Study Finds That Milkshakes Can Trigger the Same Reaction as Drugs

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Can food be addictive in the same way that, say, heroin is addictive? It's a question that researchers have puzzled over for years. A new study published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that the parallels are strong, and that willpower alone isn't sufficient to keep certain people from overeating:

A new study suggests that people who struggle to say no to chocolate, french fries or other junk food suffer from something more insidious than lack of willpower: They may actually have an addiction.

Using a high-tech scan to observe the brains of pathological eaters versus normal eaters, the study found that showing a milkshake to the abnormal group was akin to dangling a cold beer in front of an alcoholic.

Previous studies have shown that food photographs can activate the brain's reward centers in much the way that booze imagery does for alcoholics. This study from Yale University researchers purports to be the first to distinguish so-called food addicts from overeaters.

Before subjecting 39 women to magnetic resonance imaging scans, researchers asked them to complete the 26-question Yale Food Addiction Scale, a two-year-old test designed to identify pathological eaters. Fifteen of the women scored high on the test for addictive-like eating behaviors. When placed inside an MRI machine, those 15 women had dramatically greater neurological responses to the image of a milkshake than the others, according to the study, published online this week in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Read the full story at The Wall Street Journal.

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Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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