Its official; rats love Oreo cookies. How? I'm not sure anyone will ever really be able to quantify much do they like them and whether it's to the point of addiction but that didn't stop a recent press release by a group of Connecticut College students and a professor of psychology revealing that "America's favorite cookie" is just as addictive as cocaine - at least for lab rats. And just like most humans, rats go for the middle first.
In a study designed to shed more light on the potential addictiveness of high-fat/ high-sugar, processed foods, Joseph Schroeder, associate professor of psychology and director of the behavioral neuroscience program at Connecticut College and his students found rats formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment. They also found that eating cookies activated more neurons in the brain's "pleasure centre" than exposure to more traditional recreational drugs of abuse.
The basis of the experiment proved addictive qualities of certain foods by how long rats who had enjoyed Oreos on a particular side of a maze spent on that same side when Oreos weren't there, waiting for them to be 'delivered' to the ground that they (the rats) were familiar with finding the cookies-concluding that Oreos are at least as addictive as cocaine.
Results wise, not even remotely surprisingly, rats lingered on the Oreo side of the maze longer than they did on the rice cake side of the maze. Apparently they lingered on the Oreo side for just as long as they did when the conditions were changed to include a shot of cocaine or morphine vs. a shot of saline. Researchers went one step further and further measured how much of a particular protein (c-Fos) was being expressed in the rats' brains' pleasure centre's in both the Oreo condition and the cocaine condition. It turns out that the rat brains' reward centre's respond to Oreos.
I don't particularly like stories that suggest junk food is more or similarly addictive to cocaine per say but I do believe that people choose Oreos not because they are America's favorite cookie, and highly palatable to rats, but equally because products containing high levels of useless calories and disproportionate amounts of fat and sugar are heavily marketed in communities with lower socioeconomic statuses. We all need to decide for ourselves and our families what we should be eating for optimal health or whether we let the 'hidden persuaders' in the packaged foods industry decide for us. One fact that remains regardless of the outcome of any studies is that for cookie companies like all packaged and fast food giants the Utopia is for us all to be eating and feeding our children packets of biscuits each and every day-but we wouldn't do that would we?
In any case, the fascinating fact remains (to me anyway) that it's not just that Oreos light up the parts of our brains that enjoy cocaine, but rather that cocaine lights up those parts of our brains that enjoy Oreos.
Now that's really worrying!