The next time a friend says he’s addicted to bacon, you should know he probably isn’t joking. The brains of rats fed only on junk food—like bacon, Ho Hos, cheesecake, and sausage—look similar to the brains of heroin-addicted rats, according to new a study. Pleasure centers in the brains of rats addicted to high-fat, high-calorie diets became less responsive as the binging wore on, making the rats consume more and more food [Science News]. The findings suggest that drug addiction and overeating have similar biological mechanisms, according to the scientists from the Scripps Research Institute. The work is not yet published, but was presented at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.
The rats fed on junk food displayed a hallmark of addiction. After just five days on the junk food diet, rats showed “profound reductions” in the sensitivity of their brains’ pleasure centers, suggesting that the animals quickly became habituated to the food. As a result, the rats ate more food to get the same amount of pleasure. Just as heroin addicts require more and more of the drug to feel good, rats needed more and more of the junk food [Science News]. To test the depths of the rats addiction, researchers shocked rats every time they ate junk food. Rats that had not previously binged on Ho Hos quickly stopped eating the high-fat foods. However, the fat rats kept eating junk food even though they knew the shock was coming. Now that’s an addiction.
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Image: flickr / asplosh