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Study finds food for thought
By Michael Murphy on October 19th, 2008(viewed 3242 times).






Study finds food for thought

By Clive Cookson

Published: October 17 2008 03:00 | Last updated: October 17 2008 03:00

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Experiments with young women drinking chocolate milkshakes have explained why some people become obese: the "reward circuitry" in their brains gives them less satisfaction than normal when they eat and drink, so they consume more to compensate.

Scientists at the University of Texas, Yale University and Oregon Research Institute carried out brain imaging studies on 76 women students in their teens and early 20s as they consumed flavoured milkshakes and tasteless drinks. The results are in the journal Science today.

Fatter volunteers had less activation in the dorsal striatum part of the brain than their leaner counterparts as they drank. This region releases dopamine, a brain chemical, in response to food and drink. The amount released corresponds to the degree of pleasure produced by the experience.

The effect was strongest in women with a genetic variation that gave them fewer dopamine receptors and, therefore, a less responsive reward system in the brain. Follow-up to the original tests showed these subjects were most likely to gain weight over time. "These results suggest that individuals with [underactive] reward circuitry are at increased risk for unhealthy weight gain," said Eric Stice, of Oregon Research Institute. "Thus, it is possible that behavioural or pharmacological interventions that correct this reward deficit may help prevent and treat obesity - an avenue we are currently pursuing in our research."

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