When someone says that a certain brand of candy is as addictive as crack, they might not be as far off as one might think.
In a recent study published by Yale University in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers monitored the brain activity of 48 young female volunteers with varying body types when presented with a chocolate milkshake in comparison to a tasteless solution. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor brain activity, the study found that foods and narcotics stimulate the same regions of the brain.
Although the study fails to mention the severity of the munchies in comparison to the severity of drug cravings, the results may provide insight as to why weight loss efforts are often unsuccessful.
In the future, studies such as this one may help develop better weight loss programs modeled after drug rehabilitation tactics. According to the study, “If food cues take on enhanced motivational properties in a manner analogous to drug cues, efforts to change the current food environment may be critical to successful weight loss and prevention efforts.”
A related study, conducted by Scripps Research Institute and published in early 2010 by the journal Nature Neuroscience, determined that rats fed high-fat, high-calorie diets — think cheeseburgers, cheesecake and sausage — experienced a gradual deterioration in the ‘pleasure center’ of their brains. The most surprising finding of this study, however, was that the majority of rats accustomed to an unhealthy diet chose to starve rather than eat healthy alternatives.
Paul Kenny, a researcher with the Scripps Research Institute study, said in a press release that the findings “present the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms.”
In sum, the overstimulation of certain areas of the brain caused by heightened feelings of pleasure from food or drug intake leads to excessive release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
These findings may help health care professionals understand why many individuals possess an unusual attachment to certain unhealthy foods. In light of the studies’ results, physicians may find it useful to apply similar treatment techniques to both drug and food addictions.
Less related, but nonetheless interesting, a recent UCSB study found that the proclivity of food and drug addictions seem to vary by sex. Lab rats were presented with levers initiating the release of either junk food or cocaine. The results concluded an overwhelmingly female preference for cocaine, while the males tended to favor the junk food.
Sobering as all this data may be for all of us Freebirds enthusiasts, we know that burritos will always win out over cocaine. Still, the real message for all you health nuts is that really everything is best enjoyed in moderation.