SG SHOT/ShutterstockWe need food to survive, sure, but we also rely on food to fulfill some of our most basic pleasures: taste, indulgence, community, connection, relaxation. It is such pleasures that have complicated our relationship with food from one of nourishment to one of need and even addiction. Now, Finnish researchers have found that eating—even eating something bland—can activate the pleasure centers of the brain.
Worried that you might be addicted to food because you can’t stop eating? Look for these signs of food addiction.
The recent study, conducted by researchers from Turku PET Centre in Finland, found that while eating a pizza is pleasurable—and triggers the release of opioid-like substances in the brain—consuming a calorie-matched nutritional drink induces the release of as much—or more—of these feel-good substances.
The reseachers injected volunteers with a radioactive—but safe—compound that binds to the brain’s opioid receptors. They tracked the receptors’ activity using positron emission tomography (PET) as the volunteers ate pizza, a liquid meal, and after an overnight fast.
Although the pizza eaters were awash with endorphins, the tasteless nutritional drink actually triggered an even greater release. The researchers believe the endogenous system is likely responsible for regulating both feelings of pleasure and satiety. “The magnitude of the opioid release was independent of the pleasure associated with eating,” the study authors noted.
“The opioid system regulates eating and appetite, and we have previously found that its dysfunctions are a hallmark of morbid obesity,” Professor Lauri Nummenmaa, co-author of the study, told Sci News. “The present results suggest that overeating may continuously overstimulate the opioid system, thus directly contributing to development of obesity.”
The study’s findings could serve as a gateway for determining new opportunities for treating overeating and development of obesity. “This creates a basis for future research and hopefully we will find ways to study and describe the development and predictors of addiction, obesity and eating disorders,” added Dr. Jetro Tuulari, first author of the study.
Of course, there are other reasons you feel like you can’t stop eating—like your choice of restaurant or the people you surround yourself with. Here are some tips from nutritionists to have the healthiest diet possible.