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Brains of obese and anorexic people 'wired differently'


April 4, 2012 - Washington

Our brains' response to food varies across a spectrum of eating behaviours- from extreme overeating to food deprivation, a new study has revealed.

This study is one of several new approaches to help better understand and ultimately treat eating disorders and obesity.

"This body of work not only increases our understanding of the relationship between food and brain function but can also inform weight loss programs," said Laura Martin of Hoglund Brain Imaging Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center, one of several researchers whose work being presented at a meeting of cognitive neuroscientists in Chicago.

"One of the most intriguing aspects of these studies of the brain on food," Martin says, is that they show "consistent activations of reward areas of the brain that are also implicated in studies of addiction."

However, how those reward areas respond to food differs between people depending on their eating behaviours, according to the new brain imaging study by Laura Holsen of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital and colleagues.

Holsen's team conducted fMRI brain scans of individuals with one of three eating conditions - anorexia nervosa, simple obesity, and Prader-Willi syndrome (extreme obesity) - as well as healthy control subjects.

When hungry, those with anorexia, who severely restrict their food intake, showed substantially decreased responses to various pictures of food in regions of their brains associated with reward and pleasure.

For those who chronically overeat, there were significantly increased responses in those same brain regions.

"Our findings provide evidence of an overall continuum relating food intake behavior and weight outcomes to food reward circuitry activity," Holsen said.

Her work also has implications, she said, for everyday eating decisions in healthy individuals.

"Even in individuals who do not have eating disorders, there are areas of the brain that assist in evaluating the reward value of different foods, which in turn plays a role in the decisions we make about which foods to eat," Holsen added.

ANI

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