Addictive Living

Dr. Pamela Peeke makes confronting our unhealthy habits positively funny and inspiring, as attendees recently learned at TEDx Wall Street. We often cope with challenges propped up by “false fixes” that flicker out fast, Peeke told the audience.

“You know what I’m talking about … when things get a little tough out there, it’s usually that national ménage à trois, especially for women, late at night. You. Ben. And Jerry’s.”

Binging on sugary food or TV, these are all short-term imposters to real coping, said Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, a New York Times best-selling author, and Elements Behavioral Health’s senior science adviser. She has appeared on national news shows such as “Nightline” about what she terms “addictive-like” lifestyles. “Falling asleep at the meal,” she dubs it.

“Who was it,” she quipped at TED, “who told us that a pint of ice cream has four servings in it? No, no no. ‘Law & Order’ marathon, perimenopause, a rotten day — one serving. And there you have it — anesthetized, ready for another day. Sound familiar?”

Peeke calls it “glacierizing.” The Mayo Clinic calls it “sleeping disease,” she says. And we brag about needing only four hours of sleep? “Staring at screens, getting to work at 5 in the morning and leaving at midnight … Sleep at all?” Peeke asks. “What I’m here to do is to fill the survival void a little differently than you’ve been doing for a long time.”

Watch as Peeke humorously canvasses verifiable brain changes via PET scan from sugar addiction and shares how terminally ill lab rats helped prove the point with Oreos, morphine and heroin. They went to the Oreos first. She describes how “sugary, fatty, salty foods … do a number on your brain,” which can be seen by PET scan. Refined sugar is as addictive if not more addictive than cocaine, she asserts. It impacts “one particular gene in the reward center of the brain,” as was visible by the lab rats tearing apart an Oreo to reach the sweetest middle. In humans, the brain becomes addled “where executive function hangs out,” she said.

“What we notice is the [inability] of the brain to muster up all the skills … mindfulness, reining in impulsivity … you can’t do it, it gets impaired, end of story. What else hammers this? Stress.”

The good news is that we can turn all this around. On a hopeful note, Peeke talks about the relatively new science of epigenetics, in which diet and lifestyle can change what she calls “the expression” of genes. Scientists are finding the future implications are huge and may lead to ground-breaking treatments. Watch her inspiring video:

There is still hope.

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