Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered that an opium-like chemical may cause people to binge on chocolate. In a recent study, rats were given a drug that immediately affected a brain region called the neostriatum. As a result, the rats ate twice the amount of M and M’s they would normally eat.
When the rats ate the M and M’s, enkephalin surged in their brains. Enkephalin is a natural chemical released by the brain that is similar to opium.
The research was published in the online journal “Current Biology.” In a press release, lead researcher Alexandra DiFeliceantonio states, “This means that the brain has more extensive systems to make individuals want to overconsume rewards than previously thought. It may be one reason why overconsumption is a problem today.”
The research uncovered a never before discovered role for the neostriatum. Until now, this part of the brain was thought only to play a role in movement. However, DiFeliceantonio notes, “The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes.”
She asserts that the the findings in the M and M binge eating rats means that enkaphalin drives overconsumption for food and drugs in humans.