According to MSNBC, a recent study published in the journal “Nature Neuroscience”, states that a high-calorie diet, including junk food, may be as addictive as drugs like nicotine or cocaine, and could cause compulsive eating and obesity.
The study, conducted on rats, shows that overconsumption of high-calorie foods can trigger addiction-like responses in the brain, thereby turning the rats into compulsive eaters. Decreased levels of a specific dopamine receptor – a brain chemical that allows a feeling of reward – have been found in these overweight rats, as they are found in humans with drug addictions.
For the study researchers with The Scripps Research Institute in Florida headed to the grocery store and bought all of the stuff that people really like but really shouldn’t eat very often, items such as Ding-Dongs, cheesecake, bacon, and sausage. They also bought healthy foods and devised a diet plan for three groups of rats.
One group of rats ate a balanced healthy diet. Another group received healthy food, but had access to high-calorie food for one hour a day. Rats in the third group were fed healthy meals and given unlimited access to high-calorie foods. The rats in the third group developed a preference for the high-calorie food, munched on it all day and quickly became obese.
All of the rats in the experiment were also trained to expect a minor shock when exposed to a light. But when the rats that had unlimited access to high-calorie food were shown the light, they did not respond to the potential danger. Instead, they just continued eating their snacks.
“What we’re seeing in our animals is very similar to what you’d see in humans who overindulge,” researcher, Paul Kenny says. “It seemed that it was okay, from what we could tell, to enjoy snack foods, but if you repeatedly overindulge, that’s where the problem comes in.”
The research was conducted in conjunction with the announcement that obesity-related diseases cost the U.S. and estimated $150 billion each year and an estimated two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are obese or overweight.