Can You Become Addicted to Ice Cream?

by | February 23, 2012 at 11:44 AM | Food

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If you’ve always blamed your cravings for a pint of Chubby Hubby or just one more scoop of Moose Tracks on lack of willpower, you may have been giving yourself less credit than you deserve. While the idea that one can become addicted to food is a highly debated one, a new study has revealed that the chemical reaction that takes places in a brain on ice cream is similar to that of a brain on drugs.

Researchers Kyle S. Burger and Eric Stice, of the Oregon Research Institute, tested the theory that, much like continued drug use, the more ice cream a person eats the less enjoyable of an experience it becomes.

Using milkshakes and group of 150 healthy-weight adolescents, Burger and Stice studied the results of brain scans taken during consumption and noticed something interesting. Using an fMRI machine to monitor activity in the reward centers of the brain, the adolescents were shown a milkshake to measure their craving and then given the real thing. Each participant wanted the shake, but those who ate the most ice cream over the previous few weeks enjoyed it less. This was shown by less activity in their brains’ reward centers.

“It’s as if the brains of big ice cream eaters had been changed. Over-consumption of these foods down regulates reward processes,” Burger explained. “That may, in turn, make you eat more,” in an effort to feel the same pleasure you once did. “You could be continually tying to match the earlier experience.”

In the study published in The America Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Burger and Stice came to the following conclusion:

“Our results provide novel evidence that frequent consumption of ice cream, independent of body fat, is related to a reduction in reward-region responsivity in humans, paralleling the tolerance observed in drug addiction.”

As mentioned earlier, the issue of food addiction in the science world seems to a much-debated and popular one amongst those in the field. Ashley Gearhardt, a Yale psychology PhD candidate who has also done research using milkshakes, explained her stance topic to MSNBC, saying food addiction “is not open and shut,” but admitted “our food environment preys on people.” Gearhardt said manufactured food is “designed to amp up reward” and vulnerable people can become addicts.

It’s worth noting that despite Burger and Stice’s published conclusion, half of the research team isn’t fully convinced that someone can become addicted to a certain type of food. “I personally do not say food is addictive. I say energy-dense food, high sugar food, can elicit neural responses during consumption that parallel those seen in drug addiction. So it has addictive-like properties,” Burger added.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.