Is Chocolate as Addictive as Heroin?
Eating chocolate releases the same chemicals in the brain as highly addictive opiates, a new study finds.
If an insatiable appetite for chocolate has you ravaging your nearest vending machine, you may be experiencing an addictive cycle similar to that of an opiate addict. A study conducted at the University of Michigan by a neuroscience student Alexandra DiFeliceantonio found that eating chocolate locks the brain into a cycle of “addiction, joy, and despair” similar to drug addiction. The researchers examined rats that were given M&M's, and found that they produced enkephalin—a naturally occurring opioid-receptor binding compound in the brain that is also released by addictive drugs such as morphine and heroin. Following that, researchers gave the rats a painless opioid-stimulating drug injection in their brain, and found that the rats ate double the amount of M&M's after the injection. “The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes,” DiFeliceantonio says. “So it seems likely that our enkephalin findings in rats mean that this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of overconsumption and addiction in people.” The researchers believe the findings may explain why some people cannot put down a bag of chocolate or candy bar after one serving. DiFeliceantonio writes: “Finding the brain mechanisms for overconsumption is a step towards designing better biological-based treatments for obesity and binge eating disorders.”