MONDAY, April 4 (HealthDay News) -- People who are compulsive eaters show similar activity in the same brain regions as people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, according to new research.
In particular, exposure to certain food "cues" -- in this case, pictures of a chocolate milk shake -- activated the brain's reward circuitry.
"This confirms that addiction to food is tied into reward centers," said Bonnie Levin, associate professor of neurology and director, division of neuropsychology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "It's a biologically driven process, not just a behavioral problem."
Levin was not involved with the study, which appears online today and in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
This isn't the first time scientists have seen clues that certain people may have a food addiction similar to substance dependence, especially since both drugs and food trigger the release of dopamine. However, this is the first time the correlation has been noted in people who actually qualify as "food addicts" on an accepted measurement of food addiction.
Here, about 40 healthy young women with body sizes ranging from lean to obese were first tested with the Yale Food Addiction Scale, then monitored with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Each woman was first shown a picture of a chocolate milkshake and an image of a glass of water.
They then were asked to actually taste the milkshake (four scoops of vanilla ice cream, 2-percent milk and 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup) or a solution which tasted like natural saliva (plain water would have activated parts of the brain related to taste).
The researchers picked milkshakes not only because they have a high fat and sugar content (sugar has been most consistently linked with food addiction), but also because they could be consumed relatively smoothly t
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