Thursday, November 26, 2009

Junk Food May Be as Addictive as Heroin

I don't think anyone wants to be told they're an addict — the word conjures up images of drugs, uncontrollable needs, and interventions. Oh, and add to that potato chips, cookies, and candy bars. Sound odd? A new study says that eating junk food can fuel an addiction that is on par with what a cocaine or heroin junkie feels.

The study, conducted by the Scripps Research Institute, followed the behavioral patterns of lab rats that were given an unlimited supply of junk food. Over time, the rats had less sensitivity in their brain's pleasure centers and needed to up the amount of high-fat and high-calorie foods they were eating, in effect, to get high. Not surprisingly, the rats got really fat too — doubling their initial weight.

To find out what this study means for people, read more.

To see how dependent the rats became on junk food, the scientists decided to punish them with an electric shock whenever they ate foods high in fat. The rats who had been eating the junk food for at least five days chowed down despite the electric shocks, and rats not exposed to junk food quickly stopped. I can't imagine any kind of food that's good enough to get electrocuted over!

Perhaps the biggest telltale sign happened when the rats were deprived of junk food. Instead of eating the healthy food replacement, they stopped eating altogether, and some went two weeks without food — can you say withdrawals? In the end, scientists concluded that the brain responds to junk food in the same way it responds to drugs.

Obviously, rats aren't people, but scientists say the study may be extremely telling about the effect a person's diet has on their brain. The fear is that a continuous diet high in fat and calories can permanently alter how a person responds to food. Just another reason to put down the doughnuts.

Source: Getty