Food for thought


The relationship between eating behaviors and brain responses to food presentation

PHILADELPHIA, PA, June 23, 2004 Because diet and nutrition are vital aspects of healthy human beings, scientists have begun studying the brain's potential influence and role in formulating a healthy diet and curbing obesity. In a study from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., researchers assessed the effects of food presentation on the brain. The study could help researchers assess the root, chemical causes of eating disorders and obesity. The team presented its findings at the Society of Nuclear Medicine's 51st Annual Meeting.

Eating behaviors are influenced by many factors, including stress, cognitive restraint (i.e., restricting food intake to control body weight, or dieting) and perceived hunger. To examine the areas of the brain that respond to these three behaviors, the scientists used FDG-PET imaging to evaluate how the brain responds when a subject is presented with food, but not everyone responded the same.

The study included 12 healthy subjects--tested on three separate days and food deprived for 18 hours--and measured their brain response in three different situations: food stimulation, neutral stimulation, and no stimulation. Using FDG-PET imaging, the researchers concluded that food stimulation significantly increased local brain metabolic activity.

According to Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, MD, "individuals for whom food is more reinforcing have to rely more on cognitive control to not eat when they have the desire to eat. Our results showed that people who have higher metabolic changes in the left ventral striatum of the brain during food stimulation need more cognitive restraint; in other words, those who are more sensitive to food stimulation, it is more difficult and takes more effort to diet."

The impact of the study may be far-reaching. According to Dr. Wang, "if we know how the brain reacts to food and hunger, we can figure out what occurs chemically during perceived abnormal responses. The hope is that, if we understand the brain's chemical response to food, then we will be able to manage things like eating disorders and find new and innovative treatment options."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on All rights reserved.