Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Are you addicted to fat?

Every mother would be appalled at the idea of addicting her own child to drugs.  But in reality something very close may be happening.  According a study published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals, Nature, obese rats show the same changes in their brain receptors as humans addicted to heroin and cocaine.  These same obese rats participated in compulsive food seeking actions compared to their non obese counterparts. 

Scientists fed the rats three different diets, the first group ate regular laboratory chow, the second had limited access to high-fat cafeteria foods and the third group had unlimited access to the high-fat cafeteria foods; all three groups had 24 hour access to laboratory chow.  The cafeteria diet was of human grade, tasty and high in fat.  After 40 days the unlimited access rats became obese while the other two groups did not.  Additionally, after 40 days the unlimited access group was willing to withstand pain in order eat the cafeteria food while the other two groups were not.   Finally, from CT scans performed the rats’ brains; researchers found that changes in the brain chemistry of the rats with unlimited access to the high fat foods resembled the chemistry changes of drug addicts. New studies are finding similar changes in studies on humans.

This change in brain chemistry may explain why obese individuals feel helpless in front of food and are unable to control their compulsive eating even though they know it is detrimental to their health.  If the same changes that occurred in the rats’ brains occurs in human’s who eat a high-fat, high- calorie diet, then these individuals many literally be addicted to unhealthy foods.  This is very important to keep in mind when feeding children.  If they are constantly fed high calorie, high fat foods, these poor children are slowly becoming addicted to unhealthy junk food.  No wonder children are struggling with obesity at such young ages!  And no wonder children and adults are having such a hard time losing weight.  Not only do these individuals have the struggle of weight loss, but they may also be dealing with an addiction.

Let’s help our children stay healthy.  Try these small changes to encourage healthy eating and weight management:

1.       Provide children with healthy snacks like cheese sticks, apple pieces, grapes, or baby carrots and broccoli with ranch dressing. 

2.       Try to cook at home as much as possible even if it is something fast and easy like a stir fry.

3.       Give children a protein rich breakfast to get them through the morning.  Toast and Greek yogurt with olives, Cheerios and milk, and eggs with oven baked hash browns are all good choices. 

4.       Pack your child’s lunch for school and encourage the school system to provide healthy low fat meals and snacks to the students.

Every little step counts.  Stop our children from getting addicted to these harmful foods and teach them how to eat healthy.  This important lesson will last a lifetime and enable them to enjoy a healthy life.


Johnson, P.M. and P.J. Kenny, Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nat Neurosci, 2010. advance online publication.


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