Ratted Out: Science Finds Source of Fatty Food Cravings

lab rat
'You're telling me I could get out of here by signing up with Jenny Craig?' (Photo:Bill Gallery/Getty Images)

Scientists in California and Italy published a study last week that uncovered the biological source of fatty food cravings. University of California, Irvine, and the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa performed studies on rats that recorded the reactions to a series of foods. Upon immediately ingesting fatty foods, the rats began producing chemicals in the gut called endocannabinoids, compounds that are very similar to those created from marijuana use. The more chemicals that were generated, the stronger the rats craved additional fatty foods.

This isn’t really all that new to scientists. Researchers knew chemicals that triggered cravings were being released, but they could not locate their source. Finding the chemicals means new drugs will be designed to curb the compound and target obesity.

Similar diet tests have already been done on lab rats. In these studies, researchers injected a cannabinoid-blocking drug into the intestines of the rats and found they lost interest in fatty food. “The effect is remarkable,” UC Irvine's Dr. Daniele Piomelli  told The New York Times. “They are no longer interested in feeding. They stop completely. We were amazed.”

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