Study finds similarities between food and drug addiction

ABC World News reported that “we have new insight into the power of food cravings and the human brain” … adding that “a new study reveals why some of us can’t stop eating. It’s not willpower, it’s a real addiction and it has to do with the way our brains are wired.”

The Los Angeles Times /Hartford Courant reports, “A new study from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity,” which was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that addictions to food and drugs result in similar activity in the brain.”

Before reaching this conclusion, researchers recruited “48 women with an average age of 21 who ranged from lean to obese.” The participants “took a test developed at the Rudd Center to measure food addiction, based on an established test for measuring drug addiction.”

The researchers discovered that “the brains of subjects who scored higher on the food addiction scale exhibited neural activity similar to that seen in drug addicts, with greater activity in brain regions responsible for cravings and less activity in the regions that curb urges.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that participants were asked to respond to the 26 questions on the Yale Food Addiction Scale. The results show that 15 women scored high on the test, suggesting that they were pathological eaters. Next, the participants were subjected to magnetic resonance imaging scans.

The Time “Healthland” blog reports that “using fMRI, researchers led by Yale’s Ashley Gearhardt and Kelly Brownell looked at the women’s brain activity in response to food.”

The authors “found that when viewing images of ice cream, the women who had three or more symptoms of food addiction … showed more brain activity in regions involved with pleasure and craving than women who had one or no such symptoms.”

Those “areas included the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex and medial orbitofrontal cortex – the same regions that light up in drug addicts who are shown images of drug paraphernalia or drugs.”

CNN /Health reports, “Once the women actually tasted the milk shakes, however, those who scored high on a food-addiction scale showed dramatically less activity in the ‘reward circuitry’ of their brains than the other women – [a] phenomenon, also seen in substance dependence, that could lead to chronic overeating and other problematic eating behaviors, researchers say.”

Lead author Ashley Gearhardt said, “It’s a one-two punch. … First, you have a strong anticipation, but when you get what you are after, there’s less of an oomph than you expected, so you consume more in order to reach those expectations.”

HealthDay noted, “This isn’t the first time scientists have seen clues that certain people may have a food addiction similar to substance dependence, especially since both drugs and food trigger the release of dopamine.”

But, “this is the first time the correlation has been noted in people who actually qualify as ‘food addicts’ on an accepted measurement of food addiction.”

In our clinic, patients who have received nutritional and exercise counseling, and who do not lose weight, are referred to our behavioral/mental health team for evaluation.

In addition, we’ll often involve our spiritual counseling team, to help our patients deal with the spiritual issues of gluttony.

In the past, we and our patients have found these therapies are often very helpful. Now we may know why.

1 thought on “Study finds similarities between food and drug addiction

  1. Lynn

    I am collecting articles from all over that are blaming our ‘genes’ for our ‘sin’. This generation likes to blame ‘genes’, so they don’t have to deal with ‘sin’

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