University of Georgia Study Uncovers Mechanism Behind Impulsive Overeating

Circuit in the Brain Linked to Impulsive Eating Discovered

Many individuals have tried to control weight gain using different approaches to no avail. The inability to control food intake is a major reason most people who attempt weight loss may not succeed.

Unhealthy Eating

Unhealthy Eating

Now, a team of researchers has made a finding that could help in controlling craving for food. The scientists discovered a brain circuit that may be targeted to inhibit impulsive overeating.

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Food impulsivity is a major health concern. It contributes to too much food intake and binge eating. Impulsive eating plays a huge role in unhealthy weight gain and obesity.

The new discovery raises the possibility of scientists being able to develop measures for countering overeating.

“There’s underlying physiology in your brain that is regulating your capacity to say no to (impulsive eating),” said lead author Emily Noble, an assistant professor at the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia. “In experimental models, you can activate that circuitry and get a specific behavioral response.”

The new study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Problem of impulsivity

Impulsivity refers to doing things without thinking about the possible consequences. It plays a role in problem gambling, drug addiction, and other psychiatric disorders.

In the context of food, impulsivity means eating (usually, excessively) without considering what could result from it. This response is a common factor in the incidence of weight gain and obesity.

Earlier research showed that an increase in the levels of melanin concentrating hormone (MCH) can lead to increased food intake.

The current study is, however, the first to show that this natural transmitter in the brain may promote impulsive eating behavior.

Cause of food impulsivity

Researchers in this study made use of a rat model for testing food impulsivity. They put their attention on cells in the brain that produce MCH.

The team trained some rats to put pressure on a lever to gain access to a tasty pellet with high fat and sugar content.

According to Noble, the rat needed to wait 20 seconds between presses of the lever. Pressing earlier would result in the animal having to wait for an extra 20 seconds.

Read Also: Eating Disorders: Causes, Types, Symptoms and Treatments

The researchers proceeded to turn on an MCH neural pathway in the brain of the rats. This pathway runs between the hypothalamus and the hippocampus, a region associated with memory and learning.

Findings showed that MCH failed to significantly affect the fondness the animals had for the food. It also did not impact the extent to which they were willing to go to get it.

Noble and his colleagues observed that the circuit affected the rats’ inhibitory control instead. In other words, it produced effects on their ability to keep from getting the food.

“Activating this specific pathway of MCH neurons increased impulsive behavior without affecting normal eating for caloric need or motivation to consume delicious food,” said Noble.

The researchers expressed the hope that the findings could contribute to the development of remedies for overeating. Such interventions may help greatly in checking food craving to inhibit weight gain or promote weight loss.


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