America's Food Addiction and the Science of the Munchies

What that late-night craving for fatty foods can tell us about the brain in the gut.

As any stoner who’s polished off an epic portion of late-night mac and cheese will tell you, marijuana can give you the munchies—so much so that pot is prescribed to stimulate the appetites of patients with AIDS-wasting syndrome and terminal cancer. Forget the dispensary: Now, scientists are unraveling the body’s remarkable ability to create its own endocannabinoids.

Basically, fatty foods get you high and give you the munchies, too.

In a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers fed rats three different drinks and found that high-fat drinks caused cells in the small intestine to release endocannabinoids, our body’s natural marijuana-like chemicals. Neither the sugar nor the protein drink had the same effect. University of California, Irvine researcher Daniele Piomelli, who co-authored the study, explains that eating fatty foods creates a powerful positive feedback loop in our brains that further encourages overeating.

The research pinpoints the origins of munchies, but it also underscores the more serious subject of how the brain's reward systems can make food so addictive. Competitive eaters use that dynamic to their advantage. Companies selling food use it to their advantage, too. After all, if you design a food to light up our pleasure circuits and override signs our body sends out saying, “Stop! We’re full,” then we’re going to keep buying and eating that boxed mac and cheese.

Drug addiction treatments may provide an instructive model to treat food addictions. But in some ways, food is the harder beast to tame, because you can't just ask someone to go cold turkey, so to speak, and stop eating altogether. The task for scientists now: Cool the circuits in our brains that cause overeating without taking the pleasure out of everything.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user Arty Smokes


Between Alexa, Siri, and Google, artificial intelligence is quickly changing us and the way we live. We no longer have to get up to turn on the lights or set the thermostat, we can find the fastest route to work with a click, and, most importantly, tag our friends in pictures. But interacting with the world isn't the only thing AI is making easier – now we can use it save the world, too.

Keep Reading Show less
Good News

An anonymous White House official claims President Trump cruelly limited Hispanic immigrants in their new book, "A Warning."

The book, to be released on November 19, gives an alleged insider account of the Trump White House and paints a picture of the president as a chaotic man who lacks the mental and moral acumen required for the job.

The anonymous staffer says that Trump once feigned a Hispanic accent and made fun of women attempting to immigrate to the U.S.

Keep Reading Show less
via KTVU / YouTube

The 63-year-old Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, currently branded the RingCentral Coliseum, is one of the most decrepit sports venues in America.

The home to the the NFL's Oakland Raiders (until they move to Las Vegas next season) and MLB's A's, is notoriously known as the Black Hole and has made headlines for its frequent flooding and sewage issues.

One of the stadium's few positive aspects is its connection to public transportation.

Keep Reading Show less
Hero Video
Yad Vashem

Since 1992, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous has been holding reunion ceremonies between Holocaust survivors and rescuers once a year. But the tradition is coming to an end, as many have died or are too frail to travel. What might be the last reunion of its kind took place when a 92-year-old woman met up with the two surviving family members that she helped hide during the Holocaust, and their descendants.

Sarah Yanai and Yossi Mor introduced Melpomeni Dina (nee Gianopoulou) to their almost 40 family members, all decedents of the Mordechai family, the family of seven that Dina and her two sisters hid during WWII. "There are no words to describe this feeling," Dina told the Jeruselum Post. "It is very emotional for us to be together again."

Keep Reading Show less
via Facebook / Autumn Dayss

Facebook user and cosplayer Autumn Dayss has stirred up a bit of Halloween controversy with her last-minute costume, an anti-Vaxx mother.

An image she posted to the social network shows a smiling Dayss wearing a baby carrier featuring a small skeleton. "Going to a costume party tonight as Karen and her non-vaccinated child," the caption over the image reads.

Keep Reading Show less