A Look At Food Addiction From The Lens Of Neuroscience
The article begins with a look at food addiction through the lens of neuroscience, explaining how and why it can be so difficult to stop an addiction. It then explores three types of food addictions: ones that stem from environmental factors, such as certain triggers in one’s environment; ones that stem from genetic factors, such as anyone who has a family history of addiction; and ones that stem from emotional issues. This information is followed by a description of what research has demonstrated about the brain and addiction.
What is food addiction?
Food addiction is a psychological state in which eating certain foods, such as sweets and processed food, causes an individual to feel out of control. Food addiction can also manifest itself through addictive behaviours like compulsive overeating or binge eating. In fact, the most common behavioural expression of food addiction is compulsive overeating. A study by a team of researchers from the University of Toronto found that people who were addicted to food showed more activity in brain areas related to reward and motivation than healthy people without any addictions.
The Brain and Food Addiction
Food addiction is a real ailment. The brain has developed a system that tells you when you are “full” and when your body needs more food to function, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work how it should. There are changes that happen in the brain when people become addicted to food, including changes in dopamine levels which made people want more and more. The term “food addiction” is used to describe a group of related, but distinguishable disorders including compulsive overeating, over-eating and food obsession. In any of these cases, an individual will not be able to stop eating even when they know the weight gain or health risks that come with it. This can sometimes lead to serious health complications including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and oxytocin are involved in food addiction. They result in the reward system in our brains producing a sense of euphoria when we eat certain foods that we’re addicted to. This is because eating makes us feel good at the moment. For example, if you’re eating an ice cream cone, the pleasure kicks in almost instantly and it becomes hard for you to put down your cone until it’s gone. The timeline of a food addiction starts early in life when children start to associate certain tastes with feeling good. They will then continue to seek that feeling throughout their life as they grow older.
The link between food and addiction has been studied extensively, and it’s beginning to be understood how certain foods can trigger a response in the addict that is similar to the response when someone uses drugs or alcohol.
Recent studies of the brain have provided insight into the critical role that neurotransmitters play in addictive behaviours. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that relay signals between different areas of the brain and nerve cells, and when they malfunction, negative conditions might result. It is important to find ways to balance our neurotransmitter levels to reduce compulsions.
It has been shown that the brain produces dopamine when a person eats. This dopamine makes people feel good, so they continue eating. When the brain detects it is running out of fuel in terms of dopamine, it sends signals to the body to stop eating. However, people with food addiction try to override these signals and continue eating more than is healthy for them. They try to make up for this increase in food intake through physical activity. The reason for this behaviour could be that certain chemicals are released in the brain when someone overeats or has an addiction problem. These chemicals include serotonin, ghrelin, and orexin-1 receptors.
A study was conducted wherein the brains of mice were examined after they were put on a diet. The subjects were given a drug that blocked the receptors in their brains that were responsible for feelings of hunger and, at the same time, allowed them to re-experience an appetite for food. The mice’s weight was also measured before and after this experience. After taking the drug, the mice regained their appetites but experienced no increase in body weight. In contrast, when these same animals were given a drug that allowed them to regulate their moods properly – and not experience any hunger – they did gain weight even though they had been put on a diet. This suggests that food cravings are caused by neural activity within specific brain regions.
It is widely known that obesity is a difficult condition to overcome. Not only is the body’s weight at the heart of the issue, but there are also emotional and social factors that play a major role in the recovery process. Current therapy methods can often lead to addictive behaviours, making it difficult for people to stop. It has been shown that certain parts of the brain might be functioning differently in obese people, as well as other changes in their body chemistry. The way out of this conundrum might be through new treatments that target specific brain regions implicated in addictive behaviours and other physiological systems within the body.
To get the most out of your food, you must be aware of what you are putting into your body. This is especially important if you have a serious problem with food addiction and find yourself unable to stop including high-calorie foods in your diet. While some people may see food as a tool for their happiness, many others view it as an addiction that has taken over their lives and destroyed their health in the process.
FEATURED IMAGE: by Andres Ayrton