Cheesecake Is Like Heroin to Rats on a Junk-Food Diet

By Brett Israel | October 22, 2009 7:00 am

rat-webThe 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 foodlike 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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • Jason

    Can this kind of brain condition be attributed to other forms of “addiction” like people who are addicted to exercise, reading, woodworking or whatever?

  • Cory

    Lol, did they really need a study to learn that junk food loses its awesomeness if it’s all you eat?

  • aladdin

    More is not better, it is just more. Gimme Gimme Gimme. Have more, want more. Compulsive shoppers, eaters, gamblers, cannot even remember what they ate, bought, etc. Just the behaviour is more more more. With chemicals, drugs, food, there is a chemical dependency aspect as well as a behavioural aspect. Logic is totally useless against compulsions.

  • Ian

    One thing to remember is that addictions are not the same as compulsions. An addiction is like heroin… over time, you become less responsive to it, and so you require more. There are debates and studies about what is and is not an addiction. People for a while have been calling pornography an addiction, but it may just be a compulsion. People don’t necessarily need more and more of it, or more and more depraved images over time, they just *compulsively* view it.

    It is an interesting field of study, and one that definitely requires some thought so that people stuck with something, be it an addiction or compulsion, can receive the proper treatment to break their bad habits.

  • Thomas Brown

    When I am trying to lose weight, I cut my calories to 1500/day, switch to whole grains, eat beans, nuts, and soy for protein, and step up my fruits & veggies. I also get half an hour of cardio every day and half an hour of strength training six days a week. This plan allows me to lose about 2-2 1/2 lbs per week. Hope this helps.


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