Friday, May 6, 2011

Yes, Food Addiction is Real. Do You Know Someone Suffering?

By Sarah Johnson, M.D.
The obesity epidemic is a huge problem (no pun intended) due to associated medical problems and their burden on the healthcare system. In 2009, an estimated 25% of Americans met criteria for obesity. This figure has steadily increased since the 1970’s.

Obesity leads to heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes, and may be associated with increased risk for depression. It has been suggested that over-eating and other eating behaviors associated with obesity may share features with drug and alcohol addiction. This would certainly explain why this epidemic is so difficult to combat.  

The DSM IV-TR defines substance dependence as three or more of the following symptoms occurring within one year: tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, substance taken in larger amounts or for a longer duration than intended, attempts to cut back, excessive time spent pursuing, using, or recovering from use, reduction or discontinuation of important activities because of use, and continued use despite adverse consequences. 

Food cravings associated with binge eating can trigger the same area of the brain that is activated in drug craving. Although research is preliminary and limited at this time, specific foods such as carbohydrates may actually have a direct effect on mood in those who crave them.

Certain eating behaviors, such as restriction combined with overeating or binge-purge cycles may emulate addictive behaviors. Personality traits such as impulsivity have been found in samples of addicts and obese individuals. Children with behavior disorders such as ADHD and Conduct Disorder may be at increased risk for both addictions and obesity.  

Prevention is the best way to reduce the impact of behaviors associated with obesity. While eating may have similarities with addiction, we live in a toxic food environment, and awareness is key in prevention. Family members can seek help from medical professionals for loved ones who may be exhibiting pathological eating behaviors

For more information: Corsica JA, Pelchat ML. Food addiction: true or false? Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2010 Mar;26(2):165-9.
Wilson GT. Eating disorders, obesity, and addiction. Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2010 Sep-Oct; 18(5):341-51.

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