You really may be addicted to chocolate
Brain scans show changes similar to cocaine addicts, study finds
April 21, 2004
WASHINGTON - People who say they are addicted to chocolate or pizza may not be exaggerating, U.S.-based scientists said on Tuesday.
A brain scan study of normal, hungry people showed their brains lit up when they saw and smelled their favorite foods in much the same way as the brains of cocaine addicts when they think about their next snort.
"Food presentation significantly increased metabolism in the whole brain (by 24 percent) and these changes were largest in superior temporal, anterior insula, and orbitofrontal cortices," they wrote.
These areas are associated with addiction. For instance, the orbitofrontal cortex has been seen to activate in cocaine users when they think about the drug.
The study, published in the April issue of the journal NeuroImage, may support the argument that food advertising is helping drive the U.S. obesity epidemic.
"These results could explain the deleterious effects of constant exposure to food stimuli, such as advertising, candy machines, food channels, and food displays in stores," Dr. Gene-Jack Wang of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, who led the study, said in a statement.
"The high sensitivity of this brain region to food stimuli, coupled with the huge number and variety of these stimuli in the environment, likely contributes to the epidemic of obesity in this country."
An estimated 30 percent of Americans are obese, meaning they have a body mass index of more than 30. This ratio of height to weight usually works out to being about 30 pounds (14 kg) overweight for a woman and 35 to 40 pounds (16 to 18 kg) overweight for a man.
Wang and colleagues studied 12 men and women with an average age of 28. The volunteers fasted for just under a day and then underwent positron emission tomography, or PET scans, which measure brain metabolism.
They were asked to describe their favorite foods and how they like to eat them while they were presented with some of those foods.
"A cotton swab impregnated with the food was placed in their tongues so they could taste it," the researchers wrote.
"The favorite food items most frequently selected by the subjects were bacon-egg-cheese sandwich, cinnamon bun, pizza, hamburger with cheese, fried chicken, lasagna, Bar-Be-Que rib, ice cream, brownie, and chocolate cake."
Several leading addiction experts worked on the report including Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.