Is fast food addictive?

February 3, 2003 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Is fast food addictive?

A steady diet of hamburgers, fries and foods high in fat and calories may not only pile on the pounds.

Scientists are now questioning whether it could be addictive. Researchers who have been testing the biological effects of fast food are discovering that they can trigger hormonal changes in the body that could make it difficult to control eating.

Fast-food meals can deliver nearly the recommended daily calorie and fat intake in one meal.

As people put on weight, they become more resistant to the hormone leptin, which is strongly linked to weight and appetite, and a brain peptide called galanin that stimulates eating. Leptin releases signals to the part of the brain that co-ordinates eating behavior, but as people gain weight they become more resistant to the effects of the hormone -- the brain loses its ability to respond to these hormones as body fat increases.

Animal studies conducted at Rockefeller University in New York have also shown that young rats fed a high-fat diet early in life grew up to be obese adults. Researchers are also looking into whether bingeing on foods high in fat and sugar causes changes in the brain associated with addiction to drugs.

According to experts, highly palatable foods and highly potent sexual stimuli are the only stimuli capable of activating the dopamine system with anywhere near the potency of addictive drugs.

But other scientists argue there is no conclusive evidence that foods high in fat and sugar are addictive.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.