With the warmer months ahead of us, ice cream will become a preferred sweet treat for many. However, you might want to be careful on eating too much of it, as a recent study conducted by a team of researchers of the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, Oregon has discovered that ice cream can be addictive in a way similar to drugs.
As per the researchers words: “The more you eat ice cream, the more you need to eat in order for your brain to sends signals that it’s enjoying the treat!”
Researchers Kyle S. Burger and Eric Stice studied how the brain responds to eating ice cream over time. For this purposes, they surveyed 151 teenagers about their food cravings.
They picked teens that were at a healthy weight and showed them pictures of a chocolate milkshake while scanning their brains to see how strong their cravings were. Then, the researchers measured brain activity when the subjects drank a tasteless liquid. Finally, they gave the teens real milkshakes while scanning their brains again.
The teens who reported eating the most ice cream in the period of time prior to the study enjoyed the shakes the least, according to scans that tracked activity in the brain associated with reward.
"Our results provide novel evidence that frequent consumption of ice cream, independent of body fat, is related to a reduction in reward-region responsivity in humans, paralleling the tolerance observed in drug addiction," the researchers say in the study.
In other words: The more you have it, the more of it you need in order to experience pleasure from it.
“We believe that means the more an individual is consuming a high-fat, high-sugar and high-energy food, they develop a tolerance of it in a similar fashion that you see happening with drug addiction or alcohol addiction," said Burger.
Burger said that the study suggests the changes in the brain are happening well before obesity sets in. And the differences in brain activity also seem only to be associated with ice cream and not other foods like hamburgers, French fries or chocolate, although they don't yet know why.
While the effects of ice cream on the reward center of the brain seem to mimic those from drugs, Burger stressed that the study does not suggest that ice cream is addicting.
That notion is a controversial one. And consensus has yet to be reached among researchers.
The fact is that true addiction, is characterized by tolerance, withdrawal and loss of control over use. Ice cream, according to some, does not have these effects on people.
But others disagree, "Addicts exhibit behaviors that are harmful to themselves (and they know it), yet they continue to engage in the behavior," said Dr. Bob Gwyther, a professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill to ABC News. "Picture someone standing in front of the refrigerator with a pint of ice cream, eating the entire carton, despite the fact that they are obese, diabetic or whatever."
Gwyther said many of his patients have tearfully described times when they gulped ice cream, knowing it was unhealthy but unable to stop their behavior.
“Hyper- rewarding food cause changes in the brain akin to what we see with tobacco and alcohol. Meaning that food addiction is not open and shut observation, but our food environment preys on people by manufacturing food designed to amp up rewards and vulnerable people can become addicts” said Ashley Gearhardt a Yale psychology PhD candidate who also conducted research using milkshakes.
Burger hopes the study can help uncover why some people head to the refrigerator or freezer for a reward while others engage in healthier behaviors, such as exercise, which could in turn explain how certain foods "contribute to the development and maintenance of obesity."
Bottom line is: when summer comes, try to not crave ice cream too much at once. Even if you don’t get addicted to it you might lose some pleasure in eating it.