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Examiner
  • Lori Boyajian-O'Neill: The facts about our favorite addiction

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  • I am not a lab rat, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
    Lab rats are smart and trainable which is why researchers love them. I wish my kids were more like them. In a recent study, lab rats demonstrated their intellectual aptitude when they zoomed through a maze to get to their prize. What motivated them? Cocaine? Morphine? No. Oreo cookies. I too would walk through a maze to get to an Oreo. Are Oreo cookies as addictive as cocaine or morphine? Research suggests yes. That may explain why Oreos are America's most popular cookie. We are all addicts.
    Oreo cookies, what do you know? T or F?
    1. Annual revenue from sales is less than $1 billion. 2. The first Oreo was sold in Hoboken N.J. 3. They became a kosher food in 1997.
    One horrible and two wonderful events happened in 1912. The Titanic sank. The South Pole was discovered. And Oreos entered the marketplace. They have been the best selling cookie in the U.S. ever since. Over 90 percent of households buy Oreos at some time during the year, including the Halloween and Christmas Oreos introduced in 1991 and 1995.
    Do you pull apart your Oreo to lick the creme center? Half of us do. The recipe has undergone some changes through the years but Oreos are basically sugar, cocoa and fat. In the mid-1990s lard was replaced by partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and in January 2006 non-hydrogenated vegetable oil replaced trans fat.
    Why do we eat high fat, high sugar containing foods when we know that they are not healthful? No, really. Why do we do it? We do it because our brains have cells which, when activated, trigger a powerful pleasure response. These pleasure centers drive us to have sex, use nicotine, cocaine, meth, a host of other drugs and, yes, eat Oreo cookies.
    Studies on the effects our favorite foods and addictive drugs have on our brains provide insight as to how they may be related. Last week researchers at Connecticut College reported their study with lab rats which indicated that the animals liked Oreo cookies as much as cocaine and morphine. A study of the brains of these rats showed that more pleasure center cells were activated by Oreos than by cocaine or morphine. So, the rats went for the Oreos just like we humans gravitate to, well, just about anything with the magical combination of sugar and fat. We just can't resist.
    Presumably rats have no understanding of heart disease so they go relentlessly to their target, like zombies, without guilt. But, we humans do understand heart disease and healthful food choices and yet, at that moment when we can choose healthful over sugar and fat, we choose – well, you know what we choose. We are slaves to the ancestry of our brains. Our intellect (we know better) cannot compete with centuries of primitive neurologic drive. We know better but we do not do better.
    Page 2 of 2 - This latest research study is in line with others that have explored the relationship between what we ingest, inject or inhale into our bodies and our pleasure centers. In this Land of Plenty, we have among the highest rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the world. We are surrounded by food. Blocking the pleasure centers may be key to controlling food cravings and drug addiction.
    We could take a pill that blocks the pleasure centers before we go grocery shopping and then Oreos would become as appealing to us as broccoli. If we could somehow trick our brains into activating the pleasure centers with healthful foods we could drastically change our behavior, and health, for the better. We would have effectively manipulated the primitive brain centers. Now that's evolution.
    Answers: 1. F, over $1.5 billion; 2. T; 3. T.
    Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at lori.boyajian-oneill@hcahealthcare.com.
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