York study finds that binge eating may be in your genes
published May 1, 2009
A first-ever study: how they did it and where we go from here
Binge eaters may be genetically predisposed to gorge on sweet and fatty foods, according to a study led by a York University researcher.
The study identifies significant genetic differences between obese individuals suffering from Binge Eating Disorder and obese individuals without the disorder. It found that binge eaters have a specific type of brain receptor – one that is also linked with drug and alcohol addiction.
“[Binge eaters] appear to be more responsive to the pleasant taste of sweet and fatty foods, which proliferate in our current food environment,” says study lead author Caroline Davis, professor of kinesiology in York’s Faculty of Health.
Scientists believe dopamine fosters our “wanting” of food, while opioids regulate the pleasure we get from eating. The study examined genetic markers in these two areas of the brain in people ages 25 to 50.
Previous animal research has linked opioids to binge eating of fat. This study confirmed the same link in humans, but went on to find that binge eaters actually have a different genetic make-up in their opioid receptor than people who don’t binge eat.
Applying the results
Davis anticipates the research could lead to improved treatment for people suffering from Binge Eating Disorder. It also points to the need to reconsider how we carry out studies of overeating and weight gain, she says.
“Studies are typically designed whereby obese individuals are compared to non-obese participants in order to try and understand the causes of weight gain,” says Davis. “In my view, it doesn’t make sense to consider obese individuals as a unified group. There are many different routes to obesity, so it behooves us as scientists to look at subtypes of the condition in order to get a clearer understanding of the diversity of causal mechanisms.”
The study, “Dopamine for ‘Wanting’ and Opioids for ‘Liking’: A Comparison of Obese Adults With and Without Binge Eating,” is forthcoming in the journal Obesity. The study was co-authored by researchers from the University of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction & Mental Health and the University Health Network.