Junk food addiction may be clue to obesity: study

WASHINGTON Sun Mar 28, 2010 7:38pm EDT

Chocolate bars are pictured in the employees' supermarket at the Nestle headquarters in Vevey February 19, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Chocolate bars are pictured in the employees' supermarket at the Nestle headquarters in Vevey February 19, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bingeing on high-calorie foods may be as addictive as cocaine or nicotine, and could cause compulsive eating and obesity, according to a study published on Sunday.

The findings in a study of animals cannot be directly applied to human obesity, but may help in understanding the condition and in developing therapies to treat it, researchers wrote in the journal "Nature Neuroscience."

The study, involving rats, found that overconsumption of high-calorie food can trigger addiction-like responses in the brain and that high-calorie food can turn rats into compulsive eaters in a laboratory setting, the article said.

The scientists also found decreased levels of a specific dopamine receptor -- a brain chemical that allows a feeling of reward -- in overweight rats, as has been reported in humans addicted to drugs, the article said.

"Obesity may be a form of compulsive eating. Other treatments in development for other forms of compulsion, for example drug addiction, may be very useful for the treatment of obesity," researcher Paul Kenny of The Scripps Research Institute in Florida said in a telephone interview.

Obesity-related diseases cost the United States an estimated $150 billion each year, according to U.S. federal agencies. An estimated two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are obese or overweight.

For the study, Kenny and colleagues headed to the grocery store.

"We basically bought all of the stuff that people really like -- Ding-Dongs, cheesecake, bacon, sausage, the stuff that you enjoy, but you really shouldn't eat too often," he said.

They also bought healthy foods and devised a diet plan for three groups of rats.

One group ate a balanced healthy diet. Another group received healthy food, but had access to high-calorie food for one hour a day. Rats in the third group were fed healthy meals and given unlimited access to high-calorie foods.

The rats in the third group developed a preference for the high-calorie food, munched on it all day and quickly became obese, Kenny said.

The rats in the experiment had also been trained to expect a minor shock when exposed to a light. But when the rats that had unlimited access to high-calorie food were shown the light, they did not respond to the potential danger, Kenny said. Instead, they continued to eat their snacks.

"What we're seeing in our animals is very similar to what you'd see in humans who overindulge," he said. "It seemed that it was okay, from what we could tell, to enjoy snack foods, but if you repeatedly overindulge, that's where the problem comes in."

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Comments (29)
I believe it. Every time I start eating candy again after taking a break, it has a snowball effect. What starts as a weekly treat ends up as “where is my daily sugar fix?”

As Buddha would say, it is better to deny the battle…

Mar 28, 2010 8:01pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
FructoseFree wrote:
As an ER doc I have asked patients who have excess deep belly fat what they eat. Most of them depend on either HFC sodas, fruit juice, fruit drinks, candy and other sweets. When I ask them if they can stop consuming same the answer is… It is very difficult, I have tried, but I don’t feel good when I do. How can this be? Forty years of peerreviewed research says it is simply ingested fructose molecules that screws up normal weight control systems. It is the same with rats, hamsters, chimps, dogs etc.. When you add dietary fructose you get problems. Folks who have avoided most dietary fructose and galactose maintain a stable weight without counting calories or exercising all the time. The answer to many health problem is simple and costs nothing. It is also very inconvenient for those who make billions each year by keeping us from making a few changes that will make their advice and products unnecessary. How does dietary fructose cause problems?

We don’t need to eat any fructose or galactose. When fructose is needed to make genetic material for cell division our cells make it just in time from glucose. Fructose is not sitting around in cells normally. Why? It is at least 7 times more reactive than glucose (the sugar that fuels our brains and muscles). By reactive I mean able to turn amino acids into junk called AGE products. When fructose is sitting around in cells, some of it changes into a super reactive sugar called glyceraldehyde. Glyceraldyhyde can mess with damage cell control proteins and even move out of cell and react with lysine to for TAGE. TAGE is pro-iinflammatory and pro-VegF. High blood glucose does it’s damage by producing high levels of fructose in cells that normal have none. To be healthy avoid dietary fructose, galactose and elevated blood glucose. Fructosefree.com

Mar 28, 2010 9:27pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
LREZ wrote:
Addiction treatment doesn’t even work for drugs, how would it work for food? The truth is, that from the beginning until now, the only thing that has ever worked to stop overindulging is facing consequences. If overweight people had consequences for their behavior they might change their behavior. When I was growing up, our teachers had us run a mile every morning before class started. It was FREE. No specialized PE teacher, no equipment, just us and our legs and our lungs, rain or shine. Guess what? We were in great shape!

Mar 28, 2010 9:48pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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