Evidence of behavioral, biological similarities between compulsive overeating and addiction

Posted on October 25, 2019

It has been estimated that 15 million people in the U.S. struggle with compulsive eating, a common characteristic of obesity and binge eating disorder. Compulsive overeating describes a chronic cycle where the individual undergoes periods of overeating driven by the pleasurable effect of food, followed by undereating to compensate for their unhealthy eating habits.

Researchers decided to focus on the addictive-like properties of eating how continuously high caloric intakes may result in changes to the brain that eventually leads to compulsiveness. They carried out several experiments on two groups of individuals. The first group received a high sugar, chocolate-flavored diet two days a week, and a standard control diet during the other days of the week. The second group was asked to follow the control diet throughout the period of study.

Individuals in the first group ended up exhibiting compulsive, binge-eating behaviors with regards to sweet food and were reluctant to consume regular food. The participants from both groups were then injected with a drug which releases dopamine and produced reward. Participants of the control group showed signs of hyperactivity after receiving the injection, but those in the first group were not.

The researchers measured the biochemical and molecular properties of the mesolimbic dopamine system of the participants and found that the cycled group had less dopamine overall. These individuals also tended to release less dopamine in response to the injection and had suffered other deficits in their mesolimbic dopamine system.

Additionally, there was a ‘crash’ in the brain reward system experienced by individuals who followed the high sugar diet. This is also observed in drug addicts, which implies that the reduction in ability to experience rewarding effects of food in compulsive eating is similar to drug addiction. The diminishing rewarding effect might result in tolerance, where individuals seek to consume even more food to feel satiated.

The findings indicate the need for future treatment research to focus more on rebalancing the mesolimbic dopamine system to help curb compulsive eating. This can then result in better treatments for obesity and eating disorders.

Category(s):Eating Disorders

Source material from Science Daily

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