Monday, September 20

Chemical addiction and food, reality or hype?


Who else who has less been tempted, at one time or another, not to be able to resist to eating a package of cookies without measure or a bag of potatoes. “I’m addicted to chocolate”, “I need my sugar fix” or “I can’t stop eating ice cream” are some of the expressions we usually use when we refer to certain eating behaviors.

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Does this mean that we have food addiction, especially if we do it with foods rich in calories, just for pleasure, and even briefly? The answer is not clear, or at least it is disputed.

And is that still there is no clear consensus on the validity of the concept of food addiction and if some people who struggle to control their excessive food intake may be considered food addicts or we talk more of a compulsive eating.

Can we be addicted to food?

There are many things that activate brain pathways designed to release dopamine, the pleasure hormone, like music. In this case, however, there is no concern that it will become addictive. The food is rewarding, but there is no evidence that it is a chemically active substance.

Food addiction is not an official medical diagnosis, although addictive eating behaviors have been linked to medical conditions such as obesity and binge eating disorder.

There is also no consensus in the scientific community. An investigation published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews defends the concept of “eating addiction” more than “food addiction”. This means that it is a disorder that bears more psychological and physiological similarities with the behavioral addictions than with substance addiction.

According to this research, food is not what should be understood as a substance that activates the reward system, but it is the link established between the signals of hunger and satiety with the reward system that allows us to speak of addiction. For instance, sugar is not proven to be addicting.

It is one thing for a person to feel “addicted” because they feel uncontrolled in front of certain foods and another that a food substance is physiologically addictive. In many cases, there is more talk of a habit than a true addiction, a concept that is used to describe more of a compulsive eating habit.

Addiction and food, a controversial relationship

On the other side of the coin there is research who argue that food can be addictive. They refer to ultra-processed foods, which trigger the release of dopamine, like other addictive substances.

In people who are more predisposed to addiction, these chemicals can master other brain signals who say they are full or satisfied, leading to overeating, especially foods high in sweeteners and refined ingredients.

The term food addiction suggests that people may experience addictive-type reactions to food, similar to those seen with classic substances of abuse.

So much so that in the 2010s a Yale University investigation found the Yale food addiction scale. For experts, eating “addictive” foods triggers brain responses that closely resemble responses to alcohol or other drugs.

On this scale, the person is asked to rate the frequency with which they experience certain “unhealthy” relationships with food. It is based on the addiction measures described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV for drugs, with the proposition that, in some circumstances, people behave with food as they do with drugs.

Unlike alcohol and tobacco, food is a substance that we cannot abstain from. When is it considered that we cross a line towards consumption and addiction? According to this Diagnostic Manual, someone is diagnosed as an alcoholic when withdrawal symptoms appear within a 12-month period when they reduce or eliminate alcohol; you drink more alcohol than you intended; you have a continuous desire to reduce the amount; spends a lot of time drinking or recovering; Give up important activities or continue using even though you know there are problems.

How can these criteria be applied to food? While they recognize that, for example, ultra-processed foods do not trigger intoxication and do not cause life-threatening physical withdrawal symptoms, some people are prone to binge eating even if there are significant negative consequences.

Also exist food craving quizzes, one of the measures used to evaluate the frequency and intensity of food addiction (although it is also disputed that they may indicate pathologically high levels of this type of craving). It has shown, with the selection of 15 items, a predictive power to establish criteria for food addiction.

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