Dr Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute Drug Abuse argues the fact that it is possible for food to be more addictive than drugs based on the proportion of obese Americans compared to those addicted to drugs.
During a lecture at Rockefeller University Dr Volkow stated that if we understood the commonalties between drug and food addictions, this could bring about new discoveries into other types of compulsive behaviour.
Taken from the TIME Healthland this is what Maia Szalavitz reported
Understanding How It Is Possible For Food To Be Addictive
Many experts dismiss food as an addictive substance because it doesn’t lead to most people behaving like addicts — compulsively seeking food despite negative consequences. So, the reasoning goes, food can’t be as addictive as a drug like crack cocaine.
What that fails to recognize, however, is that crack cocaine itself isn’t as addictive as is commonly believed. “If you look at people who take drugs, the majority are not addicted,” Volkow said. Indeed, even for drugs like crack and heroin, fewer than 20% of users become addicted.
In contrast, if you look at the proportion of people who are currently obese — some 34% of adults over 20 — it’s a significantly larger group. Add in those who are overweight, and fully two-thirds of Americans clearly have significant difficulties controlling their food intake. So, measured by the proportion of those who behave in health-risking ways with each substance, food could actually be considered several times more “addictive” than crack.
Volkow went on to describe the common dysfunctions in the areas of the brain involved in pleasure and self-control that are seen in both food and drug addictions. These systems rely on the neurotransmitter dopamine; in both drug addictions and obesity, reductions in the number of dopamine D2 receptors are common.
In brain areas associated with self-control, the loss of D2 receptors is linked with a weaker ability to resist temptation. In regions that process pleasure, a reduction in receptors is associated with diminished enjoyment of food or drugs. “You can create animals that do not produce dopamine,” said Volkow. “They die of starvation. They don’t eat. It’s as dramatic as that.”
Drugs were once thought to be uniquely addictive because of their outsized effect on the brain: they can raise dopamine levels far higher than natural experiences like sex and food, at least in the lab. This was believed to create chemical imbalances that the brain isn’t equipped to regulate.
However, many argue that the modern food environment, a universe of plenty that has been engineered to deliver as much sugar and fat as cheaply as possible — certainly a stark contrast to the feast-or-famine circumstances in which humans evolved — may have actually created a similar imbalance.
To illustrate the point, Volkow summarized the research on the hormone leptin, a key player in humans’ feelings of hunger and satiety. Leptin, which is released by fat cells, helps regulate appetite by telling the brain, “We’re full, stop eating.” Normally, when leptin levels are high, food becomes less attractive. Our old friends, the D2 receptors, seem to be involved here: leptin reduces their activity. Obese people, however, lose their sensitivity to leptin, meaning that the hormone is no longer able to signal effectively, “That’s enough.”
There’s some evidence that leptin also plays a role in substance addictions. “In animal models, we know that leptin modifies the rewarding effects of alcohol and possibly cocaine,” Volkow told me. “In obesity, there is leptin tolerance but we do not know if there are changes in leptin sensitivity associated with drug addiction [in humans].” Full story posted here.
In my personal opinion, I feel that there might be a link to food being addictive, but if you take the time and re-programme your brain to think about food as a whole, what are good foods and what’s bad you can become addictive to the right stuff.
In the pass I ate chocolate like it was going out of fashion, up to 3 bars a day. I felt the constant need to have one along with fat greasy take-aways on the weekend. This was doing my health no good. When I took the time out to evaluate the situation I knew I had to do something. Change my lifestyle.
Making healthy food choices have seen many great health benefits for me and my family, I still occasionally indulge in a piece of chocolate but no longer feel the constant craving for it. And the thought of eating fat greasy foods makes me feel sick.
Taking the time to re-educate yourself into what is healthy and good, could see you becoming addictive to food, but in the right food.
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