Sugar on the Brain

Sugar on the brain
Recent research has shown that the instinct to consume foods that contribute to poor health and fitness may come from a previously unsuspected area of the brain – and one which may be able to be targeted to prevent compulsive consumption of sugary treats.

In an experiment involving rats, the brain’s inability to resist sweet and fatty foods was highlighted. The culpable area of the brain, however, was one which has hitherto not been suspected – the neostriatum. This area produces a chemical that enhances desire and which, therefore, may be partially responsible for the compulsion to eat more than the body needs.

Lead study researcher and graduate student in biopsychology at the University of Michigan, Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, said ‘Previously, people thought this area of the brain was only involved in motor function and learning, but we found it’s involved in motivation and generating instant consumption’.

Although the findings were applicable to the rodents in the study, DiFeliceantonio speculated that they may have implications for humans, and that if that is the case, drugs could potentially be used to target the area and suppress the compulsion to overeat.

In the study, rats that had been given a drug to enhance the action of the neostriatum consumed twice as many M&Ms as they ate under normal control conditions. The volume they consumed was equated to a human eating 3.2kg of M&Ms in an hour.

Commenting on the findings, Dr David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said ‘We tend to like flavours, such as sweet, that in nature are associated with life-sustaining foods, and tend to dislike flavours, such as bitter, more often associated with toxins.’

While this instinct served our ancestors well with regards finding sources of energy in environments where sweet foodstuffs were scarce and levels of physical activity were high, in today’s artificially sugar-rich world, it may be achieving the opposite – leading to obesity and associated diseases.

‘But the fault here is not with the world within us, which is the same as it ever was’ said Katz; ‘It is with what and how much people eat, which has made the brain’s natural functioning “backfire rather badly”.’

Source: Current Biology

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