My friend once admitted to me that he could never eat just one Oreo; it was always an entire sleeve with him. Now, we may know why. Scientists have just concluded a study to better understand how our brains may crave junk food the way it craves other addictive substances such as illegal drugs. According to studies, our brain may react in similar ways when we consume high, sugary foods as they do when we consume drugs.
In fact, a new research study performed by undergraduate students at Connecticut College may provide even more evidence that some junk food can be addictive. Interest has increased in the last few years with the increase in the obesity rates, especially in low-income areas where healthy, inexpensive foods may be less available, leading to an increase in consumption of low-cost junk food.
“Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat, high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability,” study designer and neuroscience major Jamie Honohan said in a statement.
What does the Oreos study suggest?
In their research, Connecticut college students decided to build a maze. First, they constructed two mazes: one maze allowed the rates to consume Oreos, the other rice cakes. Then they release the rats and let them decide which side of the maze to explore. Researchers compared the time on each side of the maze.
Next, a second maze was constructed. On one side the rats were given an injection of cocaine or morphine; on the other they were given an injection of saline.
In addition, as the rats were consuming Oreos the researchers also studied the number of neurons in the nucleus accumbens in the rat’s brain, the pleasure portion of the brain.
Surprising results from consuming Oreos
At the conclusion of the study there were two surprising results. First, not only did the rats spend as much time on the cookie side of the maze as they did on the side where they could get an injection of cocaine or morphine, they also experienced “more pleasure than the animals being injected with drugs, as measured by activation changes in the nucleus accumbens.”
Although the research does not conclusively prove anything, according to researchers, it may give them some clues and maybe even a hypothesis that “consumption of high fat/sugar foods can lead to addictive behaviors and can activate the brain in a similar manner as drugs of abuse.”
Scientists are quick to point out this does not negate the fact that everyone must take personal responsibility for their actions, but it does lead to some interesting ideas about why some people may have difficulty controlling their food intake.
Scientists also note that the actions of rats are not always exactly the same as humans and conducting the study with humans would be more difficult. Scientists did not, however, suggest Oreos were addictive in the traditional sense of the word, but simply that the rats did enjoy eating them and specifically sought them out.
Take-aways from the study?
Moderation has always been the key to any type of unhealthy food consumption. If you cannot eat just one or two, maybe you shouldn’t eat any.
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