Junk food may cause cocaine-like addiction

junk food addiction as real as opiate oneNext time you eye that hot dog or bag of chips, check yourself. It could just be a slippery slope. A new study published in Nature Neuroscience Sunday by scientists at the Scripps Research Institute found that junk food has the same kind of addiction as other bad stuff such as cigarettes, cocaine and yes, even opium -- well, at least in rats. One hot dog could lead to the next one and the binging in turn contributes to obesity.

The findings were based on a 40-day study on three groups of rat models. One ate a normal rat-food diet, while the second was given junk food once a day. The third group was kept on an a high fat-diet of foods such as sausage, bacon and cheesecake.

Although no significant behavioral changes were observed in the first two groups, the third group of rats began putting on weight dramatically and always went for the junk stuff. They soon became compulsive eaters. When the high-fatty foods were replaced by a nutritious diet, they went on a hunger strike for two weeks. Even electric shocks couldn't deter the binging.

The overeating of bad food triggered the drop of dopamine receptors in the brains of the obese rats, the researchers found. In humans, drug addiction and obesity have been linked with declining levels of the same receptors.

The findings just corroborate what many of us probably already knew -- It's not always very easy to look the other way when you see that tray of donuts in the office. It's still hard to tell whether rat and human brains work the same way. But, this could be a good step toward more extensive research and treatment for obesity.

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