When You Feed A Rat Some Junk food
What happens when you feed a rat some junk food?Do you have rats in your house? If you do, stop feeding them junk food. Scientists say it’s bad for their health. And if you have children in your house, you might want to learn about what a diet of too much junk food did to rats, because there’s reason to believe it could be doing the same to them.
A pair of researchers were wondering what would happen if they fed rats a regular diet consisting of the same sort of junk we humans consume on a regular basis. They decided to try it to see. They found that when rats are fed a diet consisting exclusively of junk food, it alters the brain’s reward centers, inducing addictive behavior in rats that is similar to the addictive behavior caused by heroin. “This is the most complete evidence to date that suggests obesity and drug addiction have common neurobiological underpinnings,” reported study coauthor Paul Johnson.
The Scripps Research Institute in Florida conducted the research. Scientists separated rats into two groups. One group was fed a standard low-calorie, highly nutritious chow. The other group got to gorge themselves on an endless supply of junk food: Ho Ho’s, bacon, sausage, cheesecake, and pound cake. As predicted, the junk-food fed rats began to eat compulsively and became obese, taking in twice the calories of the rats that were in the control group. This revelation wasn’t all that surprising, but the next one was notable – and worthy of concern.
They then tested both the rat groups’ sensitivity towards feel-good stimulation. After a mere five days on the junk food diet, rats in the test group showed “profound reductions” in sensitivity amongst their brain’s pleasure-reward circuitry. In other words, their pleasure circuitry had become so used to the joys of junk food, it then required a bigger jolt of pleasure to obtain the same feelings of reward when it came to other pleasurable experiences in life. This reduction in sensitivity also meant that the obese rats had to eat more in order to get the same pleasure, just like a drug addict needs more and more of the drug to get the same fix because their body becomes habituated to its effects.
The good news from this study is that the imbalance can be corrected, though not easily. In this study, deficits in the brain’s reward circuitry lasted for weeks after the rats stopped eating the junk food. But the study pointed out another area of concern: this was only limited time of exposure. Researchers are worried that when such diets persist not for weeks, but for months and years, and especially during the sensitive period of childhood, that the changes in the brain might be permanent.
This is just another reason why early healthy eating habits are so important. Junk food in itself is not the enemy. But when parents allow a lack of discretion, and junk food begins to comprise the bulk of a child’s normal eating habits, then problems will arise. An occasional treat here and there will not ruin your child. (In fact, if you deny your children reasonable indulgences it can backfire; leading toward an over correction and the desire to overindulge in adulthood.) But too much of a good thing just might habituate your child towards unhealthy habits, dulling their reward centers and setting them down the path towards obesity, just like the rats in the study. Balance is the key.
If you enjoyed this article, please like and share it.