If dihydrogen monoxide doesn't scare you enough, food activists have been rehashing an old term - opiates.
It's a much more official way of saying you might be addicted to cheese. Or steak. Or coffee. Or rice. Or chocolate. Or almost anything. In the age of Weekly Scare Journalism, opiates are good imagery because the term itself invokes layabouts dreaming in a haze, opium dens and all that. That's what food is doing to you (though not the food they happen to be selling you), according to some fun claims that have been re-purposed from the 1990s, when people also thought the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine deserved funding. (1)
If you breast feed your child, you are giving them morphine. Of course, morphine sounds really scary and if you are in the Scare Journalism business that is the goal: You can't promote the alternative, like vegan diets, unless you promote fear and doubt about the existing. Scientifically speaking, milk contains the casein protein which breaks into casomorphins during digestion so it is like morphine. It has a soothing effect on babies. But cherry-picking chemical data is where the science ends. Basically, anti-science advocates and their food fetish followers want to convince us that breast milk is a gateway drug to hard drugs...like cheese. Don't go down that path, we are warned.
The genesis of these new(ish) claims are a paper from 1995 (2), which used self-reported answers to questions based on DSM-III criteria to determine if women were binge eaters. The women were recruited by advertisements and their binge eating was confirmed by a brief talk with a psychiatrist. The binge eaters and non-binge eaters were not much different from each other; no menstrual issues or gastrointestinal problems. But they nonetheless met the criteria for being bulimic (DSM-III) or having the broader Binge-Eating Disorder (DSM-IV) because they said so. How much rigor is that? (3)
From that pool, they created a study which concluded that the opiate blocker naloxone reduced intake of sugar and fat - if an opiate blocker stopped food intake in binge eaters then food is a drug. The race was on to find new ways to blame modern food for everything.
Yet that wasn't the beginning. Like UFOs shaped like saucers - which people really started 'seeing' that way after a journalist misquoted a witness in an article and described a UFO that way and, presto, everyone suddenly saw saucers instead of cigars (4) - the opiates movement truly took off in the early 1980s when genes that code for opioid peptides were isolated and sequenced. Suddenly we began to get food activists blaming everything on them. Even though they have been around for millenia.
And it still goes on today. GreenMedInfo, which seeks to promote, among other things, homeopathy, acupuncture, holistic cooking, anti-vaccination beliefs and, of course, organic food, has declared war on milk too. They're doing something right, their Facebook page has 8X the followers Science 2.0 does.
Now, milk is primarily cultural. You don't see a lot of Asians eating cheese.(5) But a 'narcotic elixir'? Did the Asians evolve not to like narcotics? The opium trade says otherwise. But if you say 'food is just food' then you are labeled a nutritional reductionist and we get woo nonsense about neuroendocrine modulation, which feels very science-y for people who think going gluten-free is a diet but really means almost anything, and therefore nothing. Virtually every food and every product causes neuroendocrine modulation. Just like reading this article changed your brain a little. However, the difference is that were I to claim that reading Science 2.0 actually made you smarter than reading GreenMedInfo, and threw up a bunch of neuroscience jargon as my evidence, people here would smell a Gilles-Eric Séralini rat. Because readers here know they were smarter than GreenMedInfo readers before they ever arrived.
In science, you can't get handed an audience willing to believe anything. In anti-science activism, you can.
So is everything you eat a drug? Sure, if your definition is broad enough, but if I note that it is not just spinach or milk or chocolate that 'makes us feel good' it must be the opiates talking.
(1) The easiest way for the NIH to get more funding for science would be to stop legitimizing pseudoscience and shut the doors of NCCAM. Democrats won't let that happen, their constituents love this stuff. Funniest part of this $128 million per year bit of progressive nonsense - they can't even define what they are supposedly studying scientifically: "Defining CAM is difficult, because the field is very broad and constantly changing..."
(2) Adam Drewnowski, Dean D Krahn, Mark A Demitrack, Karen Nairn, and Blake A Gosnell, 'Naloxone, an opiate blocker, reduces the consumption of sweet high-fat foods in obese and lean female binge eaters', Am J Clin Nutr June 1995 vol. 61 no. 6 1206-1212
(3) You can see that DSM-5 really has problems when people wish it had the legitimacy of DSM-III and IV. Before DSM-III, the Old Guard in psychiatry was replaced by young people who wanted to make a difference in social issues, but the following generation is more mercenary. The field has been hijacked by special interests who want to make whatever they treat in their 'therapy center' an official part of DSM to make insurance claims easier.
(4) Since it is impossible to disprove a negative, UFO believers will simply say people started seeing more saucers because there are more now. Hard to argue with magic.
(5) A Korean friend of mine who moved to the US, hearing me ridicule Kimchi for about the thousandth time, finally flipped out: "You know what smell I hate??? CHEESE! It stinks, the smell is everywhere in America!!" So don't make more than 999 jokes about Kimichi around any Korean pals you have.