Junk Food-Addicted Rats

27Oct09

I think at this point it is fairly well known that overeating is an addiction behavior, much like that of a drug addiction. There are a few new findings presented at last week’s annual meeting for the Society of Neuroscience held in Chicago that I find quite intriguing, though. Paul Johnson of the Scripps Research Institute coauthored a study involving rats and junk food. The study points out how deeply the high-fat, high-calorie diet affects the brain’s reward system.

Scientists attached electrodes to the rats’ brains which were stimulated by the rats running on exercise wheels. As you can imagine, rats on the unlimited, junk food diet ran a lot more than rats on the healthy, portioned diet. The junk food rats needed much more stimulation in order to be satisfied. What was most surprising to me was the fact that rats were willing to endure repeated pain in order to keep eating junk food. For another portion of the experiment they were shocked on the foot  after consuming junk food. The rats “hooked” on junk food continued to eat it despite the fact that they expected a shock afterwards. Scientists reported that the rats continued to demonstrate this behavior for weeks after returning to their normal weight. It is speculated that the effects of such unhealthy diet may forever alter food perception for the individual.

Considering these findings, it is unfortunate that as Americans we seem to be doing too little, too late. There is a reason that prevention is considered the best cure. Healthy lifestyles and nutrition education needs to start at an early age. Sadly, we live in a society that makes it much more affordable and convenient to eat unhealthy, processed foods and that promotes sedentary lifestyles.

You can read the original article in its entirety here.

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