Oreos seem to be as addictive, perhaps even more so, than drugs such as cocaine and morphine. A study conducted by a student and professor at Connecticut College was just completed in an attempt to prove the potential addiction qualities found in high fat, high sugar foods such as Oreos, according to a story in The Hartford Courant on Tuesday, Oct. 14. Ultimately the researchers found the cookies may be more hazardous to society than the illicit drugs are.
Professor Joseph Schroeder, an assistant professor of neuroscience, is slated to present the research results next month at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, Calif.. The study found that Oreos actually activate more pleasure neurons in the rats’ brains than cocaine and morphine do.
Schroeder worked with students in conducting the look at the connection between addiction to foods like Oreos, and the addictiveness of opioid drugs such as cocaine and morphine.
Morphine is the basic molecular component of the street drug heroin. Honohan says foods high in sugar and fat are often targeted to kids and low-income families who are on a budget.
The research project was the brainchild, pun intended, of neuroscience major Jamie Honohan. She was interested from a societal point on the prevalence of obesity in lower socio-economic communities.
The study had two components, a behavioral side and biological one. The behavioral study was further split into two parts.
One branch looked at the rats’ preferences for the Oreos versus rice cakes. They studied behavioral conditioning associated with the pleasure of eating the cookies with the pleasure of being injected with the drugs.
In the first experiment the rats were first put in a two-chamber space with Oreos on one side and rice cakes in the other. The rats spent far more time on the cookie side, even when the foods were removed.
The rats were observed to have a definitive preference for the Oreos, often not even finishing the rice cakes. It showed that rats don’t seem to derive much pleasure out of eating rice cakes, much like humans.
Amusingly, just like their humans counterparts, rats go after the creamy center of the Oreo first, before devouring the chocolate cookies.
In the second experiment, rats were administered a shot of cocaine or morphine in one chamber, both known addictive substances, while receiving a shot of saline in the other.
Once again, the substances were removed and the rats were given the choice of which chamber to spend time in.
The study showed that the cookie-conditioned-rats chose to spend as much time in the chamber where they had been fed Oreos, as did the drug-conditioned rats did in the chambers where they had been given drugs.
In the second part of the study, Schroeder and his students measured the increased neuron activity in the section of the brain that registers pleasure, according to NBC Connecticut.
“It basically tells us how many cells were turned on in a specific region of the brain in response to the drugs or Oreos”, Schroeder said. The research bore out that the cookies activated “significantly” more neurons than cocaine or morphine.
Schroeder said that those results correlated well with the behavioral findings, lending support to the hypothesis that the foods high in fat and sugar are addictive.
The societal implications are significant. While we acknowledge the health hazards of ingesting drugs like cocaine and morphine, the high sugar and fat foods might be more dangerous on the whole, since they’re so easily accessible and affordable.
As for the Oreos, Honohan’s all done with them. While she used to eat them before starting this project, “Now I can’t even look at them”, she said.