Would you eat something that could kill you? You’d think that would be an easy question to answer. However, many people eat things that could kill them! For example, Fugu, or puffer fish, is a delicacy in Japan that when prepared incorrectly, could contain a deadly toxin. Tetrodotoxin (TTX) is a potent neurotoxin in the fugu’s blood that blocks voltage-gated sodium channels and prevents the passage of sodium ions, therefore inhibiting the firing of action potentials in nerve cells. TTX causes paralysis and can be lethal within minutes of consumption (Buerk, 2012). If you know this, then why would you ever want to take the chance of eating something that could kill you instantly?!
Evolutionarily, we have specifically developed strategies to avoid foods that can harm us. For example, we subconsciously create taste aversions to foods that make us sick. Remember that one time you accidentally ate undercooked chicken, and you couldn’t eat it for a few months after? Even though you loved chicken before, you felt sick just from the thought of eating chicken again. This is because you developed the association between chicken = throwing up, so your brain made you not want to eat it again. Specifically, the area in your brain called the lateral orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for creating taste aversions to foods that have previously been associated with harm or punishment (Chatterjee, 2014). Creating taste aversions to foods that could be potentially poisonous is an evolutionary benefit that helps us distinguish between foods that nourish or threaten us (Chatterjee, 2014).
So why would you eat something that you already know could be poisonous if prepared incorrectly? There is NO evolutionary benefit to eating it. However, the actual risk and reward associated with consuming fugu may be driving some people’s desire to try it. Our reward system could be involved in this anticipation of eating something that could be dangerous, and then living through it. For example, when we experience the risk and uncertainty of whether to eat fugu, our amygdala, anterior insula, and our lateral orbitofrontal cortex are activated. In addition, when weighing the costs and benefits of consuming fugu, many parts of our reward systems (orbitofrontal cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, anterior insula, and the anterior cingulate) may be working together to help us make the decision to eat fugu (Chatterjee, 2014). The neurotransmitter dopamine is also directly involved in the prediction of future rewards (Chatterjee, 2014). This means that when you are deciding whether to try fugu, your reward systems weigh the costs and benefits, and dopamine may also be flooding your system. This combination of active reward brain areas and dopamine release may all feed into the anticipation of experiencing pleasure through eating a tasteful meal but by also “living to tell the tale”.
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Sadly, it’s NOT just the puffer fish that is dangerous for people to eat. The “word” has been long ignored by society. As long as big business (consumables)
allows creates poisoned food to exist, people will continue to eat it up.