Researchers at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital found that certain neural circuits have the ability to inhibit binge eating behavior in mice.

This discovery was made after a lot of evidence has raised claims of significant link between obesity and binge eating. Since 10% of the US population is affected by binge eating disorders, and the neurobiology behind the disorder is relatively unknown, this study, published on 5th August, 2016, has its importance.

Dr Yong Xu, associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor and senior author of the paper, and his colleagues have identified a neural circuit where a group of serotonin neurons, the neurotransmitter responsible for controlling our sleep patterns, project to and activate dopamine neurons. They showed that activation of this circuit can restrict binge eating behavior in mice which represent genetically similar structures to humans.

Dr Xu said, “Human literature suggests that dysfunction of the serotonin system or dopamine system in the brain may be associated with developing binge eating behavior.” The study appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Additionally, since there are 14 possible receptors that can moderate the serotonin levels in the human body, Xu and colleagues were able to discover a specific receptor that is active in binge eating behavior. They came to the conclusion that the serotonin 2C receptor, which is expressed by dopamine neurons, is important in suppressing binge eating.

Xu remarked that A drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration, a serotonin 2C agonist, is currently being used as a treatment for overweight and obese adults and could potentially be redesigned to suppress binge eating habits in adult individuals.

There have been past studies where serotonin receptors, also known as 5-HT receptors have been manipulated to see the effects of appetite control. 5-HT drugs have shown to reduce food intake in rodents in a way which is consistent with an enhancement of satisfaction. In humans these receptors have shown to reduce calorie intake, which in effect reduces hunger and increases satiety. 5-HT-acting drugs such as fenfluramine, d-fenfluramine, and sibutramine have provided effective anti-obesity treatments in the past.

However, more selective agents are needed that produce the same changes in eating behavior and increase chances weight loss without any negative side effects.

Binge Eating Links With Addictive Behaviors

Binge eating is one of the most common eating disorder in adults. Binge eating disorder (BED) was included in the eating disorders section of the DSM-5 in 2013. Binge eating is a phenomenon in which a person eats uncontrollably, often past the stage when his stomach is full, and eating during a discrete period of time.

Many of these habits, for example, eating when not feeling hungry, lead to unnecessary weight gain and ultimately obesity. BED is associated with increased psychopathology including mental diseases such as depression and personality disorders. Although BED is not limited to obese individuals, it is most common in this group and those who go for treatment do it because they are overweight and not for binge eating.

Moreover, this study shows that food addiction can occur in obese individuals with and without BED. It is of significant importance that medical experts identify individuals with BED and devise treatment methods that are more in line with treating addictions rather than obesity.

BED shares many characteristics with addictive behavior such as loss of control and continued usage despite its negative effects on health, and there is lot of evidence supporting this link. Understanding this link is vital in finding a solution to this growing problem.

Animals models have added significant compelling evidence to this claim. Lab rats given food with highly processed ingredients such as sugars and fats have shown behavioral markers of binge eating, such as consuming large quantities of food in short time periods and seeking out highly processed foods despite negative consequences, in this case, electric shocks.

In addition to these observable behavioral changes, their neurobiology shows reduced dopamine D2 receptor availability which is indicative of showing neurochemical changes associated with drug addiction.

Binge eating disorder is also related with feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment about the acts of binge eating and with raised concerns with body image, shape and weight. Markers of substance dependence include the amount of time spent acquiring, using, or recovering from the substance and neglecting important activities due to substance use, as well as tolerance and withdrawal which comes at a later stage of addiction, meaning a person’s addiction has gotten more severe.

In other words, binge eating disorder and substance abuse is both associated with diminished control during consumption, as well as a diminished ability to reduce the quantity or frequency of use.

These findings indicate that highly processed foods contain addictive ingredients that are hard to resist and difficult to put down. A therapeutic approach to binge eating disorder may be a viable solution to improve health outcomes.