Evidence points to overeating and the brain’s opioid system in regard to reward of food intake and regulating food stimulus
Obesity can affect the body in so many ways, and the obesity epidemic is worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 39% of adults across the globe are overweight, and obesity is the next step. Obesity can be the result of many factors, but recent research may point to a neurological issue involving overeating and the brain’s opioid system.
A study published in 2015 looked at binge eating disorder, where the patient has persistent episodes of overeating. People with binge eating disorder tend to eat rapidly, and do not stop eating even though they feel full. They will have feelings of depression or shame and guilt about overeating, and they will often eat alone.
Overeating and the brain’s opioid system
Overeating and the brain’s opioid system can be linked to the very reward of eating, and perhaps hedonic eating. For example, if a mother tells her child that they will get milkshakes in the afternoon, and that child thinks of this all day long and knows that, at some point, he will get that reward of a milkshake, this is called “reward processing.” Reward processing is the job of the brain’s opioid system.
In addition, researchers are looking at hedonic eating as a part of the obesity problem. With the influx of advertisements in society pointing at processed or satisfying easy-to-eat foods, people struggling with overeating could experience a rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends messages to and from brain cells. Even just “thinking” about a food reward will give you a dopamine thrill.
Binge eaters who lose weight tend to regain weight more quickly than non-binge eaters. And studies have shown that binge eaters often have issues anxiety, mood imbalance, as well as having physical problems including diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Binge eating disorder (BED) is listed in the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a psychiatric illness.
Studies and regulating food stimuli
In one study, young rats were deprived of food for two hours per day. They were then offered access to regular food for a limited amount of time, followed by access to a high-sucrose diet for the same amount of time. The rats developed excessive eating of the regular food and anticipatory anxiety, or hypophagia, of the high-sugar food.
Along with this study, evidence points to overeating and the brain’s opioid system in regard to reward of food intake. Some work is being done in looking at the opioid system as a tool to regulate the impact of food stimulus and the motivation to binge eat, and using drug therapy to reduce this behavior.
The concept of overeating and the brain’s opioid system has not been studied in depth yet, but may open a door into the physical and mental intricacies of appetite, craving, and overeating.