Weight loss * Mental wellbeing

Junk foods act like drugs

mmmmm cake.... Brain changed to stimulate more eating

Ever had a craving for a hamburger meal washed down with a large cola? New research is suggesting that junk foods high in sugar and fat actually change the brain's structure to enhance the release of chemicals similar to those found in drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

These chemicals, called opioids, exist naturally in the brain and they have been linked to feelings of pleasure and euphoria, as also created by class A drugs.

One of the researchers from John Hopkins University of Medicine commented: "These results are interesting because we saw changes in opioid receptor gene expression in a brain area that controls how much we eat during a meal."

The study showed that the effect occurred in cases of both overeating and in so-called "binge eating". This second aspect is interesting because it suggests that this may have an effect on conditions such as bulimia. It may be that by eating large amounts of fatty sweet foods the bulimic person is somehow being "rewarded" by the brain, thereby making it even harder to alter the binge eating behaviour.

The results will be presented in detail at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior.

This article was published on Tue 28 July 2009

Image © vgstudio - Fotolia.com

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