Hack segment on whether junk food is as addictive as drugs or smoking


I was listening to hack on the train in the morning on the way to work. Hack had a segment focused on a study conducted by Paul Kenny a neurobiologist who researched on the effects of high fatty foods on lab rats. Kenny found that the effects parallels on how humans can be addicted to drugs. Drugs over stimulate the rewards pathways, the reward pathways become hypo functional causing it to not function as well, which in turn drives us further and further to drug use. Our behavior becomes compulsive to the point it’s beyond our control. In the study they found that the high fatty foods send a similar feedback loop in the brain as drug addiction. The question was raised “whether junk food is as addictive as drugs or smoking?”

To this, I think absolutely but of course it varies under certain cases and differentiates between individuals. Some individuals may have more self control and can refrain from gorging on fatty foods and others less and this could be due to numerous factors such as perhaps being brought up to see fatty foods as a rewards system, being conditioned at a young age, being rewarded with candy or maccas for finishing your homework hence, the act of this is ingrained into your psyche. Also, it could be purely because of ignorance, not knowing what foods are good for us. There could also be psychological factors involved.

Well, I don’t think it’s such a terribly far-fetched idea to see addiction to fatty foods in the same league as drug addiction. The nutritionist made a great comment about how it may seem innocuous to walk down the road and grab a burger however the effects on your health can be severe and long term. Since eating is such a habitual act, we can be blind and not see addiction to fatty foods as serious.

This segment really made me think back to the article I read in one of my neuroscience magazines, “The Puzzle of Pleasure” by Gary Marcus. “The human mind, a quirky yet magnificent product of the entirely blind process of evolution.” I’m going to add a statement made by a prominent evolutionary psychologist Randolph Nesse,

"Our brains could have been wired so that [eating] good food, [having] sex, being the object of admiration, and observing the success of one’s children were all aversive experiences, [but] any ancestor whose brain was so wired would probably not have contributed much to the gene pool that makes human nature what it is now. Pleasure is our guide and without it, the species wouldn’t propagate."

Marcus makes a valid point, “only few species seem to spend much time having nonprocreative sex, and none watch television, go to rock concerts, or play organized sports. Which raises the question is pleasure really an ideal adaptation, or – with apologies to Shakespeare – is there something klugey in the state of Denmark?” We have pleasure centers that consist of mechanisms that are tuned to promote the survival of the species however, we also have crude mechanisms that are easily outwitted, we lack the wisdom to consistently outwit our animalistic parts.

Awhile back I was listening to the scientist Joseph Dispenza (author of “Evolving your brain and The Science of Creating Personal Reality.”) Dispenza talks about rewiring the brain and to be aware intellectually that we don’t have to make the same choices, those biological tendencies, biological responses concerned with the preservation of the body. It’s almost like we need to break the habit of being human, to gain control and override the physiology. Every moment we are overriding those physiological responses, we are changing brain chemistry, breaking the addiction to the stimulus and response that so many people live by everyday. Response back to Nesse’s statement above, perhaps if we can do this we can make a more progressive evolutionary contribution to the gene pool.

More information on Kluge by Gary Marcus


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