Friday Fun Paper: Down the Dark Road of Carrot Addiction

Be careful – your next salad might be the one that starts you down the dark path of carrot addiction. (By Kander, via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week there was no Friday Fun Paper because I was off in Cape Cod gallivanting as well as attending the National Library of Medicine Bioinformatics course at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory.  I met some very interesting people and learned a ton, and I can highly recommend this experience to anyone interested in applying technology to medicine.

At the end of the week, I boarded the plane back to Los Angeles, and found myself seated next to a woman who was probably in her mid-60s.  About halfway through the flight, she pulled a small bag of baby carrots out of the back of her seat pocket, set them on her tray table, looked at them for several minutes, and then put them away again.  I did not subsequently see the carrots, and I’m fairly certain that she did not eat them at any point in the flight.  This was strange enough in itself, but it also struck me because it reminded me of a very strange and fascinating article I read several years ago by Mary Roach, one of my favorite science writers.

Published several years ago in Salon, Roach’s article “Turning Orange” elucidates the curious phenomenon of carrot addiction.  Yes, this is a real thing.  Roach interviewed several carrot addicts, including one who had not been able to travel for many years because of her carrot addiction – she had to have her carrots cooked in a special way and eat them immediately after they were cooked, so she couldn’t go on a long flight or road trip because she wouldn’t have access to the carrots.  When her out-of-state daughter was going to get married, she braved the flight, but had to have her daughter waiting at the airport with the carrots as soon as she got off the flight.  It occurred to me that I might be sitting next to this woman, but since her carrots were raw in their original packaging and she never ate them, I think it’s unlikely.

A quick search of the medical literature1 reveals that the subject of carrot addiction has been explored by one R. Kaplan in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (30.5) in an article titled simply “Carrot Addiction.”  The mechanism by which people become addicted to carrots, as far as I’m aware, remains unknown, though there are two theories.  First, some carrot addicts develop their carrot addiction while they’re quitting smoking, suggesting that it’s sort of an oral fixation substitute.  Secondly, some people may actually become physically addicted to the beta carotene in carrots. Some people end up eating so many carrots that their skin actually turns orange from the beta carotene.  Not even kidding.

So now, next time you see someone eating carrots, I bet you’re going to wonder, aren’t you?  Is this just a casual carrot eater, or are you dealing with a full-on carrot addict?

1.  In case you’re interested, after some playing around, my PubMed search string was

(“Behavior, Addictive”[Mesh] OR addict*) AND (“Daucus carota”[Mesh] OR “carrot” NOT “Card Arranging Reward Responsivity Objective Test”)

The bit on the end about the card arranging test is because I was getting lots of articles about this test (abbreviated CARROT) being used with people who had other addiction issues.

One thought on “Friday Fun Paper: Down the Dark Road of Carrot Addiction

  1. Pff. I eat carrots. I can quit any time I want.

    In all seriousness, the oral fixation concept makes perfect sense to me. I mean, I've recently quit smoking, and one of the things I've had to do to help suppress the urge to light up another was to always be chewing one something. I've chosen Altoids because they offer the oral fixation as well as the rather overpowering minty flavor. The result is that, should I be particularly desperate for a smoke (stress-cravings and such), I can somewhat trick my mind into thinking I've just had a menthol cigarette.

    Now, I hate menthol, but I've only ever smoked them when I was out of my own and had to bum one from someone. Thus, the menthol is psychologically linked to a sort of "At least I got SOMETHING" feeling and helps a bit.

    I've heard of lots of different things being used as a substitute for smoking.

    Carrots is a new one, though. Carrot addicts… Someone call Dr. Drew.

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