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April 19, 2010

Study shows fatty foods may cause drug-like addiction -- similar brain responses to cupcakes and cocaine

According to a study published March 28, 2010, online in Nature Neuroscience journal, researchers have found that fatty foods may be addictive. When rats are exposed to high-fat junk foods their brains react similarly to when they are exposed to cocaine. This research, which confirms previous studies, is further evidence that the same addictive reaction between the brain and junk food may occur in humans.

The researchers divided similar rats into three groups.  Each group had unlimited access to regular rat chow, and in addition each group received either: 1) nothing else -- just regular rat chow, 2) some fattening human foods for one hour a day (plus unlimited rat chow), or 3) access to fattening human foods for 18-23 hours per day (plus unlimited rat chow). The study measured calories eaten, weight gain, and brain reward center response.  Rats with access to the high-fat palatable foods showed reduced brain responses, as well as increased calorie consumption and weight gain.

From a CNN Health Article describing the study:

Doing drugs such as cocaine and eating too much junk food both gradually overload the so-called pleasure centers in the brain, according to Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida. Eventually the pleasure centers "crash," and achieving the same pleasure--or even just feeling normal--requires increasing amounts of the drug or food, says Kenny, the lead author of the study.

Thank you to William Mitchell College of Law students Scott Allen and Lauren Sparks for preparing this post.  Mr. Allen and Ms. Sparks are students of Professor Donna M. Byrne.

April 19, 2010 in Obesity, Scientific studies | Permalink

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