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Brain Region May Control Urge to Binge Eat

Area of the Brain Can Increase Desire to Pig Out by 300%

WebMD Health News

Oct. 7, 2004 -- The urge to binge eat may stem from the same area of the brain that helps control emotions and learning, according to new study.

Researchers found that a part of the brain known as the amygdala appears to regulate how the brain responds to high-fat food and control binge eating. The amygdala also is responsible for emotions such as fear and anger.

When that part of the brain was deactivated in rats, the study showed that the rats lost their normal desire to pig out and binge eat fatty foods.

The results show that if this area of the brain was turned off in humans, it may allow people to resist temptation, such as overindulging in fatty but tasty foods such as ice cream.

"Given the current epidemic of obesity, understanding how these networks in the brain control the desire for food is extremely important," says researcher Matthew Will, assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, in a news release.

"This research demonstrates that a specific brain region may be responsible for feeding beyond the basic metabolic needs signaled by hunger, such as those instances when you can't turn down that delicious chocolate chip cookie, or when you simply need an emotional boost from a bowl of ice cream," says Will.

Binge Eating Tied to Brain

Researchers say previous studies have shown that the release of pleasure chemicals in the brain -- called opioids -- control the desire to eat very tasty or highly palatable foods. These chemicals can increase the drive to eat fatty or sugary foods by up to 300%.

Using this reaction as a model for binge eating, researchers studied the effects of deactivating the area of the brain that controls emotions and motivation, the amygdala, in rats.

The tests showed that when this area was turned off, a surge of opioids in the brain had no effect on how much fat the rats ate and prevented the binge eating of fatty foods that normally accompanies the release of these euphoric chemicals.

In contrast, rats that had an intact amygdala and got a dose of opioids ate three times more than those given saline solution. But there was no binge eating among the rats with deactivated amygdalas that were given a shot of opioids.

The results of the study appear in a recent issue of the journal NeuroReport.

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