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Health & Fitness

Ice cream ‘could be as addictive as cocaine’

Tuesday - Mar 06, 2012, 02:30am (GMT+5.5)
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London - Cravings for ice cream are similar to those experienced by drug addicts, a new study has suggested.

According to the study, the brain is left wanting for more while eating an ice cream in the same way as person who habitually uses cocaine.

Their study apparently adds weight to previous studies that people can be left feeling “addicted” to some foods.

Dr Kyle Burger, from the Oregon Research Institute, in Eugene, said that overeating “high-fat” or “high-sugar” foods appeared to change how the brain responded and in turn downgraded  the mental “reward”, the Telegraph reported.

“This down-regulation pattern is seen with frequent drug use, where the more an individual uses the drug, the less reward they receive from using it,” said Dr Burger, the study’s co-author.

“This tolerance is thought to increase use, or eating, because the individual trying to achieve the previous level of satisfaction. Repeated, overconsumption of high-fat or high-sugar foods  may alter how the brain responds to those foods in a way that perpetuates further intake.

“The data supports the theory that overeating such foods may result in changes in how the brain responds to those foods in a similar fashion seen in drug addiction.”

In the study, 151 teenagers, aged 14 and 16, were asked to drink real chocolate milkshakes made using Haagen Dazs ice cream.

The researchers had already conducted interviews with the teenagers, all of whom were of “healthy weight”, about their present eating habits and how much they craved certain foods.

Their brains were then scanned with a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machine (fMRI) while being shown a picture of a milkshake before being given the shake actually.

It was found that all the participants wanted the real shake but those who ate the most ice cream over the previous few weeks enjoyed it less.

Dr Burger elucidated that this was an identical reaction that a drug addict felt, because despite increased cravings, pleasure that should be sent to the brain was being blunted.

This, he said, was perhaps due to the brain releasing lower levels of the chemical dopamine.

When the fMRI scans were analysed, the study found the teenagers who had eaten the most ice cream had experienced a similar effect.

As a result, they felt they had to eat more to relish the same feelings of euphoria.

“You could be continually trying to match the earlier experience,” he said.

This, he added, would result in bigger portion and weight gain.

Although it was unlikely that people became “addicted to ice cream per se”, the findings appeared to suggest that ice cream had “addictive-like properties”, he asserted.

“Some individuals may frequently eat ice cream or other high-fat/high-sugar foods and show no characteristics of addiction, while others may develop an addictive like relationship with  food,” he said.

“Some people will try smoking, drinking or gambling, but not develop an addiction. We often joke and say ‘I wouldn't say food is addictive, but I hear some people can't live without it’,” he  added.

But Dr Burger insisted that the findings also provided further explanation to why people become fat from ice cream. It supports previous studies that linked junk food and addiction. The study has been published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


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