As a personal trainer, fitness blogger and all around health & fitness geek, I am constantly reading scientific journals looking for the latest research about nutrition, obesity, exercise science and overall health and longevity. And every now and then, I come across something truly interesting….to my geeky brain.
In this study, researchers from Drexel University found that they could accurately measure our brain’s pleasure response to consuming chocolate with the use of a common, low-cost ophthalmological technique called electroretinography (ERG).
Why is this important?
It’s important because not only is food how we deliver nutrients into our bodies, it’s one of the most powerful ways we generate pleasure in our brains.
Unfortunately, there are a few nasty side effects to eating foods that give us a big boost of pleasure chemicals….calories, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, cancer, etc…
And in 2013, it’s quite obvious that we have a pretty serious problem with those side effects.
Processed food manufacturers have found ways to manipulate their products so that our pleasure centers are constantly issuing commands to eat more, more, more. And for those of us without the willpower of a Spartan, we eat more…and more…and more.
With the result being an epidemic of food addiction, obesity, type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
What this new research could do for us is provide a truly “pharmacological approach to the brain’s response to food.” No more airy-fairy talk about cravings and food addiction and willpower and how obese people just don’t try hard enough. If and when this technique is validated by additional studies, mainstream medicine would be able to:
- Quickly and accurately measure how different foods impact the pleasure center in our brain
- Research ways to make “healthier” foods more pleasurable
- Research ways to make “unhealthy” foods less pleasurable,
- Thereby boosting our willpower against potato chips and chocolate bars
- Eliminating food addiction
- And helping us fall in love with broccoli & kale
What does this mean to you?
At this point…nothing.
This is the first study of this technique, and it was a very small study too – only 9 people. But it’s a great start.
There are a ton of ongoing studies looking at how food gives us pleasure in the hopes that we can manipulate these pleasure responses with drugs or medical instruments or diets focused on manipulating macronutrient consumption, etc, etc, etc.
Unfortunately, the gold standard for meauring the effectiveness of these approaches is with the use of a PET scanner…which costs $2000+ per session, is more invasive and takes more than an hour to generate a scan.
With electroretinography, the Medicare reimbursement cost for clinical use of ERG is about $150 per session, and each session generates 200 scans in just two minutes.
And if you’re a drug company looking to test a compound designed to increase our desire for “healthy” food and eliminate food addiction, the lower financial & time costs associated with this new test is a very big deal. It would allow them to test more products, get successful ones to market sooner and offer them at a theoretically lower cost to the consumer.
And who wouldn’t want a magic pill that makes them think cauliflower tastes better than chocolate?