Monday, September 20, 2010

This is Your Brain on Food

A completely fascinating article on the chemical reactions in our brains when we eat food:

In summary:

The foods we eat, and many of our most popular psychoactive drugs, come from plants or animals. The ingredients in these plant and animal products are very similar if not identical to the neurotransmitters our brains and bodies use to function normally. This is why the contents of our diets can interact with our neurons to influence brain function, and it highlights a very important principle: The chemicals in the food that you eat will only act upon your brain if in some way those chemicals resemble an actual neurotransmitter or otherwise interact with a biochemical process in your brain that influences the production, release, or inactivation of a neurotransmitter. These “active” ingredients deserve close scrutiny.

I found this part interesting:

Morphine-like chemicals capable of acting upon the brain are produced in your intestines when you consume milk, eggs, cheese, spinach, mushrooms, pumpkin, and various fish and grains. Dairy products in particular contain a protein known as casein, which enzymes in your intestines can convert into beta-casomorphin. In newborns, that beta-casomorphin can easily pass out of the immature gut and into the developing brain to produce euphoria.

And this:

Even the spices we use to flavor our food and drink may contain psychoactive chemicals that can alter the function of the brain. The spice nutmeg comes from the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans, and contains myristicin, which is chemically quite similar to mescaline and amphetamine. Myristicin and related compounds are also found in carrots, parsley, fennel, dill, and a few other spices—but at very low concentrations, so not to worry about getting intoxicated at the hors d’oeuvres tray. Typically, one must consume about 30 grams of nutmeg powder—or roughly the contents of an entire container of the product that you could purchase at your local grocery store—to experience its psychoactive effects. A single slice of pumpkin pie is unlikely to produce any noticeable effects upon the psyche. Reactions to nutmeg vary considerably, from nothing at all, to euphoria at low doses, to marijuana- and LSD-like experiences at higher doses, with hallucinations that can last up to 48 hours. It all depends upon the amount consumed.

I think this all plays into the theory that food can be just as addicting as any drug--one reason why losing weight is so hard.


  1. Very interesting post!

    I'm on my way over to read the rest of the article, but I just wanted to add that, in addition to the euphoric brain response to food that fuels our desire to eat more of certain foods, behaviors themselves also produce a similar reaction in our brains.

    We tend to recreate the same kinds of events over and over because they produce a feeling we are used to and are "hooked on", and that includes the act of eating, regardless of what food.

    Our brains become very attacned to emotions because all emotions have a chemical aspect,and that also includes negative ones. We subconsciously recreate situations that allow us to feel the same things over and over because our brains are hooked on that emotion's chemical. When eating becomes associated with strong emotions, even negative ones, we are hooked.

    Understanding the connection can be a great start in figuring out how to do it differently.

  2. I agree, very good post. Your posts are very interesting. Hmmm, must read more.