In case you were in doubt about the addictive nature of sweet, fatty treats such as Oreos, at least for rats, a Connecticut College study by students and an associate professor of psychology has found that they can be “just as addictive as cocaine”.
The study was designed to investigate the potential addictiveness of foods loaded with fat and sugar. What the researchers found was that lab rats “formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment”. In fact, they found that munching on the cookies activated more neurons in the brain’s “pleasure center” than the consumption of drugs. In other words, the rats dug the cookies as much, if not more, than the drugs.
Associate professor Joseph Schroeder, who is director of the behavioral neuroscience program, maintains that their research “supports the theory that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do”, which could explain why some people find it very difficult to resist foods like this.
To conduct their experiments, the researchers placed Oreos on one side of a rat maze, and rice cakes on the other. Then they let the rats spend time on both sides of the maze, and timed how long the rats spent on the side of the maze where Oreos were always available. Surprise, surprise, they liked the Oreos more than the rice cakes. But I know you like rice cakes more then Oreos, right?
After that experiment, they compared those results with results from rats that were given an injection of cocaine or morphine on one side of the maze, and harmless saline on the other side of the maze. It turned out that the rats conditioned with Oreos spent as much time on the side of the of maze with the Oreos, as they did on the addictive drug side of the maze.
Next, they used immunohistochemistry to measure a protein called c-Fos, which is a marker of neuronal activation in the brain’s “pleasure center”. They found that the Oreos activated more neurons than cocaine or morphine. This begs the question: which side of the maze would the rats choose with cocaine or morphine on one side, and Oreos on the other?
An interesting tidbit from the study was that, just like many humans, the rats liked to break the Oreos open and eat the middle first. Well how do you like them apples (Oreos)?
By the way, how do you feel about using rats for this kind of experiment? Do you think it’s okay to do so?