Food on the Brain

Researchers examine how food affects the brain of binge eaters

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In a recent brain imaging study, researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory found that binge eaters (those who compulsively overeat) react to their favorite foods differently than ordinary obese individuals.

Gene-Jack Wang, a physician at Brookhaven Lab and Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and colleagues examined 10 obese individuals diagnosed with binge eating disorder and eight obese individuals who were not binge eaters. Using positron emission tomography (PET), the researchers scanned subjects' brains in order to study their reactions to the smell and taste of their favorite foods.

The results revealed that simply seeing or smelling their favorite foods caused a spike in dopamine (a brain chemical associated with feelings of reward and motivation) in binge eaters but not in ordinary obese individuals.

The finding suggests that this increase in dopamine levels may play a role in causing compulsive overeating. According to Wang, understanding the way by which food stimulation affects the brain might lead to new methods for helping binge eaters control their harmful eating behaviors.

Binge eating is a disorder that not only affects obese individuals but also non-obese individuals. As such, the authors believe that more research is needed to further explore the neurobiological differences between obese and non-obese binge eaters.

Binge eating disorder - which is often associated with symptoms of depression - is characterized by a lack of control over eating behavior and frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short periods of time. It is estimated that one to five percent of Americans are affected by binge eating disorder.

The study by Wang and colleagues appears online in the journal Obesity

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Review Date: 
March 2, 2011
Last Updated:
March 2, 2011