A team of Duke University Medical Center and Australian scientists have confirmed the association between the addictive drugs and the appetite for salt. Researchers say that the addictive drugs may have hijacked the same nerve cells and connections in the brain that serve a powerful, ancient instinct: salt appetite.
Their rodent research shows how certain genes are regulated in a part of the brain that controls the equilibrium of salt, water, energy, reproduction and other rhythms the hypothalamus. The scientists found that the gene patterns activated by stimulating an instinctive behavior, salt appetite, were the same groups of genes regulated by cocaine or opiate (such as heroin) addiction.
"We were surprised and gratified to see that blocking addiction-related pathways could powerfully interfere with sodium appetite," said co-lead author Wolfgang Liedtke, M.D., Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Neurobiology at Duke University. "Our findings have profound and far-reaching medical implications, and could lead to a new understanding of addictions and the detrimental consequences when obesity-generating foods are overloaded with sodium."
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
early edition online on July 11.