Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Weight Loss & Diet Plans

Font Size
A
A
A

Addicted to Food?

By
WebMD Health News

-->

May 23, 2002 -- Just seeing and smelling food triggers an increase in a brain chemical that makes you hungry. It's the same signal that makes drug addicts want more drugs, suggesting that this may be the mechanism behind food addiction, a new study shows.

The signal is dopamine, a powerful brain chemical that lies at the heart of addiction. Dopamine is an important part of the brain's pleasure and reward machinery.

Addictive drugs increase brain levels of dopamine. Compared with normal people, addicts have fewer dopamine receptors -- the pleasure switch that high levels of dopamine flips on (to heighten the feelings of pleasure and reward.) Studies at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory show that obese people also have few dopamine receptors.

Now a research team led by Brookhaven's Nora Volkow, MD, finds that people don't actually have to eat to get a surge of dopamine. It happens when they just see, smell, and have a tiny taste of food. This makes them even hungrier.

The study is published in the June 1 issue of the journal Synapse.

"Eating is a highly reinforcing behavior, just like taking drugs," Volkow says in a news release. "This is the first time anyone has shown that the dopamine system can be triggered by food when there is no pleasure associated with it, since the subjects don't eat the food. This provides us with new clues about the mechanisms that lead people to eat other than just for pleasure. This may help us understand why some people overeat."

Today on WebMD

vegetables
Video
feet on scale
Blog
 
Woman looking at reflection in mirror
Article
Hot cup of coffee
Quiz
 
pantry
Video
butter curl on knife
Quiz
 
eating out healthy
Article
Smiling woman, red hair
Article
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Build a Fitter Family Challenge – Get your crew motivated to move.
Feed Your Family Better Challenge - Tips and tricks to healthy up your diet.
Sleep Better Challenge - Snooze clues for the whole family.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
thumbnail_woman_tossing_spinach
Video
lunchbox
Article
 
What Girls Need To Know About Eating Disorders
Article
teen squeezing into jeans
fitfor Teens