FDA Chief Named to Lead Vaccine Response
Abstracted from A Scientist’s View of Almost Everything” by Mark M Green
I’ve been a bit heavy from time to time but never had a big problem with food. But if there is Philadelphia Cream Cheese in the refrigerator, I can’t resist it. I’ll pile it on anything around and even eat it straight off a knife. I love that stuff and even as I try to stop—I can’t without running away from the kitchen and even out of the house. When I was a little kid, my Polish grandmother used to make an Eastern European treat—cream cheese cookies. Oh man, I can still taste them—soft on the inside and crunch on the outside. Had my brain become wired in some way? Had I become addicted to cream cheese? How ridiculous. Or is it?
I don’t recommend reading all of David Kessler’s book The end of overeating—Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, published in 2010. The book is a bit “overweight.” But it is worth picking up for its central message that overeating and the obesity overeating leads to belong to the category of addiction. Kessler, who is a distinguished medical doctor, has been the dean of medical schools and even commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration of the United States during the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Kessler leaves no doubt that he is right about the connection between food addiction and the methods of the fast food industry. It’s all about making fat, sugar and salt with the right combination of chewable, melt-in-your-mouth, presentable, deliciousness. Kessler points to a reward center in the brain, the “far lateral hypothalamus.” A hungry animal, let alone a well-fed animal, won’t put up with an electric shock to get some food. But stimulation of the reward center will cause even a well-fed animal to put up with the painful shock to eat. That part of the brain, the hypothalamus, is supposed to maintain something called homeostasis to keep the body’s functions including weight, on a steady course. But this function can be overcome. The animal will not stop eating if this region of the brain is interfered with.
The fast food industry has discovered that our brain’s homeostasis mechanism can be overcome by foods that are rich in fat, sugar and salt presented in ways known to do the job of addicting their customers. The word is palatability and you get a dose of it in most of the foods in fast food restaurants and in many processed foods bought in supermarkets. Kessler makes a convincing case that we would not be hungry beyond our caloric needs if our homeostasis mechanism was not overcome.
Scientific studies show that animals are willing to work just about as hard for food with fat, sugar and salt as for cocaine. The science shows that the neurons in our brains activated by palatable foods, fat, sugar and salt, are part of the opioid circuitry, the brain’s primary pleasure center—the place where addiction to morphine and heroine take their effect.
Interestingly, the pharmaceutical industry has figured out how to reduce our craving for drugs and for overeating, by inventing drugs that act on the same parts of the brain. But there are dangerous side effects to the developed drugs, which are therefore not available.
To paraphrase Kessler, many of us cannot control our responses to highly palatable foods because our brains have been changed by these foods. The book is full of undeniable information showing how fast food, whether from a restaurant or a grocery story, is designed for palatability, the food scientist’s word for “you can’t get enough of it,” or, putting it another way, for increased profits derived from us eating more.
Human beings didn’t evolve with easy access to fat, sugar and salt. Kessler tells us that early human diets contained only about 10% fat and the sugar came mostly from fruits. Salt has not always been easily available. In fact, it has been so hard to come by in the past that’s it’s been an historical form of currency.
My dear long-gone grandmother meant no harm but she probably hard wired my brain for those sweet crusty cream cheese cookies, which even now I long for. Many kids and we adults are longing for all that sugar, fat and salt. Too many of us grab as much as we can leading to what the Canadian Parliamentary Information and Research Service calls an epidemic of obesity, which agrees with reports from the United States Center for Disease Control. Obesity leads to bad health, which is why Dr. Kessler, who played a large role in fighting the tobacco industry, is applying his considerable talents to fighting the food industry and now will put those talents to work in fighting the pandemic we face.