Researchers at Connecticut College say fatty, super-sweet treats are just as addictive, and maybe even more so, than hard drugs like cocaine.
Their study focused on lab rats and the choices they made when offered “America’s favorite cookie” and some of that “Bolivian marching powder.”
“Our research supports the theory that high-fat, high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” said Joseph Schroeder, associate professor of psychology. “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”
The study put rats in a maze (of course it did) with Oreos on one side, and rice cakes on the other.
Another maze contained cocaine or morphine versus saline solution.
Given the option, rats spent their time hanging around the corner, looking for some of that sweet, sweet candy.
Rats spent as much time, it turns out, waiting for an Oreo (or similar treat) as they did cocaine.
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Researchers then tested for levels of c-Fos, a “marker of neuronal activation,” in the brain’s pleasure center.
“It basically tells us how many cells were turned on in a specific region of the brain in response to the drugs or Oreos,” said Schroeder.
In this case, Schroeder’s team discovered the sugary foods activated “significantly more neurons” than the drugs.
“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,” said neuroscience major Jamie Honohan.
She helped spearhead the research by looking into just how much fatty, sugary foods in low-income neighborhoods contribute to the obesity epidemic.
Sadly, for the researchers, this study had other, lingering effects.
“I haven’t touched an Oreo since doing this experiment,” Schroeder told NBC News.
Schroeder is to present the research next month at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego.
As for the burning question on all our minds, rats eat the middle first, too.
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