Oreos Addictive As Drugs To Rats
October 16, 2013

Oreos As Addictive As Morphine To Rats

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Neuroscience students from Connecticut College who fed rats “America’s Favorite Cookie” now say Oreos are just as addictive as cocaine and morphine for the lab animals. Rats that were fed the cookies not only went straight to the creamy center first, they also lingered in the area where they were usually fed the cookies. Furthermore, the researchers found that eating Oreos activated even more neurons in the rats’ brains' pleasure center than addictive drugs.

Less of a study about the potential of the popular cookie, student Jamie Honohan, her professor and her fellow researchers say they wanted to understand the effects of fat and sugar on human behavior, particularly in low-income areas. Professor Joseph Schroeder assisted the students in their study and will present their findings in November at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, California.

“Our research supports the theory that high-fat/ high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” professor Schroeder said in a statement. “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”

Other extensive studies have shown the obesity epidemic is particularly threatening low-income communities in both rural and urban areas. Neuroscience major Jamie Honohan said she wanted to better understand this trend as well as understand why people continue to eat the foods they know they shouldn't.

“We chose Oreos not only because they are America’s favorite cookie, and highly palatable to rats, but also because products containing high amounts of fat and sugar are heavily marketed in communities with lower socioeconomic statuses,” she said.

To conduct their study, Schroeder, Honohan and the rest of their research team constructed a two-sided maze and set the rats out to find the other end. First the rats were made to navigate the first side of the maze and, when finished, were fed Oreos. Next the same rats were made to navigate the second side of the maze where they were rewarded with rice cakes when they reached the end. According to Schroeder, rats, like humans, don’t derive much pleasure out of rice cakes. This second side of the maze was therefore used as a control.

Next the rats were allowed to freely roam either side of the maze, and the research team noticed the rats were much more likely to spend time on the side of the maze where they were first fed the high-sugar cookies. A similar study was conducted previously which injected rats with morphine on one side of the maze and a saline solution on the other. In this study the rats, when allowed to roam freely, preferred the side of the maze where they had received the drugs, just as they did in the Oreo test.

The team then observed the pleasure center of the rats' brains and found that the Oreos activated more neurons in this area of the brain than the morphine had done in the previous study.

“Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat/ high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability,” said Honohan, in closing.

This research backs up prior work which has found that those living in lower income areas are far more likely to be obese and experience the negative side effects associated with being so overweight. One study released earlier this year found this could be due in part to the easy availability of such high fat and high sugar foods.

For instance, according to the Baylor University study, when fast food restaurants are located near schools in low-income areas, the obesity numbers are higher. Even eating one meal at these restaurants, said the researchers in their May study, could undo all the work done by the schools to encourage a healthy lifestyle.