Have a hard time eating just a few potato chips? New research explains why. Fatty foods trigger the body to produce a natural feel-good chemical similar to the effect of marijuana, which encourages overeating, US researchers report July 4.
A new study set to be published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that chemicals called "endocannabinoids" produce a drug-like feeling that can drive you to gorge on fatty foods such as chips and fries. In the study, researchers noted that sugary or high-protein foods did not have this effect.
"This is the first demonstration that endocannabinoid signaling in the gut plays an important role in regulating fat intake," study researcher Daniele Piomelli, a professor of pharmacology at the University of California, Irvine, said in a statement.
Endocannabinoids were first unveiled years ago when scientists researching the effects of marijuana discovered that the body can, under the right stimuli, create its own cannabinoids, molecules that set off reactions in the nervous system to reduce pain and anxiety.
While diving into a platter of fried food can stimulate this effect, The New York Times recently reported on a healthier way to trigger your endocannabinoid system: a 2003 study from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that 50 minutes of vigorous running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike produced a "floaty, free-form sense of well-being," aka runner's high.
In the meantime, medical researchers might be able to use Piomelli's research -- he has spent years examining endocannabinoids' effects on the body -- to devise a drug that can block reception of endocannabinoid signals in the gut, to break the cycle that encourages overeating fatty foods.
Access the announcement of the new study: http://today.uci.edu/news/2011/07/nr_fat_110704.php