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How Does Our Brain Respond To Food?


How Does Our Brain Respond To Food?

It seems that the brain of people suffering from obesity or anorexia respond differently to food compared to a normal brain, shows a new study. Neuroscientists have discovered in what way is this response different, and this new approach may help them understand the eating disorders in order to find a new possible treatment for patients suffering from symptoms like overeating or anorexia.

One of the researchers, namely Laura Martin of Hoglund Brain Imaging Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center explains: “This body of work not only increases our understanding of the relationship between food and brain function but can also inform weight loss programs.”

The findings of this study was presented on the 3rd of April at the 19th annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in Chicago, IL.

When a person is eating, the areas of the brain involved in the reward system are activated. These regions are also involved in addiction. This new study reveals that the response of these areas to food is unique to each individual, depending on its eating behaviour.

Human Brain

Human Brain

Laura Holsen of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospitaland and her team conducted a study observing the changes in fMRI brain scans of individuals with eating disorders. The subjects had anorexia nervosa, obesity or Prader-Willi syndrome ( rare genetic disorder that is characterized by a chronic feeling of hunger that leads to life-threatening  obesity, low muscle tone, incomplete sexual developement, cognitive disabilities). The control group was composed of normal healthy subjects.

The anorexic group, who was previously severely restricted from food, had a decreased responses in the reward and pleasure areas of the brain when they were shown various pictures of food. In contrast, the same regions of the brain have shown a significantly increased activity in the obese group.

These findings also has an implication in the eating decisions made by a healthy individual. Holsen says: “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.” These every day eating decisions are studied by Kyle Simmons of the Laureate Institute. He found that at the mere sight of food determines an increased activity in the insula that processes taste, meaning that  the brain starts anticipating its food and also evokes the feelings associated with that particular food.

Simmons adds: “Knowing which brain regions underlie inferences about food taste and reward is critical if we are going to develop efficacious interventions for obesity and certain eating disorders”