WASHINGTON, October 17, 2013— Research by faculty and students at Connecticut College in New London indicates that Oreo cookies are as addictive as cocaine and morphine—in lab rats.
The study examined how the cookies and drugs affected the rats’ behavior and their brains. Results showed that Oreos activated more neurons than cocaine and morphine in the “pleasure centers” of the rats’ brains.
“Our research supports the theory that high-fat, high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” said Joseph Schroeder, associate professor of psychology and director of the behavioral neuroscience program at Connecticut College in a university publication. “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”
For the study, Schroeder and four students measured lab rats’ association between a “substance” (cocaine, morphine, and Oreos) and a particular environment by using a maze. On one end of the maze, the team placed “America’s favorite cookie,” and on the other they placed a rice cake used as a control. They then introduced a hungry rat and measured how much time it spent on either side of the maze.
The results of this test were then compared with results from tests where rats were given a shot of cocaine or morphine on one side of the maze and a shot of saline solution on the other. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration licenses Professor Schroeder to purchase and use controlled substances for research.
Surprisingly, the rats spent as much time in the Oreo side of the maze as in the morphine and cocaine side.
Additionally, Schroeder and his team examined neuronal activation in the nucleus accumbens, the “pleasure center” of the rats’ brains when they ate Oreos or were injected with cocaine or morphine. The rats’ brains showed significantly more activation when they ate Oreos than when shot with the drugs.
“This correlated well with our behavioral results and lends support to the hypothesis that high-fat, high-sugar foods are addictive,” said Schroeder.
Like cocaine and morphine, there are significant health problems associated with eating high-fat, high-sugar foods. Schroeder says that these unhealthy foods can be even more dangerous, however, because they are more accessible and affordable.
Even though irrelevant to the study, like humans, the rats went for the white middle first when they ate the Oreos.
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