Discovery of a group of neurones in the brain’s amygdala thought to be responsible for hedonic eating is being hailed as a potentially crucial step in the global fight against obesity.
Hedonic eating, defined as eating when not actually hungry, is believed to be a large contributor to the global obesity crisis. Mitigating this behaviour is often not as simple as limiting calorie intake, however.
Studies have shown the body’s metabolism can overcompensate when deprived of food, thereby maintaining body weight despite fewer calories being consumed. New research published in Nature Neuroscience could provide a solution to this for future obesity treatment.
The report suggests neurones found in the amygdala’s interstitial nucleus of the posterior limb of the anterior commissure (IPAC) spike in activity when food high in fat and sugar are consumed. ‘Inactivation’ of these neurones could reduce preference for such foods and aid in weight loss.
Researchers arrived at the theory through various tests involving mice. The first experiment sought to identify the IPAC cells affected by a high-fat diet after food restriction.
The second experiment involved ‘switching on’ these neurones to see if this would lead to overconsumption in the mice. Researchers found that doing so increased sated mice’s intake of all foods – but the effect was even more pronounced for high-fat and high-sugar products like white chocolate, coconut and olive oil.
Following this, scientists tested the reverse to see if ‘switching off’ the neurones could prevent obesity. A set of control mice and IPAC-inhibited mice were both fed a high-fat, unhealthy diet for several weeks.
Results of the experiment found that control mice had become obese after six weeks of following the diet, while inhibited mice stayed a healthy weight. Additionally, researchers found that the inhibited mice had a higher lipid oxidation rate, meaning they burned off the food they ate faster, and had a higher rate of exercise.
Alessandro Furlan, Assistant Professor at the Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and one of the amygdala study’s authors, told Medical News Today: “The identification of the neuronal substrates mediating overeating could provide new molecular targets for devising new anti-obesity treatments.”
Beyond Furlan’s study into the amygdala, scientists are increasingly searching the brain for solutions to obesity and unhealthy eating habits.
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Cologne claimed to have found an “entirely novel” approach to treating binge eating disorders. The treatment involves using autotaxin inhibitors on the brain’s hypothalamus to help people comfortably reduce their food intake and hinder the development of obesity.