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  (Source: Times of India)
Now we can finally acknowledge we have a cocoa problem

Perhaps it's time to add chocolate alongside alcohol and tobacco to the lists of legal drugs in America.

A new study by University of Michigan neuroscience student Alexandra DiFeliceantonio chronicles how chocolate locks the rodent brain into a cycle of addiction, joy, and despair, much like other drugs.

She found that during consumption of M&Ms rats produced a naturally occurring (endogenous) opioid-receptor binding compound called enkephalin.  The compound binds to similar reward circuitry as notoriously addictive drugs such as a heroine and morphine.  The enkephalin levels primarily spiked in an inner region of the brain called the neostriatum.

Why is this important?  She explains that this region of the brain is linked to addiction in humans, commenting, "The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes.  It seems likely that our enkephalin findings in rats mean that this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of overconsumption and addiction in people."

Natural genetic variation may lead some people to become more severely addicted to chocolate than others, too, the study indicates.  When dosed with extra enkephalin -- similar to the case of a genetic-based overproduction -- the rodents gobbled down twice as many M&Ms, throwing reserve to the wind.

Rat w/ M&M
Rats show signs of chemical addiction when fed chocolate. [Image Source: Alexandra DiFeliceantonio]

In the human brain, enkephalins have been linked to risky behavior and thoughts of desire.

She writes in the study that the chocolate-triggered compound may be responsible for "generating intense pathological levels of motivation to overconsume."  In other words, maybe that's why you couldn't stop yourself at half your chocolate candy bar or put down that jumbo-sized bag of peanut M&Ms after the suggested serving was consumed.

Chocolate circuitry
Chocolate triggers opioid pathways in the rodent brain. [Image Source: Current Biology]

While some may take news of their chocolate addiction quite badly, Ms. DiFeliceantonio suggests that by better understanding its addictive role on neurochemicals researchers can help people break self-destructive "systems" of overconsumption that exist in the brain.

The new research is published [abstract] in the peer-reviewed journal Current Biology.

Sources: U of M [via Eurekalert], Current Biology

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RE: Not a pure test of chocolate...
By jeffkro on 9/25/2012 9:03:23 AM , Rating: 2
Na, it isn't just calories. The types of foods you eat do impact on how fat you get. There is no doubt the food industries practices are contributing to the obesity rate.

RE: Not a pure test of chocolate...
By Motoman on 9/25/2012 9:37:30 AM , Rating: 2
...because, you know, an individual person can't possibly be held responsible for what they eat. In large volume. All the time.

RE: Not a pure test of chocolate...
By SeeManRun on 9/25/2012 10:26:48 AM , Rating: 1
And of course no one else has any responsibility in what the citizens eat. Being barraged by advertisements for bad-for-you food has no impact on anyone and it is entirely personal choice. Genetically modified vegetables that have pesticide resistance built in, or contain much less nutrients than they should due to gross accelerated growth also has no correlation either I am sure.

It seems many people on this forum are all about personal responsibility, while neglecting the fact that like animals, human are manipulable by psychology contained in advertisements, and the advertisers use this to their advantage. When they advertise Snickers, they don't talk about how much sugar and bad ingredients, they say "Snickers really satisfies", and that impacts people.

There are also clearly genetic links to obesity that some people are cursed to endure. Not everything is as black and white as making a personal choice. There are lots of people that cannot quit doing things that are bad for them, and understanding the feedback from the brain that may cause this may be an invaluable tool into figuring out how to break that cycle. Think alcohol, cigarettes, heroin, methamphetamine, chocolate, sex, gambling... all things that some people may struggle with addiction to.

This study may not be groundbreaking, but it is a necessary step along the way to get more answers and understanding in how the physiology works with the brain and chemicals contained in food or other substances. If all you do is advocate personal responsibility then there is no point in studying anything like this, since you just blame the person rather than trying to understand the whole system.

By Jeffk464 on 9/25/2012 1:00:29 PM , Rating: 2
Like manipulating the ingredients in cigarettes to make them more addictive. The food industry does a lot of research to design food that is basically addictive, not their goal which is to simply design food that people desire. If you want to eat healthy walk down the aisles of a 7 eleven and look at everything in the store, thats a list of stuff you shouldn't eat.

By RedemptionAD on 9/25/2012 2:06:36 PM , Rating: 3
Part of living in the modern world is that you WILL have an attempt to manipulate your mind on a daily basis through advertisements aka suggestive selling, Political campaigns, or even telemarketers playing with your emotions.

Holding your self accountable means hearing the message comparing it to your moral standards and making a decision. If people are too lazy to do something that simple then they deserve their fate, it is not the governments responsibility to micromanage everyones life. That's what freedom is all about. Government is a macro-managing entity.

As far as obesity is concerned, why don't pharmaceutical companies make a thyroid increasing drug there by turning people that have low metabolism into a normal metabolism or higher than normal metabolism? If a business doesn't want to or can't make it, then the government should step in for the greater good of the country and make it happen. That would eliminate the genetic cause and help in finding the true culprit for the people who are obese.

RE: Not a pure test of chocolate...
By bah12 on 9/25/2012 5:37:26 PM , Rating: 2
There are also clearly genetic links to obesity that some people are cursed to endure. Not everything is as black and white as making a personal choice.
I call BS. I've known at least a dozen or so obese people that have gotten a stomache reduction. Most for years blamed "genetics" or "thyroid problems". Then low an behold they got too fat to operate in normal society and broke down and got the surgurey (usually covered by isurance funded by us healthy people mind you). Low and behold they lost the weight. Why? Because all these people plauged by so called bad genetics, still lost weight when they physically couldn't keep stuffing their face. Fact is they simply lacked the willpower to quit eating more than their body could use.

I'll grant you that some have a genetic disposition to hold on to the weight eaisier, but ANYONE can lose it if they just eat less. Is it harder for some, sure.

By SeeManRun on 9/25/2012 8:01:51 PM , Rating: 2
I am not sure if anyone claimed that if you starved them (which is what a stomach reduction does without feeling starved) they would lose weight. There must be something to the fact that some people are fat, and some people are not rather than just being undisciplined or lazy. There were big people 60 years ago too, but with today's diets those same people are huge now, while the average person is about the size of that big person 60 years ago.

They are also starting to link chemicals to your bodies ability to absorb calories, and of course the more processed your food is, the more you absorb from it, contributing to the problem.

By Jeffk464 on 9/25/2012 1:02:05 PM , Rating: 2
And by the way you will be held financially responsible for the health cost of the obesity epidemic in this country.

By Jeffk464 on 9/25/2012 1:05:17 PM , Rating: 2
I recently changed my diet to almost strip sugar completely out and guess what I dropped to a healthy body weight. I still eat tons of fat, but try to avoid saturated fat. With food choices you can really loose weight without feeling like your starving yourself.

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