Research Suggests That Food May Be Addictive

By MacReady, Norra | Clinical Psychiatry News, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Research Suggests That Food May Be Addictive


MacReady, Norra, Clinical Psychiatry News


People who claim to be addicted to sugar, Big Macs, or chocolate just might be right, a growing body of research shows.

Several papers published recently in the Journal of Addictive Diseases suggest that food competes with marijuana and cocaine for receptors in reward centers of the brain. Imaging studies have raised the possibility that the neurochemical circuits governing drug-seeking behavior overlap with those involved in appetite.

These findings could lead to approaches for obesity treatment based on models used in drug rehabilitation, said Mark S. Gold, M.D., chief of addiction medicine at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Obese subjects and methamphetamine users showed similar declines in striatal dopamine receptor availability, compared with control subjects, in a study conducted by Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., and his colleagues at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. The subjects, all of whom were food deprived, received 20 mg methylphenidate or a placebo and underwent positron emission tomography as they were given visual, olfactory, and gustatory food stimuli but were not permitted to eat.

Not only did the obese and drug-abusing subjects have fewer dopamine receptors, they reported more hunger after the methylphenidate challenge than did the control subjects (J. Addictive Dis. 2004;23:39-53). In earlier research, the same investigators found an inverse relationship between body mass index (BMI) and striatal dopamine receptors.

Obese subjects share with drug addicts an inability to refrain from using the reinforcing substance and its compulsive administration, Dr. Wang and his associates wrote. The relative paucity of dopamine receptors seen in both groups of patients could mean they are less sensitive than are other patients to reward stimuli and compensate for it by using drugs or food to excess.

In a separate study, Dr. Gold and his colleagues followed 75 randomly chosen adolescents in a residential drug treatment facility. …

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