Get Updates by Email

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Watch Out, Fatty Foods Can Be Addictive!


I was starting my work after the midnight news, when I snuck a peek at news updates online. Being a bit of a midnight bird, I find my evenings regularly end on their last legs at about 3am. This has been "carried forward" from my student days of cramming notes into the cranium, but clearly -- it is an unhealthy habit. Working after midnight has its pitfalls -- one can never be too sure that one is not gorging on snacks and foods unnecessarily. One's attention is also likely to want to wander. Worst of all, though, is the risk of adding weight over time.

I've long suspected that my "hale and hearty" friends have had an influence in my eating habits. Man is, by nature, a social creature, and eating has been described as a social ritual. Eating together means, to some, sharing news and companionship while getting nourishment. Eating can also be good fun, simply a way to socialize. It would be difficult to go golfing every time a friend wanted to have a discussion -- that way might work for salesmen, but not for the ordinary man. The average Malaysian in Kuala Lumpur is likely to traipse over to the local kopitiam, or mamak stall ("mamak" referring to the Indian Muslim community from Penang), for a quick teh tarik plus maggi goreng.

When I was younger, I shrank back in horror at the idea of going to mamak for tea. Chief among my private reasons for not wanting to "hang out" was that my pocket money was rationed very tightly, and the folks who would want to bring me there were the people from cell group. (In my youth, I attended a church where the cell group concept was heartily embraced as a means to grow the church. To my chagrin, I found that I knew less and less people over time!) This meant hanging out after cell group sessions at the nearby roadside stalls. At that point of time, there was a row of stalls in Damansara Utama (Uptown food court had not yet been launched). Food of all types were hawked by hawkers. And hungry patrons ate deep into the late, as though to eat was a great feat.

And then I grew up, went to university, and left all that behind. I hung out with people from various backgrounds and from far-flung places, and learned to appreciate all sorts of food -- Malay, Indian, Chinese, and the "lain-lain". What some may call nourishment, others call cuisine. Post-university, entering the working world, it became common for me to have a cup of tea with clients. Having too much tea, I have found, can lead to steady, and noticeable, weight gains. People who are stick-thin and look like scarecrows should get into a marketing and sales job -- they'll certainly put on weight steadily, readily, and headily. Those who have already gained the weight they need, find that they pack on the pounds despite their best efforts -- resistance is futile.

Shocking News

I've received shocking news -- if you can label "a new study" by a university, as "news". That's the thing about studies by university professors, and assistant professors, and assistants -- they start with a hypothesis, and then they try to prove it. If they do manage to prove it, it forms the basis of "a new study". But they may fail to prove it the first time round. And so, they try it again, and again. And again. Who knows how many experiments have taken place, and how many reiterations of the same steps, replicated with variations, must take place, before success shows itself?

Nevertheless, on the 30th of March 2010, CNN Health website carried a story titled: "Fatty Foods May Cause Cocaine-Like Addiction". Here is an excerpt from the article:

In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Kenny and his co-author studied three groups of lab rats for 40 days. One of the groups was fed regular rat food. A second was fed bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other fattening, high-calorie foods--but only for one hour each day. The third group was allowed to pig out on the unhealthy foods for up to 23 hours a day.

Not surprisingly, the rats that gorged themselves on the human food quickly became obese. But their brains also changed. By monitoring implanted brain electrodes, the researchers found that the rats in the third group gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high.

They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain. When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats' feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating. But the obese rats were not. "Their attention was solely focused on consuming food," says Kenny.

In previous studies, rats have exhibited similar brain changes when given unlimited access to cocaine or heroin. And rats have similarly ignored punishment to continue consuming cocaine, the researchers note.

For the record, the study was carried out by a certain Paul J Kenny, described as "an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida." (Ref: ibid.)

The story was repeated, and reported, on several other news portals. Here are a few:
  1. Ars Technica, 31st March 2010. Fatty foods can be addictive like crack—at least for rats.
  2. Wall Street Journal's Health Blog, 29th March 2010. Study: New Evidence for Food Addiction.
  3. BusinessWeek, 29th March 2010. Junk Food "Addiction" May Be Real. (Found via WSJ)

The full report of the study can be accessed below:

  • Nature Neuroscience, 28th March 2009. Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. By Paul M Johnson & Paul J Kenny.

  • Eating Healthy

    Eating healthily may not be the same as eating healthy foods. (Imagine eating two persons' portions of salmon: Do it regularly, and you'll gain weight.) But both are equally important components in that greater cause for good health and longevity. Therefore, changing the food that one partakes in, is an idea that no seeker of health can ignore. Jamie Oliver -- known for cooking healthy food -- recently popped up in the news for trying to change the eating habits of school children. On 31st March 2010, the Telegraph (based in UK) carried an article titled, "Jamie Oliver Has Got It Right. Serve Me More Humble Pie." Here is an excerpt that speaks highly of the Naked Chef:

    Jamie's missionary zeal for spreading the creed of lentil bakes and vegetable wraps made him an ally of the hated nanny state that has spread its tentacles far and wide since 1997. No wonder that ministers scrambled to support him, with Tony Blair promising to revolutionise school cuisine and health and schools ministers pleading for a photo-op.

    But, however much it pains me to concede it, Jamie was right to bang on in the way he did – and now he has the results to prove it. The Royal Economic Society's annual conference was told this week that schools that have persevered with his healthy eating mantra and re-educated their pupils' palates are reaping the benefits. In the London Borough of Greenwich, where the Feed Me Better campaign was launched in 2004, test results among 11-year-olds in English and Science have shot up, and absenteeism due to sickness has fallen.
    (Source: The Telegraph, 31st March 2010. Jamie Oliver Has Got It Right. Serve Me More Humble Pie.)

    I've always thought that learning to cook was fun. Turns out, learning to cook could figure big in my plans for the future. Cooking, as opposed to eating, as a social activity. After cooking comes feeding, because a cook will always fish for compliments from his unfortunate guests. Feeding, as a social activity, has a mildly philanthropical flavour to it -- think Jesus with the five loaves and two fish, feeding the many. Force-feeding others with healthy food, though, puts a mildly tyrannical tinge to an otherwise noble deed. Interestingly enough, another article from the Telegraph states emphatically that "A Chocolate Bar A Day 'Can Cut The Risk Of Heart Disease And Stroke'". So, what do you think? It could be just another "new study"! Meanwhile, I wait in hopeful anticipation to hear "a new study" that declares my indulgences at Big Apple Donuts as "healthy" and "beneficial" and "likely to prolong life". (It would, however, be quickly shot down by health experts.)