Cheesecake-eating rats and food addiction, a commentary

May 05 2010 Published by under Addiction, Behavioral Neuro

As you might have noticed, Sci is really interested lately in the concept of food reward systems, in particular the issues associated with the effects of binge eating on reward systems in the brain, and the issue of "food addiction".
And Sci is not the only one who is interested. Lots of other people in the scientific world (not to mention people outside the scientific world) are interested as well. And in the same issue of Nature Neuroscience that published the paper that Sci covered on dopamine and obesity in rats, David Epstein and Yavin Shaham wrote a commentary on the very same article. Yavin Shaham (the last author and thus the big kahuna) is a big guy in the dopamine and addiction world, and is an important researcher at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
And these guys have some good points.
Points that Sci (figuring others probably don't have easy access to Nature Neuroscience) wants to share with you.
Here we go. Epstein and Shaham. "Cheesecake-eating rats and the question of food addiction" Nature Neuroscience, 2010

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Dopamine and Obesity: The Food Addiction?

Mar 30 2010 Published by under Addiction, Behavioral Neuro

Sci picked this paper today partially because it was handed to her on a platter by the fantastic Dr. Pal, and partially because today she is SO HUNGRY. She's had a TON of food already today, and is still entirely ravenous. Maybe it was looking at this paper too long.
(Cereal break)
As I'm sure most of y'all out there are aware, obesity is a problem in the US. No one is sure whether it's due to increased portion size, increased availability, decreased physical activity, changes in gut bacteria, issues with our behavioral approaches to food, or all of the above. But scientists have been working for a while not only to look at the effects of overeating and obesity, but also to look at what CAUSES these things in the brain and body. And today we present a paper on an interesting piece of this puzzle, one that Sci has had a good deal of interest in: the idea of overeating as an addiction-like phenomenon. Johnson and Kenney. "Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats." Nature Neuroscience, 2010.

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Never go grocery shopping hungry: the fMRI study

Sep 10 2009 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

About a month ago now (yikes, it's been a while!), Sci handed over her diet to the judgment of the goddess. The goddess Isis. Since then, and since finding out that Sci ate roughly 2500 calories a day (or more, and running 5 miles a day doesn't help THAT much), some major changes have been taking place. This little muffin dumped a lot of her carbs, and increased her protein, and more than both of those, she has upped her fruit and vegetable intake. This is less expensive than it sounds, thanks to the abundant loveliness of my local farmer's market, but it still hasn't been easy. Carbs taste GOOD. Cooking takes TIME. I never HAVE any time...and I like scones. A lot. Sigh.
Anyway, I have current reduced calorie intake to around 2000 calories a day (sometimes), and try not to eat too much pizza (most of the time). I am currently training for some ridiculous running distances, so exercise isn't a problem, and I give myself weekends off to eat whatever I like. And I write it ALL down. Every day. Sci is in this for the long haul. I'm not looking to lose too much weight, rather, I am looking to improve my diet, eat more veggies and fruit and make these changes LAST.
And I have my good days and bad days. There was the Day of the Entire Pepperoni Pizza for dinner. Followed shortly thereafter by the Day of More Pizza and those Pretzel Chip Things that are So Delicious. But there are good days, too. Days when it doesn't seem so bad to have fruit instead of fro-yo. And you know, marinated grilled chicken breasts are quite tasty!
But it's all made Sci think a lot about appetite. Why we eat when we eat, and what we're really eating for. Why that bowl of candy in advisor's office is SO tempting even though I just had lunch. You know, that sort of thing.
And then I saw this study:
Piech, et al. "Neural correlates of appetite and hunger-related evaluative judgments" PLoS ONE, 2009.
Which raised far more questions than it answered.

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Cake or Death? It's all a matter of self-control, and your vmPFC

May 07 2009 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Cake or Death? Cake, please.
Today's article comes to you from ars technica, where a friend of the blog found this article from Matt Ford on how we pick our food. Given that Sci is in the middle of reading "How We Decide" by Scienceblogs own Jonah Lehrer, she couldn't pass this decision-making kind of article up. It was a conscious decision, I think. Or was it?

I don't know about you, but everyone Sci knows appears to be trying to regulate their diet somewhat. Most of my friends think the word "die" is in the word "diet" for a reason. But we all still try to eat well, though we're not going to be subsisting on grapefruit and wheatgrass juice any time soon. We're all hearing the messages that we need to eat lean protein, get lots of fiber, and eat as many fruits and vegetables as we can afford.

The media nowadays is jam packed with advertisements saying we need to make healthy choices, right next to other advertisements letting us know about the many many offerings available at fast food restaurants for less than a dollar. With all this coming into your brain every day, it can be really hard to make the right decisions. Would a granola bar be good right now? Or should you have some fruit instead? Should you eat the chocolate cake or the ice cream?
And these decisions become even harder when it becomes a choice of fruit vs. cake (I don't know about you guys, but the fruit would be languishing on Sci's shelf for months). In these cases, your decision making has to have some layers to it. Rather than just "ooooh! Cake!", you also need to think "eh, but I already HAD chocolate today, and I haven't had more than one serving of fruit...and I should get more fiber because apparently everyone needs more fiber..."
Sorry, Banana. No contest. LOOK at the chocolate shavings on that thing...sigh...
So anyway. Our brains may want cake, and other parts of our brains want healthy. The two sides need to fight. But which areas of your brain are responsible? And how do they modulate each other? That's what this group wanted to find out. Hare et al. "Self-control in decision-making involves modulation of the vmPFC valuation system." Science, 2009.

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