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.
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While legalization has benefits, a new study suggests it may have one big drawback.
- A new study finds that rates of marijuana use and addiction have gone up in states that have recently legalized the drug.
- The problem was most severe for those over age of 26, with cases of addiction rising by a third.
- The findings complicate the debate around legalization.
Cannabis Use Disorder, is that when you get so high you can’t figure out how to smoke anymore?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="hfrVfwoH" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e62d9cb9c0a2361f81e9b5278706614"> <div id="botr_hfrVfwoH_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/hfrVfwoH-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/hfrVfwoH-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/hfrVfwoH-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538131/" target="_blank">Cannabis use disorder</a>, also known as CUD or cannabis/marijuana addiction, is a psychological disorder described in DSM 5 as "the continued use of cannabis despite clinically significant impairment." This includes people being unable to cut down on their usage despite wanting to, those who often use it despite finding it severely impairs their ability to function, or those who are putting themselves in danger to secure access to the drug.</p><p>While an understanding that marijuana can be addictive has existed for some time, and the image of the pothead who smokes so much they can hardly function is prevalent in our society, the effects of legalization on addiction rates have somehow gone understudied until now. Importantly, previous studies had failed to consider usage rates amongst populations over the age of 25.</p><p>In the new study, published in <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2755276?utm_campaign=articlePDF%26utm_medium%3darticlePDFlink%26utm_source%3darticlePDF%26utm_content%3djamapsychiatry.2019.3254" target="_blank">JAMA Psychiatry</a>, focused on self-reported data on monthly drug use in four states where marijuana is now legal, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, from both before and after the drug was legalized in each state and compared it to others which have not yet legalized.</p><p>The data gave insights into the drug use habits of the respondents and specifically gave information about if they had smoked at all in the last month, the frequency of their drug use, and if they had ever had issues with how much they were using drugs.The researchers ultimately considered the responses of 505,796 individuals.</p><p>The increase in cannabis usage they found was <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/cannabis-use-disorder-rising-us-states-where-weed-legal-1471170" target="_blank">considerable</a>. The number of respondents over the age of 26 who claimed to have used the drug in the last month went up by 23% compared with their counterparts in states that have yet to legalize. Abuse of the drug by this group rose by 37%. </p><p>Teen usage rose by 25%, and addiction rates rose as well. This increase was small, though, and the authors have suggested it may be due to an unknown factor. The rate of usage or abuse for respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 did not increase at all. </p><p>After breaking the results down by demographics, the primary finding held; adults over the age of 26 are using marijuana more often when it is legalized, and they are starting to use it too much.</p>
The grain of salt<p>As in any study where findings are self-reported, the exact numbers you see here should be taken with a grain of salt. They could be slightly higher or lower. As this study relies on people self-reporting their usage of a drug that is still illegal in many places, it is very possible that the apparent spike in addiction rates is caused by more accurate reporting, as people who live in an area where pot is still illegal may be less likely to report smoking it every day.</p><p>And it should be repeated a thousand times over that correlation and causation are not the same thing. There could be some unknown factor causing these increases in each case. </p><p>Despite these qualifications, the study is still useful in giving us a general sense of what may happen in states that have yet to legalize. </p>
What does this mean for society and drug users?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="BdVRmwgX" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="d5c2f9e3739c26170f98b48bf07a3444"> <div id="botr_BdVRmwgX_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/BdVRmwgX-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/BdVRmwgX-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/BdVRmwgX-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>While claims of "reefer madness" are greatly exaggerated, marijuana has several well established and thoroughly studied side <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-term_effects_of_cannabis#Mental_health" target="_blank">effects</a>. While occasional use isn't terribly harmful, addiction can be. Lead author Magdalena Cerdá of New York University explains in the study that heavy marijuana use is associated with "psychological and physical health concerns, lower educational attainment, decline in social class, unemployment, and motor vehicle crashes."</p><p>A substantial increase in the number of people who are addicted to the stuff will incur costs to society down the line. <strong></strong></p><p>Of course, a 37% increase in problematic usage means that the percentage of adults smoking too much went from .9% to 1.23% of the population responding to the survey. This makes it far less prevalent than issues with alcohol, which affected around 6% of all Americans in <a href="https://www.verywellmind.com/prevalence-of-alcoholism-in-the-united-states-67876" target="_blank">2018</a>. </p><p>Recently, Big Think's <a href="https://bigthink.com/u/philip-perry" target="_self">Philip Perry</a> wrote a piece about how <a href="https://bigthink.com/want-to-protect-the-health-of-35-million-americans-legalize-cannabis" target="_self">legalization could improve the health of millions</a> by allowing the government to regulate the purity of commercially sold marijuana. This remains true. However, it must be weighed against the findings of this study, which suggests that at least some of these health gains will be wiped out by increased addiction rates.</p>
What does this mean for legalization efforts?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="bnPA9J9g" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="429e1d17ba031b02d4e79b4f02f54ab5"> <div id="botr_bnPA9J9g_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/bnPA9J9g-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/bnPA9J9g-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/bnPA9J9g-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The legalization steamroller will undoubtedly keep rolling along. While health concerns are one factor in the debate over marijuana, it is only one of many. In Illinois, where I live, weed will become legal on January 1<sup>st</sup> of 2020. The legalization campaign and <a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/politics/ct-met-illinois-recreational-marijuana-legislation-20190531-story.html" target="_blank">legislation</a> were more concerned with issues of social justice, the failures of prohibition, and finding a new source of tax revenue (<a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-illinois-tickets-collection-agencies-20190703-20190711-gyf77w52mbcdxkaxpleeay277a-story.html" target="_blank">since we're half broke</a>) than with matters of potential addiction.</p><p>As Vox <a href="https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/11/13/20962924/marijuana-legalization-use-addiction-study" target="_blank">reports</a>, the authors of the study aren't suggesting that legalization shouldn't take place; that is another, broader debate. They merely wish to present the fact that legalization has a particular side effect that we should be aware of.</p><p>While this study is unlikely to change anybody's stance on if weed should be legalized or not, it does show us a critical element to be considered when discussing drug policy. No drug is perfectly safe, and we have reason to believe that legalizing marijuana will mean that more people will have a hard time with it. Let's hope that legalization proponents keep that in mind as they rack up their victories. </p>
Tea and coffee have known health benefits, but now we know they can work together.
Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKO from Pexels
- A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
- This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
- The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.
Maybe you should enjoy this article with a cup of coffee or tea.<p> The <a href="https://drc.bmj.com/content/8/1/e001252?T=AU" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> involved 4,923 type 2 diabetics living in Japan. The average participant was 66 years old. All of the participants were taken from the rolls of the Fukuoka Diabetes Registry, a study geared at learning about the effects of new treatments and lifestyle changes on the health of diabetics. <br> <br> The participants filled out questionnaires concerning their health, diet, habits, and other factors. Among the questions were two focused on determining how much green tea or coffee, if any, the participants consumed over the course of a week. The health of the participants was recorded for five years. During this time, 309 of the test subjects died from a variety of causes. <br> <br> Subjects who drank more than one cup of tea or coffee per day demonstrated lower odds of dying than those who had none. Those who consumed the most tea and coffee, more than four and two cups a day, respectively, enjoyed the most significant reductions in their risk of death. This level of consumption was associated with a 40 percent lower risk of <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201020190129.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">death</a>. </p><p>Most interestingly, the effects of drinking tea and coffee appear to combine to reduce risk even further. Those who reported drinking two or three cups of tea a day and two or more cups of coffee were 51 percent less likely to die during the study, while those who drank a whopping four or more cups of tea and two or more cups of coffee had a 63 percent lower risk of <a href="https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/diabetes-coffee-and-green-tea-might-reduce-death-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">death</a>. </p>
So, should I start swimming in a vat of coffee and green tea?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LY0E-JQxeoY" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Not quite. </p><p> The primary takeaway from this study is that Japanese adults with type 2 diabetes who drink a lot of green tea and/or coffee die less often than similar people who do not. If this effect is caused by something in the drink, lifestyle choices people who drink that much tea all make, or something else remains unknown. The finding must be considered an association at this point. <br> <br> The eye-popping reductions in mortality rates are compared to the risk of death of others in the study. The people who died reported drinking less tea and coffee than those who lived. Unless you have several demographic and conditional similarities to the subjects of this study, you probably won't suddenly be at a two-thirds lower risk of death than your peers because you drink green tea. </p><p> Like all studies that depend on self-reporting, it is also possible that people misstated how much they consumed any one item. The study also did not look into other factors like socioeconomic status or education level, also known to impact death rates and potentially linked to coffee and tea consumption. </p><p> However, it is yet another study in the pile that suggests that <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-13-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coffee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">coffee</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-green-tea" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">green tea</a> are good for you. That much is increasingly <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/health-benefits-linked-to-drinking-tea" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">agreed</a><a href="https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/health-benefits-coffee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> upon</a>. This study also suggests the benefits are additive, which is a new development.</p><p><br> So, while it isn't time to start the IV drip of green tea, a cup or two probably won't <a href="https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/news/20201022/coffee-green-tea-might-extend-life-for-folks-with-type-2-diabetes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hurt</a>. </p>
But most city dwellers weren't seeing the science — they were seeing something out of Blade Runner.
On Sept. 9, many West Coast residents looked out their windows and witnessed a post-apocalyptic landscape: silhouetted cars, buildings and people bathed in an overpowering orange light that looked like a jacked-up sunset.