As addictive as cocaine: Study suggests common bread, junk food ingredient obesity driver

A new study indicates that there just might be a reason that there is a worldwide obesity epidemic -- called "globesity" by the World Health Organization -- and it's in the food we eat, not just how much of it we consume. One common ingredient used in drinks and food has been found to produce chemical and neurological changes akin to those to individuals addicted to cocaine.

High fructose corn syrup, the ingredient used to sweeten soft drinks and add sweetness to hundreds of thousands of food products (especially junk food items and breads) has been found to be highly addictive.

Researchers at the University of Ontario in Canada found that laboratory rats, when given increasing amounts of high fructose corn syrup, exhibited symptoms “similar to those produced by drugs of abuse such as cocaine.” In fact, rats in the experiment that were given lots of corn syrup and were subsequently given access to a lever that would deliver even more corn syrup. The study found that the higher the concentration of corn syrup, the harder the rats worked to obtain it -- just as if they were cocaine addicts working to score to appease their addiction.

From these findings, researchers making note of the chemical and neurological changes in the lab rats offered an hypothesis: The world's growing obesity problem is likely linked to an unacknowledged addiction to foodstuffs containing high fructose corn syrup.

Francesco Leri, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Guelph, presented the study's results at the 2013 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting. He pointed out that: "We are not rats, but our children do not think too much about the impact of sweets on their brain and behaviour. There is now convincing neurobiological and behavioural evidence indicating that addiction to food is possible. Our primary objective is to discover biological predictors of vulnerability to develop excessive consumption of high fructose corn syrup."

This would suggest that food addiction actually exists. Leri stated that there was "evidence in laboratory animals of a shared vulnerability to develop preferences for sweet foods and for cocaine."

This is not particularly good news for the world's poor and/or obese populations, but of which eat from diets dominated by foods that are inexpensive, foods more likely to contain high fructose corn syrup in their list of ingredients.

According to the World Health Organization, the globesity problem encompasses over 1.4 billion people worldwide -- in effect, one in every five people on the planet. The incidence of obesity in the global population has doubled since 1980.

More and more research over the years has pointed at corn syrup as a culprit in health problems, such as the development of diabetes.

High fructose corn syrup, as a key ingredient in soft drinks and sugary sweetened drinks (such as fruit drinks), can be linked to the deaths of 180,000 people annually. Research presented in March by the American Heart Association indicated that the deaths are a result of soft drink consumption, which leads to an individual's potential for gaining weight. That weight gain also leads to diseases like diabetes, several cancers, and cardiovascular diseases -- which can result in death. As the rate of consumption increases, so does the death rate.

Two 2010 studies indicated that the increased daily intake of soft drinks was related to a decade-long rise in diabetes and heart disease and that a high consumption of soft drinks could be a contributing factor in the development of pancreatic cancer, among the most deadly of all cancerous types.

In a somewhat related topic of corn syrup and drug addiction, a study published in May found that high consumption of soft drinks and sugary sweetened drinks could possibly be as damaging to the teeth as methamphetamine and crack cocaine are to habitual users.