Many of us know firsthand how hard dieting can be, but for those who are obese, cutting down on sweets and junk food can be as hard as stopping the use of addictive, narcotic drugs. A recent study from Scripps Research Institute in Florida discovered that the brain’s reward system responds similarly to overeating high fat, high calorie foods as it does to heroin or cocaine.
The study consisted of following three groups of lab rats for 40 days. The first group was provided a healthy diet, the second given a limited amount of junk food, and the third group was allowed to eat unlimited high-fat, high-calorie foods. The third group of rats not only became obese, but their brains changed. They became addicted to the junk food as a result of the pleasure signaled from the brain when eating it. The pleasure center in the brain becomes desensitized, causing them to want more and unable to control how much they eat, leading to obesity.
When the brain registers a dose of cocaine or a candy bar, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released, causing the dopamine D2 receptor to respond, which plays a role in addiction. This receptor in the brain retrieves the amount of dopamine. When over stimulation and addiction occurs, this receptor no longer registers the present amount of dopamine, so the brain requires more to get the “high.” According to the study, the rats’ brains developed the same addiction pattern to junk food. The same brain mechanism that drives drug addiction also drives compulsive eating. Even when the rats were given electric shocks, they continued to eat, much the same way a drug addict continues to use regardless of the negative health effects and personal consequences.
Professor Paul J. Kenny states, “When the animal overstimulates its brain pleasure centers with highly palatable food, the systems adapt by decreasing their activity. However, now the animal requires constant stimulation from palatable food to avoid entering a persistent state of negative reward.” Essentially, the rats kept overeating fatty foods to avoid withdrawals, demonstrating their addiction.
Does this mean that every time you eat a cheeseburger you may be altering your brain’s response to food? Possibly. Scientists are studying the permanent effects of addiction on the brain. In the case of junk food, moderation is key. We all know Twinkies are bad for us, so the less you indulge, the better.
In light of this study, the best way to prevent a sinister addiction to junk food is to opt for healthy, wholesome foods. Not only will you be rewarding yourself with nutrient-dense, fiber-filled food, but you will avoid the synthetic sweeteners, thickeners, and preservatives that are often culprits of altering the body’s hunger and satiety settings. You’ll know when to stop eating, and be able to avoid the risk of unnecessary weight gain and other serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, caused by overeating junk food.
Dr. Isaac Eliaz, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980's, is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, product formulator and clinical practitioner.
Since 1991 Dr. Eliaz has maintained a busy private practice in northern California that focuses primarily on integrative, holistic protocols for cancer patients. He leads an integrative medical team at Amitabha Clinic in Sebastopol, California with focus on cancer and other chronic ailments.
To learn more, please visit www.dreliaz.org.
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