A recent study has claimed that frequent ice cream consumption parallels “the tolerance observed in drug addiction” by reducing “activation in rewardrelated brain regions (e.g., striatum).” Kyle Burger and Eric Stice, “Frequency ice cream consumption is associated with reduced striatal response to receipt of an ice cream-based milkshake,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2012. Researchers apparently used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on 151 healthy-weight adolescents to assess their neural responses upon receipt of a milkshake or a tasteless solution. The results evidently indicated that “milkshake receipt robustly activated the striatal regions,” although the fMRIs of youths who indulged in frequent ice cream consumption showed “a reduced response to milkshake receipt in these reward-centered brain regions.”

“These findings suggest that intake of energy-dense foods may contribute to down-regulation of reward circuitry, echoing the effects of frequent drug use,” concluded the study authors, who noted “reduced striatal activation” in subjects who reported frequent ice cream consumption, as opposed to consumption of other energy-dense foods such as chocolate candy. As a result, the authors also suggested that “sensory aspects of the eating experience”—including food texture, form and temperature—“play a role in neural adaption and imply a learning explanation for this effect.”

“This tolerance is thought to increase use, or eating, because the individual [is] trying to achieve the previous level of satisfaction,” explained one study author in a March 5, 2012, Telegraph article. “Repeated, overconsumption of high-fat or high-sugar foods may alter how the brain responds to these foods in a way that perpetuates further intake.”