(image via Wikipedia)
Stop! Put down those delicious M&Ms!
In a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan, researchers found that the popular candies produce a very similar reward reaction in the brain than that of a drug or sweet/fatty food addict satisfying a craving.
According to Futurity.org, “Rats ate twice as many M&Ms when researchers gave a morphine-like drug stimulation to a part of their brain previously thought to only control movement. The same part of the brain usually thought to control movement may also cause people to overeat — especially foods that are extra tasty.”
This part of the brain is called the “neostriatum,” and up until recently, it was the area believed to be mainly responsible for handling movement and motor control, because it becomes damaged among Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease patients. However, it’s been discovered that when tasting foods, or when drug addicts look at photos of drug use, the neostriatum kicks into gear. Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, the study’s lead author, says, “…this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of overconsumption and addiction in people.”
Researchers measured levels of enkephalin — a natural, opium-like chemical produced by the neostriatum — and allowed the rats to eat as much M&Ms as they wanted. The researchers found:
- The levels dramatically rose once the rats began to eat, and the levels remained high as long as they continued to eat.
- When the researchers gave the rats a painless injection of enkephalin in their neostriatum, the rats ate double the amount of M&Ms.
Don’t believe M&Ms are addictive? Ask Ben Stiller, who actually received hypnotherapy for his addiction to peanut M&Ms (it apparently worked for six months, but returned).
So the next time you munch on M&Ms and say, “I can’t stop eating them! They’re so addicting!” you have scientific evidence to back it up. Fortunately, DiFeliceantonio says the findings of this study move us closer to better biological-based treatments for obesity and binge eating disorders.