Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Can you manipulate your brain to stop your food cravings?
New research conducted on the brains of mice suggest it may be possible to "switch off" particular food cravings.
- A food craving can be described as an intense desire for a specific food. This desire can seem uncontrollable at times.
- Emerging research suggests it may be possible to "switch off" the pleasure feelings we experience from eating certain foods, which could curb cravings.
- This could be groundbreaking in terms of new eating disorder treatments.
Where do food cravings come from?
"We've all experienced hunger (where eating anything will suffice), but what makes food cravings different from hunger is how specific they are," writes Science Daily. "When people crave a specific food, they have vivid images of that food. Results of one study showed that the strength of participants' cravings was linked to how vividly they imagined the food."
Can you manage (or completely avoid) certain food cravings? Emerging research suggests it may be possible to switch off the pleasure feelings we experience from eating certain foods, which could curb cravings.
Why do we crave certain foods?
Can you "erase" food cravings? New research suggests it's possible..
Photo by Lightspring on Shutterstock
A food craving can be described as an intense desire for a specific food, and this desire can seem uncontrollable at times. The person experiencing the craving may be left feeling unsatisfied until they experience that particular food or taste.
Food cravings are caused by the regions in the brain that are responsible for memory, pleasure, and reward. Hormone imbalances can also cause food cravings to spike. Additionally, your emotions may be involved in producing food cravings, especially if you find yourself eating for comfort reasons. Emotional eating can quickly turn into a very bad habit and generally happens when someone is eating to stifle or soothe negative feelings.
Food provides satisfaction, so replacing a negative emotion (such as loneliness) with a positive emotion (such as joy from eating a piece of chocolate cake) seems like a good idea. When you experience satisfaction, your brain is flooded with dopamine, which then adds to the motivation you have to keep doing that thing (eating) that is making you feel good.
Once this happens a few times, it can become truly difficult to distinguish true physical hunger from emotional hunger.
Physical hunger slowly develops over time and you will desire a variety of different foods. You will feel the sensation of being full (when you've eaten enough) and take that as a cue to stop eating.
Emotional hunger, on the other hand, comes on very suddenly and is usually pinpointed to a certain food that makes you feel good while eating is. You may binge on food and not realize the sensation of being full, which tends to lead to feelings of shame and guilt.
Food cravings can become a major roadblock in maintaining a healthy weight and diet. But what if there was a way to "switch off" the cravings?
Scientists switch off pleasure from food in the brains of mice
Research has revealed it's possible to "switch off" food cravings area of the brain in mice.
Image by CLIPAREA l Custom media
New research (in mice) has revealed that the brain's underlying desire for sweet (and it's alternative distaste for bitter) can be "erased" by manipulating the neurons in the amygdala.
This 2017 study suggests that the brain's complex taste system (which produces an array of thoughts, memories, and emotions when tasting food) is actually made up of discrete units that can be individually isolated, modified, or even removed.
For this experiment, scientists focused on the sweet and bitter tastes and the amygdala, the region of the brain known to be key in making value judgments about sensory information. Previous research has shown that the amygdala connects directly to the taste cortex.
The researchers performed several tests in which the "sweet" or "bitter" connections to the amygdala were artificially switched on, like flicking a series of light switches.
When the sweet connections were turned on, the mice responded to water just as if it were sugar. By manipulating these connections, the researchers were able to change the perceived quality of the taste.
In contrast, when these connections were switched off but the taste cortex remained untouched, the mice could still recognize and distinguish sweet from bitter, but now lacked the basic emotional reaction to each taste.
Dr. Li Wang, Ph.D, a postdoctoral research scientist and the paper's first author, explained to Science Daily: "It would be like taking a bite of your favorite chocolate cake but not deriving any enjoyment from doing so. After a few bites, you may stop eating, whereas otherwise you would have scarfed it down."
This research is quite extraordinary, as typically the identity of food and the pleasure we derive from eating that food are intertwined. This study proves that they are separate components that could be isolated from each other and then manipulated separately.
This could be groundbreaking research in terms of advancing the treatments of certain eating disorders.
Optimize Your Brain: The Science of Smarter Eating | Dr. Drew Ramsey
- Scientists Believe They Can Rewire Your Brain to Like Healthy Foods ›
- Emotional eating: Why do I eat when I'm bored? - Big Think ›
- Ack! I need chocolate! The science of PMS food cravings ›
Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.
- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
The value of forecasting<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTA0Njk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzM2NDQzOH0.rid9regiDaKczCCKBsu7wrHkNQ64Vz_XcOEZIzAhzgM/img.jpg?width=980" id="2bb93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31345afbdf2bd408fd3e9f31520c445a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1546" data-height="1056" />
Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:</p><ul><li>Making space for an influx of patients</li><li>Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed</li><li>Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge</li><li>Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients</li></ul><p>The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop <a href="https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2020/06/09/dc19-1870" target="_blank">personalized care plans for diabetes patients</a>, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at <a href="https://healthitanalytics.com/news/ehr-data-fuels-accurate-predictive-analytics-for-suicide-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevated risk of suicide</a>, to name a few applications.</p><p>Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315944/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">machine learning can help battle the pandemic</a>, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.</p><p>Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.</p><p>"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."</p>
Making machine-learning tools openly accessible<p>Northwell Health has made its predictive tool <a href="https://github.com/northwell-health/covid-web-data-predictor" target="_blank">available for free</a> to any health system that wishes to utilize it.</p><p>"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."</p><p>Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.</p><p>"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."</p><p>In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.</p><p>"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."</p>
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.
- Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
- The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
- The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9734e306f0914bfdcbe79a1e317a7f0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b-wAYtBxn7E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.