A new study by the University of Granada, Spain, and Monash University in Australia indicates that food craving activates different brain networks in obese and normal patients.
The study raises significant question as it relates to obese children, a developing brain, and a new addiction pathway similar to substance addiction. Previous studies have correlated food addiction (high sugar) content to an addiction pathway.
The research participants consisted of 39 obese and 42 normal-weight individual, subjected to functional MRI brain scans. The participants were shown food photographs to stimulate food craving. The functional MRI scans showed that food craving was associated with different brain connectivity, depending on whether the subject was normal-weight or overweight.
In obese individuals, the stimulus from food craving was associated with a greater connectivity between the dorsal caudate and the somatosensory cortex, implicated in reward-based habits and the coding of the energetic value of foods. Food craving, in normal individuals, was associated with a greater connectivity between different parts of the brain – e.g. between the ventral putamen and the orbitofrontal cortex.
Body Mass Index (BMI) and weight gain was correlated to increased connectivity between the dorsal caudate and the somatosensory cortex areas of the brain.
“There is an ongoing controversy over whether obesity can be called a “food addiction”, but in fact there is very little research which shows whether or not this might be true. The findings in our study support the idea that the reward processing following food stimuli in obesity is associated with neural changes similar to those found in substance addiction”, said lead researcher, Oren Contreras-Rodríguez.
” This still needs to be viewed as an association between food craving behaviour and brain changes, rather than one necessarily causing the other. However, these findings provide potential brain biomarkers which we can use to help manage obesity, for example through pharmacotherapies and brain stimulation techniques that might help control food intake in clinical situations”.