New research suggests people do not become addicted to donuts or sodas, but they can become addicted to eating for its own sake.
UK researchers discovered the brain does not respond to nutrients in the same way as it does to addictive drugs such as heroin or cocaine. In other words, people can become addicted to eating but not to consuming specific foods such as those high in sugar or fat.
In the new study, an international team of scientists did not find strong evidence for people being addicted to the chemical substances in certain foods.
Researchers believe people can develop a psychological compulsion to eat, driven by the positive feelings that the brain associates with eating. This is a behavioral disorder and could be categorized alongside conditions such as gambling addiction, say scientists at the University of Edinburgh.
They add that the focus on tackling the problem of obesity should be moved from food itself towards the individual’s relationship with eating.
The study, which examined the scientific evidence for food addiction as a substance-based addiction, is published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.
Study authors believe a formal diagnosis of eating addiction is appropriate, but more research would be needed to define a diagnosis. A diagnosis of eating addiction is not included in the current classification of mental disorders.
Dr. John Menzies, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Integrative Physiology, said, “People try to find rational explanations for being overweight, and it is easy to blame food. Certain individuals do have an addictive-like relationship with particular foods and they can overeat despite knowing the risks to their health.
“More avenues for treatment may open up if we think about this condition as a behavioral addiction rather than a substance-based addiction.”
Professor Suzanne Dickson, Ph.D., of the University of Gothenburg, who coordinated the project, added, “There has been a major debate over whether sugar is addictive. There is currently very little evidence to support the idea that any ingredient, food item, additive or combination of ingredients has addictive properties.”
Source: University of Edinburgh