We all know someone who's compared food to drugs (think "___ is my crack"), but a new study seems to suggest that the connection might be closer than you think.
Results from a study done by students at Connecticut College were reported today and concluded that everyone's favorite snack cookie had similar effects in lab rats as cocaine and morphine. Neuroscience professor Joseph Schroeder and his students conducted the study in order to "shed light on the potential addictiveness of high-fat/high-sugar foods."
In the experiment, rats were given an Oreo on one side of a maze and a rice cake on the other as a control. The time the rats spent on the Oreo side of the maze was measured and later compared with the results of another test in which rats were injected with cocaine or morphine on one side and saline on the other. Researchers found that the rats spent as much time on the Oreo side of the maze as the drug side.
Students also measured how many cells were turned on in the nucleus accumbens of the brain, also known as the brain's "pleasure center." The expression of the protein c-Fos in that area was quantified and revealed that even more neurons were activated in the "pleasure center" when the rats ate Oreos than when they were injected with the drugs.
“This correlated well with our behavioral results and lends support to the hypothesis that high-fat/high-sugar foods are addictive,” Schroeder said.
2013 CC graduate Jamie Honohun first suggested doing the study to see how high-fat and high-sugar foods in low-income areas contributed to the country's problem with obesity.
“Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat/high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability,” Honohun said of the results.
Schroeder plans to present the results of the study in San Diego, Calif. next month at the Society for Neuroscience conference.