Robert Lustig, M.D., M.S.L.

Corporate Hacking of the American Mind

Date Aired: November 17, 2017

Episode Description

Dr. Lustig, a pioneer in studying the adverse health effects of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, describes how Big Business uses the science of addiction to keep us hooked to unhealthy foods. The result is that our health suffers. He discusses how marketing and the media subvert brain physiology to their advantage to veer us from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of pleasure (which means profit)

Robert Lustig, MD

We are getting sicker
We suffer from four crisis

  • Health care crisis
  • Social security crisis
  • Opioid crisis
  • And depression crisis
    • 24 % of people in US are on SSRIs

There are four manifestations of a single crisis

Health Care Crisis

  • ½ of us have a chronic disease
  • ¼ of us have more than one chronic disease
  • We spend 18 % of our GNP on health.
  • We spend 3.2 trillion dollars on health care
    • 65 % of this is paid by the Federal Government
    • 75 % of it is chronic metabolic diseases
    • Alzheimer’s Disease costs 200 billion dollars per year and continuing to increase
  • If we could turn back the rate of diseases back to 1970 levels before the processed food epidemics, we could reverse 75 % of the chronic metabolic disease we could recoup 1.8 trillion dollars per year. Possibly we could solve the budget crisis.
  • We end up losing triple what the food industry makes
  • By the year 2030, it is expected that 42 % of US will be obese and by 2050 33 % will be diabetic
  • There is a loss in productivity
  • Morgan Stanley, an international investment bank, modeled what our economic productivity would like on our sugar use and if there were no sugar
  • Estimated by the year 2035, Morgan Stanley estimates that our economic growth will be zero
    • Economic stagnation based on our sugar consumption

We lost our ability to differentiate two emotions / concepts

  • They involved two different parts of the brain
  • Two different sets of neurotransmitters
  • They involve two different regulatory  pathways
  • Two different sets of receptors
  • Two different mechanisms of action


  • Long lived
  • Ethereal – feel above neck
  • Giving
  • Achieved in social groups
  • Not achieved in substances
  • Does not involved addiction
  • Involves the neurotransmitter serotonin


  • Short lived
  • Visceral feel in body
  • Taking
  • Achieved alone
  • Achieved with substances
  • Extreme drugs, alcohol, addictions such as gambling, porn, shopping, internet, social media
  • Involves the neurotransmitter dopamine

Differences between dopamine and Serotonin


  • Dopamine is the neuro transmitter that is involved in motivation, reward, addiction and reward neurotransmitter
  • Dopamine is excitatory
  • When it is released, it excites neurons
  • Neurons are fragile, they like to be tickled not bludgeoned.
  • Chronic overstimulation of any neuron leads to cell death
  • It has a defense mechanism: it down regulates the receptor
    • Get a hit, a rush, receptors go down
    • Need a bigger hit to get the same rush
    • Bigger hit and get nothing called tolerance
    • It is called addiction when the nerves begin to die
    • Because dopamine down regulates serotonin, the more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you become
  • Down regulates its receptor leading to neuronal cell deaths
  • Leads to consumption of high energy and sweet substances leading to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia

UK million woman study

  • The behaviours that happiness lead to kills us
  • Unhappy people had poor health due to their behaviours


  • Neurotransmitter involved in contentment and happiness.
  • Is often used in antidepressants such as the SSRIs
  • Does not down regulate its own receptor because it is an inhibitory down receptor
  • The only thing that down regulates serotonin is serotonin


  • Occurs with stress
  • Reves up dopamine by inhibiting the inhibitory factors
  • Dow regulates the serotonin receptorsà decreasing contentment
  • Suspends the prefrontal cortex which keeps us from doing stupid things
  • Also sets off an inflammatory pathway, sympathetic overload


  • Hedonic pleasures
  • They tell use that happiness is pleasure
    • Coca cola Open happiness campaign 2005 – 2015
      • Coca cola is about pleasure not happiness
      • Has caffeine, sugar, phorsphoric acid, salt, caramel colouring
    • Happy hour
  • Every corporation has neuroscientists to get people to utilize their products more.
    • Theses scientists use the science of addiction against us
  • Gmail is addictive; it takes two seconds for new emails to pop up.
    • This is engineered to give a one to two second delay to heighten the dopamine system
    • Tristan Harris said this on Sixty Minutes
  • NirEyal“Hooked: how to build habit-forming productHe states there are four steps to creating a habit of buying a product.
    • A trigger
      • create an itch email going off
    • An action
      • a proverbial scratch accepting an email
      • done in anticipation of a reward
      • this creates a focused state which suppresses the areas of the brain associated with judgment and reason
      • It activates the parts associated with wanting and desires (e.g. slot machines, lotteries)
    • Variable Reward
      • The reward cannot be the same each time
      • There is a burst of dopamine when the brain is expecting an award.
      • Facebook, Instagram give inconsistent rewards
    • Investment
    • It becomes a vicious cycle of consumption, pleasure, and unhappiness which leads to bad health and increased health care expenditures

 Government Role

  • The government enables corporations to do this behavior
  • In 1929, because of the depression, we developed an index, Gross Domestic produce (GDP), Simon kuznic warned the government about using this measure as this is a measure of productivity and not welfare
    • These figures can be manipulated with lies
    • GDP works at cross purposes
      • Productivity is food + pharma
      • Health = food – pharma
    • Sustainability is not measured
      • As we damage the planet, GDP decreases but sustainability decreases as there is soil erosion, global warming
    • There has been an ebb and flow of individual vs. corporate rights
    • This stopped because of one man, Lewis Powell Jr
      • He was a corporate lawyer for Phillip Morris
      • He believed in corporate secrecy above all else
      • Believed corporate America had to take back all rights
      • Corporations had to take back America from the masses who are going to
    • In the 1880s there were the robber barrons who were trying to corner the markets
    • In early 1900s, Teddy Roosevelt tried to break these bank monopolies
    • 1920s was land speculation like in 2008, The Teapot Dome, the first depression
    • In the 1930’s, there was FDR undoing theses effects (for example with the FDIC)
    • In the 1940s and 1950s there was McCarthyism, rolling back individual rights
    • In 1960 had Ralph Nader, the consumer rights movement
    • This stopped with Lewis Powell who wanted the corporations to take control. They have free speech and can say any thing they want.  They don’t have to prove that what they say is true.

We constantly get messages regarding hedonic pleasure

  • We live in an immediate reward and gratification society
  • This bombards our brains with dopamine
  • This drives down our serotonin and zaps us of our happiness
  • All the things that are hedonic have associated health risks from the increased dopamine and cortisol
  • These lead to
    • changes in the brain,
    • changes in our personalities,
    • changes in our abilities to concentrate
    • insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, dementia, cancer
  • Everything that drives dopamine have been shown to be unhealthy and contribute to medical costs.

 Falling in Love

  • Sex is reward for survival of the species:
    • is dopamine
  • Love contentment of being in a relationship is unrelated to sex
    • Is serotonin related

In Love

  • Is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder
    • With increased dopamine and decreased serotonin
    • See the same in OCD
    • Seen in PET scans
  • We do stupid things when “in love”, infatuated

Recommendations to increase Serotonin

  • Can have happiness and pleasure The four Cs
    • Connect interpersonal, eye to eye connection
      • Not over the phone or facebook
        • Emogis do not convey empathy
        • Cannot have a connection with anonymous
      • We have a set of neurons called mirror neurons that read facial expression
        • We adopt some of the same emotions, empathy
          • Is a driver of serotonin
          • Psychopaths feel no emotion, empathy, happiness or connection
            • Cannot generate serotonin
          • Religion is a form of connection. They all work because at their core, they have connection which drives the emotional well being
            • Yet zealtry can heighten dopamine
          • Contribute
            • Outside yourself
            • The gift to others or the world nor for reward
            • Work can count if we and our boss can see it as a contribution
          • Cope
            • Sleep
              • We are sleep deprived
              • Blue lights from computers keep us up
              • Kids that charge their cell phones in the room decrease sleep 28 minutes
                • Blue light decreases blue light
                • EMF affects our cells
              • Mindfulness
                • Multitasking only 2 % of the population can do this The rest are serial uni-taksers.  Each time switch from one subject to another, we get a bump of cortisol
              • Exercise
                • Is more effective than SSRIs at alleviating serotonin
                • 24 % of US is on an SSRI
              • These lower cortisol and dopamine
            • Cook
              • Processed foods, low tryptophan, low omega three fatty acids, high fructose
              • Real foods high tryptophan, high omega three fatty acids, low fructose
              • Tryptophan
                • Precursor to serotonin
                • Rarest amino acid
                • Highest in eggs, poultry, fish
                • When eating processed food get less tryptophan
              • Omega three fatty acids
                • Are anti inflammatory
                • Rats that are deficient see inflammation around the synaptic terminals in the brain.
                  • These go away when resupply omega 3 fatty acids
                  • Important for neurotransmission and making serotonin
                • In marine life, flax seed
                  • Wild salmon, not farmed salmon (omega 6)
                • Fructose
                  • Increases dopamine, decreases serotonin
                  • Yields to metabolic

Question, does a high protein diet decrease serotonin and increase dopamine?

  • There are three aromatic amino acids
    • Phenylalanine
      • In diet soda
    • Tyrosine
    • Tryptophan
  • They all share one amino acid transporter into the brain
  • When have a diet high in tyrosine and tryptophan, the receptor is occupied (like trying to find a cab in New York City)à decreased tryptophan into the brain and decreased tryptophan
  • A high carb diet, get a high reward, are depriving brain of phenylalanine and tyrosine, so have a short period where tryptophan can get into the brain
  • Concept behind serotonin agonist fen fen

Ben Franklin Those who abdicate happiness for pleasure will end up with neither
We need both
We should not exclude happiness for pleasure