Study shows that impulsivity is risk factor for food addiction

Have you ever said to yourself that you would only have a handful of potato chips from the bag then, minutes later, realized you ate the whole thing? A recent study shows that this type of impulsive behavior might not be easily controlled – and could be a risk factor in the development of food addiction and eating disorders as a result of cellular activities in the part of the brain involved with reward.

The research, published online in Neuropsychopharmacology, was led by Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and conducted in collaboration with the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. It also points out the common mechanisms involved between drug and food addiction.

Research has shown that people with eating disorders and obesity are known to be more impulsive than healthy people. For example, they may be more likely to blurt out something that they later regret saying or to start an activity without thinking through the consequences. However, it was unclear whether the impulsivity existed before the dysfunctional eating behavior or if developed as a result of it.

BUSM researchers attempted to answer this question by measuring the inability to withhold an impulsive response in experimental models that were exposed to a diet high in sugar daily for one hour. Models shown to be more impulsive rapidly developed , showing heightened cravings and the loss of control over the junk diet (measured as inability to properly evaluate the negative consequences associated with ingestion of the sugary diet). Conversely, models shown to be less impulsive demonstrated the ability to appropriately control and did not show abnormal eating behavior when exposed to the sugary diet.

Interestingly, the impulsive models showed increased expression of a transcription factor called Delta-FosB in the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain involved in reward evaluation and impulsive behavior, indicating a potential biological component to this behavior.

"While impulsivity might have aided ancestors to choose calorie-rich foods when food was scarce, our study results suggest that, in today's calorie-rich environment, impulsivity promotes pathological overeating," said Pietro Cottone, PhD, co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders and associate professor of pharmacology and psychiatry at BUSM.

"Our results add further evidence to the idea that there are similar mechanisms involved in both drug and behavior," said Clara Velazquez-Sanchez, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Addictive Disorder and first author of the study.

Related Stories

Impulsive personality linked to food addiction

date Jan 24, 2014

The same kinds of impulsive behavior that lead some people to abuse alcohol and other drugs may also be an important contributor to an unhealthy relationship with food, according to new research from the University of Georgia.

You want fries with that? Don't go there

date Nov 11, 2013

A new Dartmouth neuroimaging study suggests chronic dieters overeat when the regions of their brain that balance impulsive behavior and self-control become disrupted, decreasing their capacity to resist temptation.

Recommended for you

Improving primary care by addressing trauma

date 2 hours ago

Recognizing that patients' experiences of childhood and adult trauma are common and have a direct impact on their health, UCSF clinical researchers and Positive Women's Network-USA have developed and are ...

We all want high social status: study

date 2 hours ago

Not everyone may care about having an impressive job title or a big, fancy house but all human beings desire a high level of social status, according to a newly published study.

Decorative images make life seem better

date 4 hours ago

A series of studies from Victoria University of Wellington have revealed that when people evaluate the quality of products, and their past behaviour, they tend to take a rosier view if they've been looking ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.