Are Fatty Foods Addictive?

Are Fatty Foods Addictive?
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Those eating calorie-dense diets may have a reduced capacity to enjoy all of life’s pleasures by deadening dopamine pathways in the brain.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The food industry, like the tobacco companies and other drug lords, have been able to come up with products that tap into that same dopamine reward system. Why a picture of a cheeseburger, rather than sugary soda pop? Well, now we know fat may have similar effects on the brain, as well. You feed some people some yogurt packed with butterfat, and within thirty minutes, you can start to see the same changes in brain activity you get when you drink sugar water.

People who regularly eat ice cream—sugar and fat—have a deadened dopamine response in their brains to drinking a milkshake. It’s like when drug abusers have to use more and more to get the same high. “[F]requent [ice cream] consumption…is related to a reduction in reward-region responsivity in humans”—they’re talking about the pleasure center—”paralleling the tolerance observed in drug addiction.” Once we’ve so dulled our dopamine response, we may subsequently overeat “in an effort to achieve the degree of satisfaction experienced previously, which contributes to unhealthy weight gain.”

What do fatty, sugary foods have in common? They are “energy-dense foods.” It may be less the number of calories than their concentration. Consumption of a calorie-dense diet compared to the same number calories in a calorie-dilute diet leads to that numbing of the dopamine response. It’s like the difference between cocaine and crack. Same stuff chemically, but by smoking crack cocaine, we can deliver a higher dose quicker to our brain.

As an aside, I found it interesting that the control drink in these milkshake studies wasn’t just water. They can’t use water, because our brain can actually taste water on the tongue; I didn’t know that. So, they had to use artificial saliva; they made people drink a solution designed to mimic the natural taste of saliva—ew!

Anyway, with this new understanding of the “neural correlates of food addiction,” there’ve been calls to include obesity as an official mental disorder. After all, “[b]oth obesity and addiction share the inability to restrain behavior in spite of an awareness of detrimental health…consequences.” That’s one of the defining criteria of substance abuse. You keep putting crap in your body, despite the knowledge that you have a problem that is likely caused by the crap—yet, you can’t stop.

Redefining obesity as an addiction—as a psychiatric disease—would be a boon to drug companies that are already working on a whole bunch of drugs to muck with our brain chemistry. For example, you give people an opiate blocker, like they do for people with heroin overdoses to block the effects of the drug, and people eat significantly less cheese. It just doesn’t do as much for them any more, when their opiate receptors are blocked.

Rather than taking drugs, though, we can prevent the deadening of our pleasure center in the first place by sticking to foods that are naturally calorically dilute—like whole plant foods. This can help bring back our dopamine sensitivity, such that we can again derive the same pleasure from the simplest of foods.

And, this is not just for people who are obese. Yes, when we regularly eat calorie-dense animal and junk foods, like ice cream, we can blunt our pleasure center, and overeat to compensate. But, when our brain downregulates dopamine receptors to deal with all these jolts of fat and sugar, we may experience less enjoyment from other activities as well.

That’s why cocaine addicts may have “an impaired neurological capacity to enjoy” sex; why smokers also have an impaired ability to respond to positive stimuli. Since these all involve the same dopamine pathways, what we put into our body—what we eat—can affect how we experience all of life’s pleasures.

So, to live life to the fullest, what’s the solution? Well, “[t]he food industry,” according to some addiction specialists, “should be given incentives to develop low calorie foods that are more attractive, palatable, and affordable so that people can adhere to diet programs for a long time.”

No need! Mother Nature beat them all to it.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to C. E. Kent, Mirandala, colros, SeeMidTn.com (aka Brent), L.Richarz, and punctuated via flickr; and Evan-Amos and Paolo Neo via Wikimedia

 

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The food industry, like the tobacco companies and other drug lords, have been able to come up with products that tap into that same dopamine reward system. Why a picture of a cheeseburger, rather than sugary soda pop? Well, now we know fat may have similar effects on the brain, as well. You feed some people some yogurt packed with butterfat, and within thirty minutes, you can start to see the same changes in brain activity you get when you drink sugar water.

People who regularly eat ice cream—sugar and fat—have a deadened dopamine response in their brains to drinking a milkshake. It’s like when drug abusers have to use more and more to get the same high. “[F]requent [ice cream] consumption…is related to a reduction in reward-region responsivity in humans”—they’re talking about the pleasure center—”paralleling the tolerance observed in drug addiction.” Once we’ve so dulled our dopamine response, we may subsequently overeat “in an effort to achieve the degree of satisfaction experienced previously, which contributes to unhealthy weight gain.”

What do fatty, sugary foods have in common? They are “energy-dense foods.” It may be less the number of calories than their concentration. Consumption of a calorie-dense diet compared to the same number calories in a calorie-dilute diet leads to that numbing of the dopamine response. It’s like the difference between cocaine and crack. Same stuff chemically, but by smoking crack cocaine, we can deliver a higher dose quicker to our brain.

As an aside, I found it interesting that the control drink in these milkshake studies wasn’t just water. They can’t use water, because our brain can actually taste water on the tongue; I didn’t know that. So, they had to use artificial saliva; they made people drink a solution designed to mimic the natural taste of saliva—ew!

Anyway, with this new understanding of the “neural correlates of food addiction,” there’ve been calls to include obesity as an official mental disorder. After all, “[b]oth obesity and addiction share the inability to restrain behavior in spite of an awareness of detrimental health…consequences.” That’s one of the defining criteria of substance abuse. You keep putting crap in your body, despite the knowledge that you have a problem that is likely caused by the crap—yet, you can’t stop.

Redefining obesity as an addiction—as a psychiatric disease—would be a boon to drug companies that are already working on a whole bunch of drugs to muck with our brain chemistry. For example, you give people an opiate blocker, like they do for people with heroin overdoses to block the effects of the drug, and people eat significantly less cheese. It just doesn’t do as much for them any more, when their opiate receptors are blocked.

Rather than taking drugs, though, we can prevent the deadening of our pleasure center in the first place by sticking to foods that are naturally calorically dilute—like whole plant foods. This can help bring back our dopamine sensitivity, such that we can again derive the same pleasure from the simplest of foods.

And, this is not just for people who are obese. Yes, when we regularly eat calorie-dense animal and junk foods, like ice cream, we can blunt our pleasure center, and overeat to compensate. But, when our brain downregulates dopamine receptors to deal with all these jolts of fat and sugar, we may experience less enjoyment from other activities as well.

That’s why cocaine addicts may have “an impaired neurological capacity to enjoy” sex; why smokers also have an impaired ability to respond to positive stimuli. Since these all involve the same dopamine pathways, what we put into our body—what we eat—can affect how we experience all of life’s pleasures.

So, to live life to the fullest, what’s the solution? Well, “[t]he food industry,” according to some addiction specialists, “should be given incentives to develop low calorie foods that are more attractive, palatable, and affordable so that people can adhere to diet programs for a long time.”

No need! Mother Nature beat them all to it.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to C. E. Kent, Mirandala, colros, SeeMidTn.com (aka Brent), L.Richarz, and punctuated via flickr; and Evan-Amos and Paolo Neo via Wikimedia

 

Nota del Doctor

What about that sugary soda pop? See Are Sugary Foods Addictive?

So, how do we break ourselves out of the Pleasure Trap? By starting to eat healthy, we can actually change how things taste; see Changing our Taste Buds. And, healthy means whole plant foods— which tend to be naturally dilute, given their water (see The Ice Diet) and fiber content. Not only is fiber calorie-free, but one might also think of it as having “negative” calories—given the fermentation of fiber in our bowel into anti-obesity compounds (see Fawning over Flora), as well as anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer compounds (see Boosting Good Bacteria in the Colon without Probiotics). For this reason, those eating plant-based diets eat hundreds of fewer calories—without even trying. See Nutrient-Dense Approach to Weight Management.

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