For many, chocolate should be its own food group. And for some, it is nearly impossible to resist overeating chocolate. Researchers have new evidence that explains how chocolate can be so irresistible.
Researchers linked the urge in rats to overeat chocolate morsels to a before unremarkable part of the brain that actually produces a “natural, opium-like chemical.” In other words, the brain has “more extensive systems to make individuals want to overconsume rewards than previously thought.”
Alexandra DiFeliceantonio of the University of Michigan notes, “It may be one of the reasons overconsumption is a problem today.”
In the study, drugs were used to boost the part of the brain called the neostriatum. Once that part of the brain was stimulated, those animals “gorged themselves on more than twice the number of M&M chocolates than they would otherwise have eaten. Researchers also found that enkephalin, the natural drug-like chemical produced in that same brain region, also surged when rats began to eat the candy-coated morsels.
The drugs didn’t make the rats like chocolate more, notes researchers, but certain brain chemicals increase their desire — and impulse — to eat them.
According to the study, research on this little-known part of the brain has the potential to tell us a lot more about own binge-eating tendencies.
“The same brain area we tested here is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes,” she says. “It seems likely that our enkephalin findings in rats mean that this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of overconsumption and addiction in people.”
Another study shows that mice will even repeatedly go through electric shock to get a tiny morsel of chocolatey goodness. The brain definitely responds to food, studies have noted. Studies like these help researchers know what types of foods are more addictive and what parts of the brain trigger overeating and indulging without restraint.