NEW LONDON, Conn. - Can't stop reaching for just one more Oreo cookie? There may be a scientific reason why. A new study says "America’s favorite cookie" is just as addictive as cocaine -- at least for lab rats.
In the study conducted by professors and students at Connecticut College, aimed at evaluating the potential addictiveness of high-fat and high-sugar foods, the researchers found that rats formed the same strong association with the pleasurable effects of eating Oreo's and as they did between cocaine or morphine.
However, the study also found that when the rats consumed the cookies it activated more neurons in the brain’s "pleasure center" than exposure to the drugs.
"Our research supports the theory that high-fat/ high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do," said Joseph Schroeder, a neuroscience assistant professor at Connecticut College. "It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them."
According to the college, the study is the result of an interest neuroscience student Jamie Honohan had on the prevalence of high-fat and high-sugar foods in low-income neighborhoods, and whether it contributed to the obesity epidemic.
Honohan said one of the surprising results of the research was how the rats consumed the cookies.
"They would break it open and eat the middle first," she said.
The scientists said they used a maze to measure the association between "drug" and environment. On one side of the maze, they would feed hungry rats Oreos and on the other, they would offer them a control, such as rice cakes.
"Just like humans, rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating them," Schroeder said
The professors and students said they would then let the rats choose to spending time on either side of the maze and measure how long they would spend there. Typically, they preferred Oreos.
The researchers then compared the results of the Oreo and rice cake test with those from rats that were given an injection of cocaine or morphine. According to the data, the rats lured with Oreos spent as much time on the "drug" side of the maze as the rats offered cocaine or morphine.
"This correlated well with our behavioral results and lends support to the hypothesis that high-fat/ high-sugar foods are addictive," said Schroeder.
"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," Honohan said.
According to the college, Schroeder will present the Oreo research in November at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego.