Monday, March 29, 2010

Junk food 'as addictive as heroin and smoking'

It would be much simpler but much less dramatic to say that opiates and nicotine stimulate the same pleasure centres in the brain as food. We EVOLVED to enjoy certain foods more than others. That came first. Opiates and nicotine came along later. Calling "junk" the food we enjoy most is just arrogance, not science

Bingeing on junk food is as addictive as smoking or taking drugs and could cause compulsive eating and obesity, a study has found. American researchers found burgers, chips and sausages programmed a human brain into craving even more sugar, salt and fat laden food.

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida found laboratory rats became addicted on a bad diet just like people who became dependent on cocaine and heroin.

While the findings cannot be directly transferred to human obesity, it found that overconsumption of high-calorie food triggered addiction-like responses in the brain. But the study, published online in Nature Neuroscience, suggests for the first time that our brains may react in the same way to junk food as it does to drugs.

Dr Paul Kenny, a neuroscientist who led the research, said the study, which took nearly three years to complete, confirmed the "addictive" properties of junk food. "Obesity may be a form of compulsive eating,” he said.

“Other treatments in development for other forms of compulsion, for example drug addiction, may be very useful for the treatment of obesity. "The new study explains what happens in the brain of these animals when they have easy access to high-calorie, high-fat food.” He added: "It presents the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms.”

In the study, the research team divided the animals into three groups. One got normal amounts of healthy food to eat, another was given restricted amounts of junk food and the third had unlimited amounts of cheesecake, fatty meat products, cheap sponge cakes and chocolate snacks.

There were no adverse effects on the first two groups. But the rats which ate as much junk food as they wanted quickly became very fat and started bingeing.

When researchers electronically stimulated the part of the brain that feels pleasure, they found the rats on unlimited junk food needed even more stimulation to register the same level of pleasure as the animals on healthier diets. "They always went for the worst types of food and as a result, they took in twice the calories as the control rats,” said Dr Kenny.

"When we removed the junk food and tried to put them on a nutritious diet – what we called the 'salad bar option' – they simply refused to eat. "The change in their diet preference was so great that they basically starved themselves for two weeks after they were cut off from junk food."

Dr Kenny said the research supported what obese patients have been saying for years that, like addiction to other substances, junk food bingeing is extremely difficult to stop.

In the rats, the development of obesity coincided with a progressively deteriorating chemical balance in the circuitry of the brain responsible for reward. As these pleasure centres become less and less responsive the animals quickly develop compulsive overeating habits, consuming larger quantities of high-calorie, high-fat foods until they become obese.

The very same changes occur in the brains of rats that over consume cocaine or heroin, and are thought to play an important role in the development of compulsive drug use.

The scientists fed the rats a diet modelled after the type that contributes to human obesity easy to obtain high-calorie, high-fat foods. Soon after the experiments began, the animals began to bloat.


Measure puts calorie counts on menus

It's been shown to have no effect but which Leftist ever cared about evidence?

That Caesar salad you're about to eat? It's 800 calories, and that's without the croutons. The fettuccine Alfredo? A whopping 1,220 calories. You may choose to ignore the numbers, but soon it's going to be tough to deny you saw them.

A requirement tucked into the nation's massive health care bill will make calorie counts impossible for thousands of restaurants to hide and difficult for consumers to ignore. More than 200,000 fast food and other chain restaurants will have to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and even drive-throughs.

The new law, which applies to any restaurant with 20 or more locations, directs the Food and Drug Administration to create a new national standard for menu labeling, superseding a growing number of state and city laws. President Obama was expected to sign the health care legislation Tuesday.

The idea is to make sure that customers process the calorie information as they are ordering. Many restaurants currently post nutritional information in a hallway, on a hamburger wrapper or on their Web site. The new law will make calories immediately available for most items.

"The nutrition information is right on the menu or menu board next to the name of the menu item, rather than in a pamphlet or in tiny print on a poster, so that consumers can see it when they are making ordering decisions," says Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who wrote the provision.

It was added to the health bill with the support of the restaurant industry, which is facing different laws from cities and states. Sue Hensley of the National Restaurant Association says it will help restaurants better respond to their customers.

"That growing patchwork of regulations and legislation in different parts of the country has been a real challenge, and this will allow operators to better be able to provide their information," she said.

Some meals will be exempt from the calorie counts, including specials on the menu less than 60 days. The law will also apply to foods sold in vending machines, specifically those that do not have visible calorie listings on the front of the package.

New York City was the first in the country to put a calorie posting law in place. Since then, California, Seattle and other places have done so.

The FDA will have a year to write the new rules, which health advocates have been pushing for years. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said it's one step in the fight against obesity.

"Coffee drinks can range from 20 calories to 800 calories, and burgers can range from 250 calories to well over 1,000 calories," she said.

Still, it's unclear what effect the labeling will have. In a study published last year by the online journal Health Affairs, only half of customers in poor New York City neighborhoods with high rates of obesity and diabetes noticed the calorie counts.

The accuracy of the counts could also be called into question, according to a different study.

In January, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association published a survey of 10 chain restaurants, including Wendy's and Ruby Tuesday, that said the number of calories in 29 meals or other menu items was an average of 18 percent higher than listed. The discrepancies were said to be due to variations in ingredients and portion sizes.


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