The author of the study said that the danger to health is that cookies, unlike drugs, are available to the public
The cookies Americans consume the most, Oreos, are as addictive as cocaine, at least in rats.
According to a study carried out at the University of Connecticut, United States, the consumption of these creamy-filled chocolate cookies activates more neurons in the “pleasure center” of the brain than the addictive drug.
And experiments showed that, just like humans do, rats start by devouring the cookie filling.
The research, as explained by the study’s author, professor of behavioral psychology and neuroscience, Joseph Schroeder, was designed to analyze the addiction potential of foods high in fat and sugar.
And what was found, he says, was that “the rats formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment, just as they did with cocaine and morphine and a specific environment.”
“Our study supports the theory that foods high in fat and sugar stimulate the brain in the same way as drugs,” explains the researcher.
“This could explain why some people cannot resist this food even though they know it is bad for their health.”
Schroeder adds that the real health hazard is that, unlike drugs, high-fat and high-sugar cookies are available to the public.
The study came about because the researchers were interested in analyzing how the prevalence of foods high in fat and sugars in low-income neighborhoods contributed to the obesity epidemic in the country.
“We chose Oreo cookies not only because they are an American favorite – and they are also very tasty for rats – but also because products that contain high amounts of fat and sugar are aggressively marketed to lower socioeconomic communities.” says Jamie Honohan, another of the study’s authors.
To test the levels of addiction of these compounds, the researchers decided to analyze the Oreos cookies and with them measure the association between “the drug” (the cookie) and the environment (the socioeconomic level).
To measure it, they used a maze in which they placed Oreos on one side and a rice cake on the other (a low-fat and low-sugar snack). And they let the hungry rats choose where to go in the maze and measured the time they spent on each food.
“Like humans, rats did not take much pleasure from eating these rice cakes,” says Professor Schroeder.
And the researchers were surprised by the way the rats ate the cookie. “They would open them and eat the stuffing first,” Honohan explains.
Subsequently, the rats received an injection of cocaine or morphine from one side of the maze, or a saline injection from the other side.
The results, the researchers say, showed that “rats that had been conditioned to eat Oreos spent as much time on the side of the maze where the cookie was as did rats conditioned to inject morphine or cocaine.
To measure addiction, they analyzed neuronal activity in the nucleus accumbens, the so-called pleasure center of the brain.
“The tests basically tell us how many neurons are activated in a specific region of the brain, in response to the drug or the Oreos,” says Professor Schroeder.
The results, he adds, showed that the Oreos activated “significantly more neurons than cocaine or morphine.”
“This confirms our behavioral results and supports the hypothesis that foods high in fat and sugar are addictive,” says the researcher.
And what’s most problematic, he adds, “is that these high-fat, high-sugar foods can be even more dangerous (than drugs) because of their enormous availability and accessibility.”
The study will be presented next month at the annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, California.
The company producing the cookies has not commented on the matter.
Source: El Nacional