Study: Food addiction mimics drug addiction in brain

Kim LaCapria - Author
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Jun. 15 2013, Updated 11:29 p.m. ET

A small study of nearly 50 women has suggested that addiction to food closely mimics addiction to chemical substances in the brain.

The study found that when participants mulled drinking a chocolate milkshake, those who had “higher food addiction scores” showed heightened activity in brain regions associated with reward than participants with lower scores. Ashley Gearheart of Yale University described the study’s findings in the Archives of General Psychiatry:

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“Similar patterns of neural activation are implicated in addictive-like eating behavior and substance abuse and dependence,” Gearhardt and colleagues wrote.

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Both food and drugs result in the release of dopamines, closely associated with reward-seeking behaviors and pleasure centers in the brain. Interestingly, though, the study showed no correlation between food addiction scores and body mass index (BMI.) The study’s findings seem to support some connection between the tendencies and overeating:

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Gearhardt’s group concluded that the study “supports the theory that compulsive food consumption may be driven in part by an enhanced anticipation of the rewarding properties of food,” and that eating “may override desires to limit caloric food consumption … resulting in disinhibited food consumption.”

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Larger studies including participants with more dramatic scores have been suggested to examine the potential implications of the findings.

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