Study found: Junk Food and Cocaine, The Same?

Food addiction does exist: Sugar-laden junk activates the same region of the brain affected by heroin and cocaine

A study Boston University found that high sugar snacks activated an area of brain called the nucleus accumbens that is also stimulated by class A drugs
Some experts believe that it is not appropriate to term food as 'addictive' as it is essential to life and not something that people can be weaned off. 
But a new study has found that high sugar snacks activate areas of brain that are also stimulated by hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. 
The research, carried out by the Harvard Medical School, sought to understand why so many people who strongly desire to reach a normal, healthy weight are unable to do so. 

Dr Belinda Lennerz, who led the study and reported on it in The Conversation, said a that in theory, weight reduction should be simple - just cutting down on the number of calories consumed should be easy, yet most dieters continue to overeat.

Dr Lennerz and her colleagues wanted to know whether overeating was perpetuated by processed, tasty food, especially those with a high glycaemic index.

High glycaemic index foods include refined starches and concentrated sugar and cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar after consumption. This triggers hunger and sometimes irritability. 

The study involved creating two milkshakes - one with a high, and one with a low glycaemic index.

The milkshakes were otherwise identical, with similar calories and taste.

The drinks were then given to 12 healthy, overweight men on different days and in random order.

Four hours after the high glycaemic index shake, participants were hungrier than those who had consumed the low glycaemic index shake.

Experts also carried out functional MRI imaging on all participants.

The images revealed intense activation of the nucleus accumbens, a critical brain area in the dopaminergic, mesolimbic system that mediates pleasure eating, reward and craving.

Similar activation patterns have been found in people after consumption of addictive substances, such as heroin and cocaine.

Dr Lennerz said that their findings 'provide qualified support for the possibility of food addiction'.

She added: 'While food is necessary for life, we eat for reasons beyond our daily energy needs. When overeating becomes a pattern that is hard to break, we say someone is "addicted" to food.'

Finally Dr Lennerz concluded that while more research is needed to examine the concept of food addiction, 'the fact that a food may affect addiction centres in the brain, independent of calories or pleasure, provides the basis to rethink current dietary recommendations'.