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Binge Eating May Cause Brain Changes That Increase Susceptibility for Drug Addiction

posted 08:25 AM EST, Thu April 26, 2012

Penn State researchers say food binging may predispose a person to drug addiction.

You can see some similarities between food binging and drug addiction, especially in the way both conditions cause a loss of control over behaviors.

But though the two conditions appear similar, does having one predispose a person to get the other?

The Experiment

Hoping to answer this question, Penn State researchers developed an animal model study to see whether a history of binge eating increased a person’s susceptibility for cocaine addiction.

A number of lab rats were divided into 4 experimental groups. All groups had continual access to nutritional chow.

  1. One group received only the healthy food
  2. One group received occasional access to supplementary fatty food
  3. One group received continual access to supplementary fatty food
  4. One group received access to supplementary fatty food for one hour per day, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (The food binging group)

Although the group who had continuous access to fatty food consumed the greatest quantity of this food overall, the rats given thrice a week limited were the most likely to binge.

Once food consumption patterns became established, all rats were then given access to cocaine.

  • The rats in the food binging group took the most cocaine, continued for longest to try and get cocaine once it was no longer available and worked the hardest to earn a dose of cocaine.
  • Under normal circumstances, about 20% of rats given access to cocaine will develop addiction-like behaviors. Among the binge eating rats, 50% developed addiction like behaviors.

Commenting on the significance of the findings, lead author Patricia Sue Grigson, Ph.D, noted, “While the underlying mechanisms are not known, one point is clear from behavioral data: A history of bingeing on fat changed the brain, physiology, or both in a manner that made these rats more likely to seek and take a drug when tested more than a month later. We must identify these predisposing neurophysiological changes.”

The full research results can be read in the journal, Behavioral Neuroscience.

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Story Highlights
  • Binge Eating: Rats given occasional access to fatty foods were most likely to develop a binge eating disorder
  • Drug Addiction: Once a rat had developed a binge eating like disorder they were more than twice as likely to become addicted to cocaine
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