I love chocolate, but not in the form of Oreo cookies. Same with the creamy middle. And thank goodness, because according to the L.A. Times, these cookies can be as addictive as cocaine.
Now, not all experts are happy with articles like this, or at least with the way the media seems to be trying especially hard to grab readers’ attention using sensationalism. I’ll get to one of those experts’ comments in a minute. But first, let me tell you about the article’s content.
A recent study indicated that when presented with rice cakes on one side of a maze and Oreos on the others, they went for the sweets. These results were compared with earlier tests in which the rats were given the choice of morphine or cocaine on one side and saline on the other. In the recent study, “oreos activated more neurons than cocaine or morphine” in the pleasure center of their brains.
If you’re familiar with sugar addiction, you’re familiar with the theory that “high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” as one doctor says in the article.
Another doctor, Timothy Morley, MD, says that we can kick the sugar habit, however. First, you have to realize you’re addicted to sugar, and you needed to find other ways to activate the pleasure centers of the brain (presumably, healthy ways). He also advises practicing portion control and learning about good and bad foods.
In a Q&A on CNN Health, a woman wrote to a psychiatrist at Emory University Medical School for advice about her sugar addiction, saying that therapy had not worked. Dr. Charles Raison, the psychiatrist, answered that he had struggled with the same issue, and he corroborated the opinion of the L.A. Times doctor who noted that foods high in sugar (and carbs) are likely to stimulate the brain in ways that lead to addiction. He agrees with the writer that an emotional component is involved, because sweet foods affect stress hormones and give temporary relief from anxiety. He also notes that shame and frustration can accompany such eating and recalls a woman who ate an entire angel food cake whenever she faced an emotional situation.
Like Dr. Morley, Dr. Raison suggests replacing sugar consumption with other activities, but he goes further and advises a complete diet change to healthier eating.
Dr. Mark Gold, chairman of the University of Florida Department of Psychiatry and an expert on food addiction, has been reporting on the drug-like qualities of food since the 1980s. He would reign in writers like the author of the L.A. Times article, for two reasons, I believe: She didn’t mention enough prior research on this issue, and the study can be characterized as over the top, which the author doesn’t mention.
Dr. Gold says, “Surely, hyperbole is useful on occasion, but how many people have died overdosing on Oreos, lost their jobs, loved ones, wives and families because of Oreos, and have given up other pleasurable activities because they just couldn’t control their attachment to Oreos? We need treatment for overeating highly palatable foods and for reducing brain reinforcement caused by fat and sugar rich foods.” But, he reminds us, while all drugs, food, sex, gambling, gaming, and so forth increase dopamine, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin are in a league of their own. Take a look at this post on the Oxford University Press’s blog, which mentions Dr. Gold’s book on Food Addiction:http://blog.oup.com/2012/08/food-addiction.
With his cogent comment in this current MBRC blog post, Dr. Gold reminds us to pay attention to what the media thinks is news and how they present it.
Photo (left to right): Candy Finnigan, Aram Homanpour and Dr. Mark Gold MD on a visit to Malibu Beach Recovery Center