Realistically, everyone knows that fatty foods are bad for health. There’s a reason that the old saying says, “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”, after all. A new study has gone a step further and the research indicates that these calorie and fat laden foods may be as addictive as cocaine in the workings of your brain.
Scientists at the Scripps University allowed lab rats to gorge on cake frosting and sweet treats, as well as bacon and sausage, with unlimited, round the clock access. They discovered that this triggered addiction-like responses in their brains. To maintain their food-induced highs, the rats consumed more and more fatty treats – and grew obese in the process. Quite possibly the most startling evidence of the true nature of addiction was uncovered when the rats’ feet were zapped with electric shocks in an effort to dissuade their constant gnawing. The rats only paused briefly, even with the intense pain.
The new study, conducted by Scripps Research Associate Professor Paul J. Kenny and graduate student Paul M. Johnson, was published March 28, 2010 in an advance online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience. According to Kenny, this study confirms the addictive properties of junk food. “What happens in addiction is lethally simple,” Kenny explained. “The reward pathways in the brain have been so overstimulated that the system basically turns on itself, adapting to the new reality of addiction, whether it’s cocaine or cupcakes.”
Later in the study, he continued, “The body adapts remarkably well to change — and that’s the problem. When the animal overstimulates its brain pleasure centers with highly palatable food, the systems adapt by decreasing their activity. However, now the animal requires constant stimulation from palatable food to avoid entering a persistent state of negative reward.” In earlier published studies, rats hooked on heroin or cocaine exhibited similar brain changes.
Recent projections have calculated that obesity-related diseases cost Americans more than $150 billion in health care costs every year. Hopefully, this new study will lead researchers to develop ways to break the cycle of food addiction.