Treatment centers have seen it all when it comes to the different type of addictions people can develop, but an addiction to Oreos? Really?
Thatâ€™s what news outlets are saying based on a study done with rats, showing those sweet-filled cookies are actually as addictive as cocaine. And the mice prefer to eat the creamy middles first, just like many humans do!
The study, conducted by Connecticut College in New London, used hungry rats to illustrate the strong association with pleasure and the eating of the sweet cookies, much in the same way they showed ratsâ€™ pleasure while ingesting cocaine or morphine. And it wasnâ€™t just their taste buds that were affected. Eating the Oreos activated even more neurons in the ratâ€™s brains than exposure to the usual drugs of abuse rats seem compelled to enjoy.
â€œOur research supports the theory that high-fat/high sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,â€ said Professor Joseph Schroeder, who conducted the studies with his students. â€œIt may explain why some people canâ€™t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.â€
According to an article by the United Press International (UPI), the rats were placed in a maze with Oreos on one side and rice cakes on the other. Most of us could probably relate to the fact that the rice cakes did little to stimulate the ratsâ€™ interest. Left to their own devices, the rats chose to spend much more time on the Oreo side, just as in studies using the same methodology but with cocaine or morphine instead of food. In those studies, the rats were given shots of morphine or cocaine on one side, and injections of saline on the other. Those rats made the same choices many humans do – they went for the drugs.
The study found the Oreos activated significantly more neurons than cocaine or morphine. â€œThis correlated well with our behavioral results and lends support to the hypothesis that high fat/high sugar foods are addictive,â€ said Shroeder to the source.
Those who battle food addictions know how difficult it can be to resist certain foods, and may feel continued frustration by the inability to eat more responsibly. This data may show part of the reason why.
What causes an addiction to food?
Food addiction is actually a process addiction, in which a personâ€™s brain chemistry becomes wired to the pleasure of a behavior rather than a substance. When the pleasurable activity is removed for a time, the sufferer begins to have a need to repeat the behavior to feel â€œnormalâ€ again. When the obsession of choice is satisfied, the addicted one then feels a â€œhighâ€™ for a time. That is often followed by guilt and remorse. Soon, the restlessness and uneasiness begins to build until the need becomes an obsession that must be satisfied once more. The addictive cycle begins again. In time, it takes more and more of the activity -in this case eating- to give the same desired effect and ease the compulsion – a phenomenon known as tolerance. The addicted one stays trapped in this cycle until some action or intervention takes place. It isnâ€™t just a matter of willpower or choice. Once a process addiction is set in place, the brain dictates the need to fulfill it to release those same neurons that were activated by the oreos in the rat study. With food, it may be specific foods that trigger this, but it is the lack of control that is the hallmark of any addiction. The added difficulty with an eating disorder is that one has to have food to survive. The abstinence necessary to arrest a drug or alcohol addiction is impossible when it comes to food.
Perhaps better understanding of how our brains react to what we do will bring better treatment options in the future, especially as we began to understand how and which neurons are stimulated by substances and behaviors. Studies like this help with that understanding.
Shroeder will reveal what he learned in this study at the Society for Neuroscience conference to be held next month in San Diego.
Eating disorders are serious and disabling, and often require treatment and therapy to arrest them. If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder or another process addiction, find out he facts from a professional. There is help available, whatever your situation.