Similar mechanisms at work in drug and food addiction


Many know this feeling: you open the chip bag for just a few chips and then eat the whole thing. New research shows this kind of impulsive eating may be hard wired in our brains making us more susceptible to food addiction than previously thought.

Innate or learned behavior

People with eating disorders and obesity are known to be more impulsive than healthy people. They may be more likely to blurt out something inappropriate or start an activity without thinking through the final result. Until now, it’s been unknown as to whether the compulsion to be impulsive, particularly with eating, was innate or learned.

The inability to restrain impulsivity

Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers attempted to answer the question by using models to measure the inability to restrain impulsivity, in this case, being exposed to a diet high in sugar daily but for only one hour. In more impulsive models, binge eating rapidly developed, showing heightened cravings and the loss of control over non-nutritional diet. On the other hand, models shown to be less impulsive demonstrated the ability to appropriately control impulsive behavior and did not develop abnormal eating behavior when exposed to the sugary diet for even a limited time.

Indications the origin is biological

Additionally, the impulsive models also showed an increased amount of transcription factor called Delta-FosB in the nucleus accumbens. This is the area of the brain involved in reward evaluation and impulse behavior. There may indeed be a biological/physiological component to uncontrollable food impulsivity.

Bodies evolving more slowly than society

“While impulsivity might have aided ancestors to choose calorie-rich foods when food was scarce, our study results suggest that, in today’s calorie-rich environment, impulsivity promotes pathological overeating,” noted Pietro Cottone, PhD, co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders and associate professor of pharmacology and psychiatry at BUSM.

“Our results add further evidence to the idea that there are similar mechanisms involved in both drug and food addiction behavior,” explained Clara Velazue-Sanchez, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Addictive Disorder and first author.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Neuropsychopharmacology

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