WASHINGTON, October 16, 2013 — Lab rats have it much easier these days. Their parents and grandparents inhaled cigarette smoke, drank red dye # 2 and had their hair dried with asbestos blow drier filament backings. Today, they eat Oreo cookies. Like humans, the lab rats took off the cookie top to eat the ‘stuff in the middle’ first.
Connecticut College Professor Joseph Schroeder and some of his students, neuroscience major Jamie Honohan, Becca Markson, Gabriela Lopez and Katrina Bantis chose the Oreo brand cookie for research.
The brainchild of Honohan, the team set out to determine if high fat/high sugar food had a close relationship to street drugs in terms of addictiveness.
It did, and in spades.
In fact, the pleasure center for the ‘stuff’ activated more neurons in the brain than cocaine and morphine.
The researchers concern went beyond the addictive qualities of such foods and into the fact that foods such as Oreos are marketed heaviest in poor or poverty stricken areas leaving consumers open to obesity and diabetes 2.
The rats were offered rice cakes and Oreos and naturally selected the Oreos. One half of the rats were injected with drugs such as cocaine and morphine and the other half received saline solution injections. The researchers found the rats injected with drugs spent as much time on the drug side of their habitats as the saline rats spent on the Oreo side.
Rats and mice are used extensively in research applied to potential human outcomes because humans and mice/rats have much in common where it counts.
Cocaine and morphine both deplete dopamine in humans and leaves a craving for more. If the results of further testing like this produce depleted dopamine, this would explain much about the patterns of those who overeat after their appetite has long been assuaged.
When a neuron is resting, the positive charged ions are outside the neuron and negative ions are inside. When signals enter the neuron, the positive ions enter the neuron and the negative exit. This is termed the ‘action potential’ and the neuron ‘fires’ an electircal charge at +40mv The ‘current’ flows out to axons then the neuron quickly returns to it’s former resting stage.
However, drugs and apparently, the fat/sugar combination disrupts the resting stage and constantly creates the action potential making the neuron fire rapidly.
This study is not so conclusive as to hang a scientific hat onto. Rats need fat and sugar to survive and rice cakes won’t do. The rats may be simply craving nutritition and not addicted at all. More research needs to e conducted before the Oreo folks are ratted out.
Until then, rats may be on their tiny cell phones calling rat dealers and asking “Hey, man-you got the double stuff?”
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist
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