A recent animal study (Nature Neuroscience, March 2010) has confirmed that junk food ‘bingeing’ is extremely difficult to stop. In the study, rats were fed easy-to-obtain high sugar and high fat foods. The animals always chose the unhealthiest foods and they took in twice the number of calories as the control rats. When the junk food was removed and the rats were put on a healthy diet, they simply refused to eat. When researchers studied the brains of these rats, the changes in the brain were exactly the same as rats that overconsumed cocaine or heroin. In the animal study at least, junk food was as addictive as these well known addictive drugs. Furthermore, the researchers were able to determine that certain dopamine receptors in the brain were affected in these ‘junk food’ addicted rats.
Again, these types of studies clearly identify that food addiction is real and that the actual mechanisms that create the addictive state are starting to be identified.