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Cocaine Stops the Body from Storing Fat

Update Date: Aug 09, 2013 01:21 PM EDT

Cocaine doesn't just suppress appetites.  It can also stop the body from storing fat, according to new research.

It's long been believed that the reason cocaine addicts didn't gain weight was because the stimulant suppressed their appetites.  However, a new study reveals that the drug can cause profound metabolic changes that need to be accounted for during rehabilitation and treatment.

 Scientists found that "going clean" can cause dramatic weight gain during rehabilitation.  Researchers said that the findings support theories cocaine users sometimes relapse because they become so unhappy at their weight gain when they stop taking the drug.

Researcher Dr. Karen Ersche, from the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge and her team compared 30 cocaine-dependent men to 30 healthy men. Ersche and her team evaluated the men's body composition, diets and eating behaviors. Researchers also measured the men's leptin, a hormone that plays an important role in regulating appetite and energy use.

The study revealed that cocaine users had worse diets than healthy men, choosing to eat fatty foods and carbohydrates.  However, they still experienced weight loss, and their body fat was significantly reduced compared to the control group.

Furthermore, cocaine users also had lower levels of leptin, meaning they are more likely to overeat.

Ersche and her team believe the frequent overeating and poor diet will just make it easier for users to gain weight when they get off the drug and their metabolisms slow.

"We were surprised how little body fat the cocaine users had in light of their reported consumption of fatty food. It seems that regular cocaine abuse directly interferes with metabolic processes and thereby reduces body fat. This imbalance between fat intake and fat storage may also explain why these individuals gain so much weight when they stop using cocaine," Ersche said in a news release.

"For most people, weight gain is unpleasant but for people in recovery, who can gain several stone, this weight gain goes far beyond an aesthetic concern but involves both psychological and physiological problems," she added.

"The stress caused by this conspicuous body change can also contribute to relapse. It is therefore important that we better understand the effects of cocaine on eating behavior and body weight to best support drug users on their road to recovery." She explained.

"Notable weight gain following cocaine abstinence is not only a source of major personal suffering but also has profound implications for health and recovery," Ersche concluded. "Intervention at a sufficiently early stage could have the potential to prevent weight gain during recovery, thereby reducing personal suffering and improving the chances of recovery."

The findings are published in the journal Appetite

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