A new study looks at the effects sweet foods have on the human brain, and researchers have come up with some surprising conclusions. The study, performed by the Oregon Research Institute, did MRI scans on teenagers to see the effects milkshakes had on their brains. They found that teens who ate the most ice cream during the study needed to eat more ice cream to experience the same amount of pleasure from it. Comparing this to a drug addict who receives less pleasure from a drug the more they use it, researchers have concluded that ice cream indeed has “addictive properties.”
Past studies have made similar conclusions. “This study is consistent with other research that shows there is definitely something about the brains of people who report being addicted to foods,” Janis Jibrin, a registered dietician says. “It seems to be twofold — if you eat these sugary, high-fat foods regularly, you build up a kind of tolerance and you need more and more to get the same hit,” Jibrin says. “Some people might also have a genetic predisposition to food addition, and then we live in an environment where it’s so easy to access these types of food.” (1)
It seems our brains are weak when it comes to their pleasure centers. We always want more of what makes us feel good, even to the point of wanting nothing else. This is what happens in a drug addict’s brain.
Food addiction is a very real disorder, and many people with this kind of process addiction need professional help to gain control over their eating. For the rest of us who just like to enjoy some dessert when we can, this behavior cannot be blamed on an addiction. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines an addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry […] characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.” (2)
One of the researchers from the study is being careful about making conclusions that overgeneralize people’s behavior. Says Kyle S. Burger, “I personally do not say food is addictive. I say energy-dense food, high sugar food, can elicit neural responses during consumption that parallel those seen in drug addiction. So it has addictive-like properties.” (2)
This article was written by Bethany Winkel
Joining the TSN online family in 2008, Bethany has used her skills as a writer to reach many people through her blog. Always eager to be a help to others, she is pleased to see her writing become a source of information, encouragement, and hope for those impacted by substance abuse. Bethany is happy to be involved with an organization that is making a difference in the lives of others. Bethany has also held the position of development coordinator for a nonprofit youth center for the past 6 years. With her expertise in grant writing, Bethany has raised over $1 million for programming that benefits at-risk youth. The happy mother of 4 young children, Bethany juggles her writing from home with spending time with her family. If her hours of research for her TSN blog articles have taught her one thing, it is to be an involved parent who takes time to listen to her kids.