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Study Says That Eating Junk Food Is an Addiction, Like Heroin

Junk Food May Be as Addictive as Heroin

I don't think anyone wants to be told they're an addict — the word conjures up images of drugs, uncontrollable needs, and interventions. Oh, and add to that potato chips, cookies, and candy bars. Sound odd? A new study says that eating junk food can fuel an addiction that is on par with what a cocaine or heroin junkie feels.

The study, conducted by the Scripps Research Institute, followed the behavioral patterns of lab rats that were given an unlimited supply of junk food. Over time, the rats had less sensitivity in their brain's pleasure centers and needed to up the amount of high-fat and high-calorie foods they were eating, in effect, to get high. Not surprisingly, the rats got really fat too — doubling their initial weight.

To find out what this study means for people,


To see how dependent the rats became on junk food, the scientists decided to punish them with an electric shock whenever they ate foods high in fat. The rats who had been eating the junk food for at least five days chowed down despite the electric shocks, and rats not exposed to junk food quickly stopped. I can't imagine any kind of food that's good enough to get electrocuted over!


Perhaps the biggest telltale sign happened when the rats were deprived of junk food. Instead of eating the healthy food replacement, they stopped eating altogether, and some went two weeks without food — can you say withdrawals? In the end, scientists concluded that the brain responds to junk food in the same way it responds to drugs.

Obviously, rats aren't people, but scientists say the study may be extremely telling about the effect a person's diet has on their brain. The fear is that a continuous diet high in fat and calories can permanently alter how a person responds to food. Just another reason to put down the doughnuts.

Image Source: Getty
biarose biarose 7 years
mm maybe choc mud cake... or crème brulée lol
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I can see this happening. Food manufacturing companies' R&D departments are PAID to make foods that are super-appealing by combining fat, sugar, salt, and umami flavor to get people addicted to certain foods. Nacho Cheese Doritos are actually considered to be one of the most "addictively good" flavors out there. You stimulate so many sensory areas at once that your brain doesn't know what to's very similar to a drug effect. Once you stop with the manufactured food, you won't have the problem.
fauxcat fauxcat 7 years
Wow, longest post ever. Sorry guys :)
fauxcat fauxcat 7 years
Hmmm. Just read more about the study in the link above, and the scientist fed the rats with "typical Western fare, including Ho Hos, sausage, pound cake, bacon and cheesecake." Now I'm wondering how the controls were done in this study...isn't it possible that the results are from the sugar content of the foods? Or the high sodium? Or other common preservatives found in these 'junk foods'? It's interesting nevertheless, but I think there could've potentially been some confounding factors. Obviously in people, there are many other factors at work, including the psychology of eating unhealthily - emotional eating, guilt issues, body image issues, etc. Not to mention hormonal differences between men and women. Still, anyone who has ever had a really bad craving for junk food can relate to the idea that it can activate the brain's pleasure centers. I know, in my case, that when I occasionally fall off of the 'healthy eating wagon,' it can spiral for a while with bad food choices until I see the scale start to creep up and then I get my wake-up call and go back to lower-calorie eating. I love fruits & veggies, and I was raised on a virtually no-junk-food diet until I was in college, so I have no problem eating healthy, but I still have those weeks where I slide into higher fat foods and the associated blissful ignorance of what I'm doing. I'm inclined to believe that that's some brain chemistry at work.
jessy777 jessy777 7 years
I still maintain that junk food eaters are making a consciousness choice to do so. Maybe people are wired different but telling someone they can't control their eating is dangerous, IMO. I am interested to see how this study translates to human subjects.
Hello890 Hello890 7 years
This doesn't surprise me. Also, on an unrelated note, I hate animal testing. I wish they would have done this study on humans, instead.
Autumns_Elegy Autumns_Elegy 7 years
This is scary! I'm so glad I don't eat fast/junk food!
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