The research was led by Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and conducted in collaboration with the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. It also points out the common mechanisms involved between drug and food addiction.
Research has shown that people with eating disorders and obesity are known to be more impulsive than healthy people. For example, they may be more likely to blurt out something that they later regret saying or to start an activity without thinking through the consequences. However, it was unclear whether the impulsivity existed before the dysfunctional eating behavior or if developed as a result of it.
BUSM researchers attempted to answer this question by measuring the inability to withhold an impulsive response in experimental models that were exposed to a diet high in sugar daily for one hour.
Models shown to be more impulsive rapidly developed binge eating, showing heightened cravings and the loss of control over the junk diet (measured as inability to properly evaluate the negative consequences associated with ingestion of the sugary diet). Conversely, models shown to be less impulsive demonstrated the ability to appropriately control impulsive behavior and did not show abnormal eating behavior when exposed to the sugary diet.
Interestingly, the impulsive models showed increased expression of a transcription factor called Delta-FosB in the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain involved in reward evaluation and impulsive behavior, indicating a potential biological component to this behavior.
The research has been published online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.