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Mar 28, 2010 02:13 PM

High-calorie, fatty foods may cause cocaine-like addiction

A study by the Scripps Research Institute and published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience suggests "that the same molecular mechanisms that drive people into drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overeat, pushing people into obesity."

The study says that regular consumption of high-fat, high-calorie foods overloads the so-called pleasure centers in the brain and affects the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. The study found that when rats consumed these foods in great enough quantities, it led to compulsive eating habits that resembled drug addiction. The rats not only became obese, their brains changed.

The Scripps Florida scientists say the study "bolsters the increasingly popular theory that Americans' bulging waistlines can be blamed in part on the addictive attributes of unhealthy food...The fat rats became so hooked on junk food that when researchers took away the bad stuff and replaced it with healthy food, the rodents chose to starve themselves."

The study in Nature Neuroscience:

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  1. That's fascinating. Thanks for posting this.

    1. The reports seem a bit misleading though. They mention that the rats were fed fatty AND sugary foods-- it wasn't just fatty foods. I'd be interested in the results if the rats were fed ONLY fatty foods or ONLY sugary foods. I don't see how they can say fatty foods caused the 'addiction' when that wasn't the only kind of food given.

      1 Reply
      1. re: janmcbaker

        I see your point. The rats were purposely fed pleasurable "high-hedonic" foods that excited the reward circuitry of the brain. Since these foods are most often a combination of high-calories and high fats (and often high-sodium), there was no reason to distinguish between fatty and caloric/sugary foods.

        The study measured how quickly and strongly the brain became addicted to these foods. The results are rather striking, with strong implications on why these foods compel humans to overeat, even when people are already full and their caloric needs have been met.

        As to the former thread headline that said only "fatty foods," that error is both mine and CNN's (I copied their headline). That is now corrected, thanks to the moderators.

      2. This is why I have to limit my sugar and white flour intake to the weekends*--I just seem to want more and more when I eat it, even if I'm completely full, and it takes most of my resources just to say "no" to more of the stuff. Interesting stuff.

        *with the exception of a square of dark chocolate, >= 70%