09 August 2016

Scientists Confirm Binge Eating Disorders Are Illnesses of the Brain

While addictions such as alcohol and drug addiction have long been recognised as illnesses of the brain, many experts have not classed eating disorders such as binge eating disorder in the same category. However, new research has found that binge eating is, in fact, a disorder of the brain and that it could be controlled by the activation of certain neurons.

Until now, those suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder have been referred to psychologists. Nevertheless, this new research suggests that neurologists may be able to assist when it comes to treating those suffering from various eating disorders.

Binge Eating Disorders Explained

Most people automatically think that those with an eating disorder must be either bulimic or anorexic, but the truth is that there are a number of other eating disorders, including binge eating disorder. Those who suffer from binge eating disorder will experience a compulsion to eat, even when they are not hungry. They tend to eat significant amounts of food in one session, often not stopping until they have made themselves physically sick.

Binge eating disorder sufferers are often overweight, and many will develop health problems including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems. Many of those who suffer from binge eating disorder will also suffer from mental health problems including anxiety disorder and depression. Unfortunately, these issues tend to get worse the longer the person is binge eating.

Treating Binge Eating Disorder

The current treatments for binge eating disorders and other food addictions include various forms of therapy and counselling designed to help the sufferer identify the cause of the problem and to learn how to overcome it.

Nonetheless, this new study has helped scientists to identify certain neural circuits in the brain that could prevent binge-eating. The great news is that there is already a drug available that activates these neural circuits. The drug is used to treat other illnesses, but the possibility that it could also be used to inhibit binge-eating behaviour is welcome news.

Dopamine Levels

Previous studies have found that those who are compelled to binge eat have unusual levels of the feel-good chemical dopamine. Dopamine is released by the brain to stimulate pleasure when people partake in various activities such as eating. In healthy people, the brain stops releasing these chemicals when the person has had enough to eat. However, those with binge eating disorder may have a tolerance to dopamine and will be unable to feel pleasure from a healthy amount of food.

They will require more and more food in order to experience the pleasure they desire. There are many theories as to why some individuals build up a tolerance to dopamine. One study has suggested that certain junk foods stimulate dopamine release. Foods high in sugar and salt are said to cause the brain to release large amounts of dopamine causing it to adjust and remove receptors to the chemical. This means that the person would need to eat more food than normal to experience the same pleasures as before.

Inhibiting Binge Eating Behaviour

A new study by a team of scientists from Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine has found new evidence to suggest that certain neural circuits can inhibit binge-eating behaviour when activated. The study on lab mice that had been raised as binge eaters helped researchers to identify a neural circuit where dopamine neurons are activated. They found that by activating this circuit, the binge eating behaviour of the mice was inhibited.

The team also found that an existing FDA-approved drug is being used to treat those who are overweight and obese. They believe that this drug could also be used to help suppress the binge eating behaviour of those with this type of food addiction.

Symptoms of a Binge Eating Disorder

It is often difficult for family members and friends to tell if a loved one is suffering from binge eating disorder because most sufferers eat in secret. They often eat alone and many will constantly be on a diet but will very rarely lose any weight. Family members and friends may be unaware that someone close to them is, in fact, struggling with an eating disorder.

Symptoms of a binge eating disorder include eating very quickly during a binge and continuing to eat even when full. Those that hoard food and hide evidence of their bingeing could well be suffering from a binge eating disorder.

Binge eaters often say that they have no control over the amount of food they consume once they start eating. They may feel depressed and guilty about their eating while others suffer from self-hatred or disgust. Some feel ashamed and embarrassed about their behaviour, but even this cannot make them stop.

Treatment is available for those suffering from a variety of binge eating disorders. For more information, contact us here at UKAT.

Source: Binge eating IS in the brain: Study confirms food addicts have a ‘numbed’ pleasure center – and stimulating certain neurons could stop overeating (Daily Mail)

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