October 24, 2012
Food: The New Cheap Drug

Today, I am going to tell you what you always thought was true. You are hardwired to keep eating more high sugar high sweet foods.

It gets even more complicated. If you thought you have or had a food addiction, you may not be all the far off in the long term. Food acts like a drug in your brain. Here is how…

Like I have said before, palatable food keeps us coming back for more. When we eat a hot fudge sundae, a pleasure or "liking" system is triggered called the opioid system. This is paired with a motivation that occurs or "wanting" at the same time as the "liking." This is referred to as the Dopamine System.

High fat, high sugar foods increase opioids in your system when you consume them. The opioids trigger the pleasure receptors in your brain and you feel happy and euphoric. Similarly morphine injections increase opioids in the system. Thus, food has this drug like quality. In a study done by Erlanson-Albertsson in 2005, rats were given morphine injections. The rats over ate high fat, high sugar and artificially sweetened foods. If you give rats direct opioid injections, rats will eat large volumes of high fat, high sugar foods.

The drug effect of food does not stop there. We constantly need more to receive the same pleasure. So the first time you give in to that brownie, you get an opioid release that activates the pleasure center of your brain. The next time you have something sweet like a brownie, you will release 1/3 of the pleasure inducing opioids. You are already less sensitive to the same dose of sugar. You will now need twice the amount of high sugar food, let's say two brownies, to release the same amount of opioid you had the first time.

Opioids in general give us stress relief. Sweet and fatty foods alleviate crying and signs of distress in animals and human infants. Opioid release also depends on sweet taste (not calories), thus artificially sweetened drinks can have the same effect. There is also a high pain tolerance when people taste sugar. In a cold pressor test, where individuals have to leave their hand submerged for 2 minutes in ice water, subjects were more likely to sustain the submersion for the full two minutes if they ate a chocolate chip cookie. Chocolate chip cookies increased the pain tolerance, where as bland foods did not.

This is the Opioid system and the yin to the yang of the Dopamine System. For more information on how certain foods affect your brain and how to control these cravings please watch our Reward System Videos.


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