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Food Addicts "Less Likely to Do Coke"

Yale researchers explore surprising links between food cravings and novelty-seeking behaviors.

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By Valerie Tejeda

06/25/12

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People with food addictions may be less likely to do cocaine, according to new research from Yale University's School of Medicine. The new study—published in Nature Neuroscience—finds that overeating and an appetite for cocaine are both driven by the same set of brain neurons. Researchers performed some tests on mice: first "knocking out" a molecule that controls hunger neurons in the brain, and then measuring how the mice responded to coke. "We found that animals that have less interest in food are more interested in novelty-seeking behaviors and drugs like cocaine," says Professor Tamas L. Horvath, one of the authors. "This suggests that there may be individuals with increased drive of the reward circuitry, but who are still lean." The researchers believe that the hypothalamus—the part of the brain controlling body temperature, hunger, thirst and sleep—is vital to higher brain function, which impacts behavior. "These hunger-promoting neurons are critically important during development to establish the set point of higher brain functions, and their impaired function may be the underlying cause for altered motivated and cognitive behaviors," says Horvath. The study was originally conducted to find treatments for metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity, but instead flipped the common wisdom about obesity and drug addiction on its head. "There is this contemporary view that obesity is associated with the increased drive of the reward circuitry," says Horvath. "But here, we provide a contrasting view: that the reward aspect can be very high, but subjects can still be very lean. At the same time, it indicates that a set of people who have no interest in food, might be more prone to drug addiction."

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