Food & addiction

A study in Neuroscience wonders about the similarities between junk food junkies and, well, junkies. In an experiment, rats that were given unlimited amounts of junk food had similar addictive behaviors to rats addicted to heroin. The researchers believe this occurred because the pleasure centers of the brains of rats becomes less responsive as the rats continue to consume the product that makes them feel high. So bingeing on high-sugar, high-calorie foods becomes addicting, similar to the addiction of heroin addicts. The rats needed to eat more and more of the addictive substance just to get a sugar high. The result was compulsive eating and ultimately obesity. When the rats were taken off  the junk food diets, their “reward pathway deficits” still persisted, demonstrating how difficult it is to give up a bad habit. The salient question of this study: what are the effects of eating junk foods on the reward system in the long-term.

In a similar vein, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) sometimes have similar responses to artificial ingredients in foods including flavorings and colorings. Eliminating these products can result in improvement in attention, focus, and behavior, and consequently learning. Finding foods without artificial ingredients is much easier today than it was 10 years ago.

A protein in milk called casein and a protein in wheat and other grains called gluten is converted into morphine-like compounds in some children. These are the children who drink large quantities of milk and consume diets that only feature piazza, pasta, salty snacks, and bagels. If these foods are taken away from these children cold turkey, the children respond like addicts. They literally experience withdrawal symptoms.