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Study Links Yo-Yo Dieting to Addiction
Date:11/12/2009

Rats fed sugary chow suffered withdrawal when regular meals returned

THURSDAY, Nov. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Not a big fan of dieting? Join the club. But new research in rats hints at why weight loss is so tough -- perhaps as tough as kicking drug addiction.

In the study, rats weaned off a high-calorie diet showed the same effects on the brain as withdrawing from drugs and alcohol.

Rat brains aren't the same as human brains, of course, and human neurology may work differently. But study author Pietro Cottone said the research suggests there's indeed a link between yo-yo dieting and cycles of addiction and withdrawal.

Yo-yo dieting, "a common habit of many chronic dieters, generates dependence," explained Cottone, an assistant professor Boston University School of Medicine. And when people who typically overeat stop overeating, stress hormones in their brain jump into action, he said, potentially leading to "anxiety, decreased motivation and rejection of other food alternatives."

In other words, their diet fails.

Scientists are fascinated by overeating, in part because of its link to evolution. In the resource-poor world of long ago, humans evolved to understand the importance of finding and recognizing food and coping with its scarcity, Cottone pointed out. Now, however, food is available in many cases, and this "sudden abundance" is killing people through diabetes and heart disease, he said.

Researchers know that food activates circuits in the brain that give us a feeling of reward, he said. Sex and occasional drug use can do the same thing.

But what about the reverse -- the brain activity that makes people stressed when they withdraw from drugs? Could it work the same for food?

To find the answer, Cottone and colleagues gave rats a regular diet for five days and then switched them to a chocolate-flavored food that was high in sugar.

Not surprisingly, th
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