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A Weakness for Junk Food is all in the Mind

A Weakness for Junk Food is all in the Mind

Having trouble saying no to those tasty treats that help you make it through those long afternoons? Never mind what those candy bars and chips can do to your waistline, snacking throughout the day on unhealthy foods high in sugar – yes, carbohydrates are sugars too – provides plaque – a sticky biofilm of lingering food particles and bacteria – with the fuel needed to produce harmful substances that eat away at your teeth’s enamel, the hard outer layer that protects the delicate roots and nerves within.

Well don’t feel bad if you can’t say no to snacking, as caving to your cravings for high-calorie junk food is all due to a lapse in the area of the brain that regulates self-control, according to the results of a new study.

Mind Over Junk Food

The area of the brain referred to as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex helps individuals regulate and control their behavior, according to researchers at the University of Waterloo who were involved with the study. Previous studies have found that stimulating activity in this area of the brain can reduce cravings for unhealthy foods, but the new study found that less activity could actually have the opposite effect and lead to overeating junk foods.

These findings counter the long-standing belief that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex served as a way to keep knee-jerk reactions – such as whether to pig out on a pint of ice cream – in check. Researchers instead discovered that when this area of the brain is temporarily regulated, the operation of the cortex makes it difficult for individuals to ignore cravings for high-calorie foods.

To determine these findings, researchers used a type of magnetic stimulation of the brain to temporarily diminish activity in the left dorsolateral cortex of study participants’ brains. The study showed that the diminished activity caused increased cravings for high-calorie foods, as well as higher consumption of junk food.

The results of this study were published in the most recent edition of Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.

Changing the View of What We Eat

This study marks the first time researchers were able to demonstrate that the prefrontal cortex temporarily causes increased snacking when taken “offline.” Researchers concluded that these findings suggest brain health should be an integral part of all public health campaigns, especially those related to healthy eating and living.

According to researchers, the results of the study suggest that the ideal solution to effective self-restraint lies in optimal brain health. Programs designed to enhance or preserve dorsolateral cortex function could help reduce an individual’s likelihood of developing obesity and other chronic conditions like tooth decay, gum disease, and diabetes.

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