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Obesity Changes Brain Chemistry, Study Suggests

Update Date: Sep 09, 2014 06:02 PM EDT
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Obesity could alter brain chemistry, according to a new study.

Researchers found that obese individuals are more susceptible to environmental food cues than their leaner counterparts. This is important because this difference in brain chemistry can trigger habitual eating that is less rewarding.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center examined data from 43 men and women with different amounts of body fat.

The study revealed that obese individuals generally had greater dopamine activity in the habit-forming region of the brain than their thinner counterparts. They also had less activity in the brain region controlling reward.

Researchers believe these brain differences make increases the risk of obese individuals to overeat and experience less enjoyment while eating.

"While we cannot say whether obesity is a cause or an effect of these patterns of dopamine activity, eating based on unconscious habits rather than conscious choices could make it harder to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, especially when appetizing food cues are practically everywhere," lead researcher Kevin D. Hall, Ph.D., a senior investigator at National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), said in a news release. "This means that triggers such as the smell of popcorn at a movie theater or a commercial for a favorite food may have a stronger pull for an obese person - and a stronger reaction from their brain chemistry - than for a lean person exposed to the same trigger."

"These findings point to the complexity of obesity and contribute to our understanding of how people with varying amounts of body fat process information about food," said NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, according to a press release. "Accounting for differences in brain activity and related behaviors has the potential to inform the design of effective weight-loss programs."

The findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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