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Delicious fatty food is addictive? April 2, 2010

Posted by Ashraf Faden in Mental Health, Prevention, Wellness.
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By Ashraf Faden, cross-post from For Our Health

Don’t you sometimes wonder why you could eat so many Krispy Kreme doughnuts, then some chocolate followed by ice cream and still feel like you could eat baklava and kunafah or even ma’soob?  Not that I actually do that, but I admit that I get the urge to do it once I start munching on some of those hearty sweets.  Who could blame us?  That stuff tastes really good!

It turns out tasty and delicious food, high in fat, could be as addictive as heroin!

You think I’m joking?  Not according to this recently published study in the Nature Neuroscience journal.  Here is what the abstract said:

“We found that development of obesity was coupled with emergence of a progressively worsening deficit in neural reward responses. Similar changes in reward homeostasis induced by cocaine or heroin are considered to be crucial in triggering the transition from casual to compulsive drug-taking. Accordingly, we detected compulsive-like feeding behavior in obese but not lean rats, measured as palatable food consumption that was resistant to disruption by an aversive conditioned stimulus. Striatal dopamine D2 receptors (D2Rs) were downregulated in obese rats, as has been reported in humans addicted to drugs. Moreover, lentivirus-mediated knockdown of striatal D2Rs rapidly accelerated the development of addiction-like reward deficits and the onset of compulsive-like food seeking in rats with extended access to palatable high-fat food. These data demonstrate that overconsumption of palatable food triggers addiction-like neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuits and drives the development of compulsive eating. Common hedonic mechanisms may therefore underlie obesity and drug addiction.”

So in simple terms, when those rats ate high-fat foods they began suppressing or diminishing their reward pathways.  As a result, their regular amount of high-fat diet did not satisfy their hunger.  Rather, they had to eat more of the same in order to feel the pleasure of the food, similar to how people with addiction problems behave towards the addictive substances.  The study also showed that the high-fat foods caused neural changes, changes in the nervous system, in the brains of the rats similar to those changes occurring in humans with addiction problems.

There is still much to be done in order to explain these physiological reactions.  However, it is important to stress the fact that foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol are bad for our health.  We always have to impose moderation to our eating habits.  In addition, we need to keep physically active in order to burn any extra calories we consume.  So, enjoy your sweets and tasty meals, just eat reasonably and exercise plenty.

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