If you love Oreo cookies, you are certainly not alone. The chocolate sandwich cookie with the creamy middle, first sold in 1912, has become the nation’s best-selling cookie. And if you’ve ever reached into a bag of Oreos meaning to take one, then finding that you just can’t stop cramming them into your mouth until the whole bag is gone, you are also not alone.
Now science has an explanation for both of those phenomena. According to an undergrad-faculty collaborative neuroscience study at Connecticut College, Oreos are just as addictive as cocaine.
“Our research supports the theory that high-fat/ high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” said neuroscience Professor Joseph Schroeder. “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”
The experiment was conceived by undergrad neuroscience major Jamie Honohan. With other students and Schroeder, she tested Oreos on rats.
Her results? The sugary, fatty — and undeniably delicious — cookies stimulated the rats’ brains in much the same way as cocaine or morphine.
As she observed rats eating the cookies, Honohan made another interesting observation.
“They would break it open and eat the middle first,” she said. Sound familar?
In the study, the researchers measured the rats production of the c-Fos protein, which indicates neural activity in the brain’s so-called “pleasure center.” Essentially, the protein is like an “on” switch that gets flipped when the brain is stimulated in ways that cause it to send a signal saying, "I like that! Do it again!" to the other areas of the body.
Honohan’s study found that Oreo cookies actually cause the brain, at least in the lab rats, to produce more of the protein that either cocaine or morphine did.
While the Oreo cookie study may seem rather amusing, the researchers say it has serious public health implications.
“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.
She noted that because Oreos and similar high-fat, high-sugar junk foods are relatively cheap and easily accessible, they are popular in lower-income areas and in fact marketers devote extra effort to selling them there. As with drugs, fatty, sugary junk food eaten excessively poses a serious health risk.
The results of the study will be formally revealed at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, Calif. next month.
SOURCES: Connecticut College, Forbes, Wikipedia