Are Oreos as addictive as cocaine? They could be even worse, according to a recent study at the University of Connecticut.
When Professor Joseph Schroeder and his students placed rats in a maze that contained rice cakes on one side and Oreos on the other, they found that the rats gravitated to the Oreos and chose the cookies just as frequently as rats in other maze experiments chose cocaine injections over saline injections.
“Rats formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment,” according to a press release.
In comparing the cocaine and cookie experiments, the researchers also found that that eating Oreos activated more pleasure neurons in the brain than consuming cocaine or morphine. The rats derive more pleasure from sugar than drugs.
“These findings …lend support to the hypothesis that maladaptive eating behaviors contributing to obesity can be compared to drug addiction,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder and his team uphold the assertion that drugs and sugar activate neurons in the same way, which adds evidence to the argument that that less nutritional foods loaded with fat and sugar are biologically addictive. This explains why people are more drawn to desserts than the salad bar.
“Our research supports the theory that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” Schroeder said.
The experiment results suggest that obesity and other diseases caused by hefty consumption of unhealthy foods are harder to control than previously thought because of the addictive properties in sugar and fat. There is more to controlling consumption than deciding not to eat sugar when the neurotransmitters crave it.
The study helps to explain why some people have a really hard time resisting bad-for-you foods even when they know just how bad for you the food is. The hard part with Oreos, though, is recognizing the addiction. Dr. Timothy Morley, who studies both hormones and nutrition, affirms that realizing the problem “is difficult because we don’t generally think of food as being biologically addictive.”
Schroeder carried out the experiment, but senior neuroscience major Jamie Honohan came up with the idea. Initially, the prevalence of obesity in lower socioeconomic classes sparked Honohan’s interest.
Through her work, Honohan hoped to put the spotlight on the suppliers of high-fat, high-sugar, nutritionally-devoid foods, especially those who market their products to lower socioeconomic classes.
In general, Oreos are marketed more heavily to lower-income families, making them more susceptible to the cookies’ addictive properties. And despite the obvious dangers and drawbacks of drug use, Honohan claims “high-fat/high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability.”
Although the study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, which is the academic standard to validate scientific findings, it has already garnered mountains of media attention. No matter the publication, the message is clear: be careful what you eat.
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