What you eat may fool your brain into packing on the pounds
Photography by Cary Wolinsky; photo illustration by Rick Kyle
Most people would never equate downing a well-dressed salad or a fried chicken thigh with toking a joint of marijuana. But to Joseph Hibbeln of the National Institutes of Health, the comparison isn’t a big stretch.
New animal experiments by Hibbeln and his colleagues have recently shown that the body uses a major constituent in most vegetable oils to make its own versions of the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Called endocannabinoids, these natural compounds play a role in heightening appetite. So overproducing them unnecessarily boosts hunger, similarly to how pot triggers the munchies (SN: 6/19/10, p. 16).
If what happens in people mirrors what happens in animals, then the prevalence of soybean oil, corn oil and other polyunsaturated vegetable oils in today’s Western diet means your body is “dumping out a lot of these marijuana-like molecules into your brain,” explains Hibbeln, a nutritional neuroscientist. “You’re