According to an October 15 news release from Connecticut College, neuroscience students and a professor have discovered that, based on experiments on laboratory rats, Oreo cookies are just as addictive as cocaine or morphine. Paralleling the human tendency, the rats went for the creamy middle first.
The research was led by Professor Joseph Schroeder and his students, who designed the study to discover the extent of the potential addictiveness of high fat and high sugar foods on rats. The researchers found that rats developed an affinity for the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos in a specific environment, just as they did for cocaine and morphine. Additionally, the researchers discovered that when the rats ate the cookies, more neurons were activated in the brain’s pleasure center than exposure to typical drugs of abuse.
“Our research supports the theory that high-fat/ high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” Schroeder said. “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”
The research endeavor was the pet project of neuroscience major Jamie Honohan. A scholar in the College’s Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy, Honohan took interest in how the dominance of high-fat and high-sugar foods in low-income neighborhoods contributed to the obesity epidemic.
“My research interests stemmed from a curiosity for studying human behavior and our motivations when it comes to food,” said Honohan. “We chose Oreos not only because they are America’s favorite cookie, and highly palatable to rats, but also because products containing high amounts of fat and sugar are heavily marketed in communities with lower socioeconomic statuses.”
To test the addictiveness of Oreos, the team of researchers placed Oreos on one side of a rat maze, and rice cakes for a control on another side. The researchers then gave the rats the choice of spending time on either side of the maze, and measured how long they would spend on the side where they were usually fed Oreos.
The researchers compared the results of the Oreo and rice cake test with results from rats that were given an injection of cocaine or morphine on one side of the maze and a shot of saline on the other. The research indicated the rats conditioned with Oreos spent as much time on the “drug” side of the maze as the rats conditioned with cocaine or morphine.
To measure the secretion of the c-Fos protein – a marker of neuronal activation – in the brain’s “pleasure center,” the researchers used immunohistochemistry. Using this method, the researchers discovered that Oreos activated significantly more neurons than cocaine or morphine.