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Could Dopamine Activation Lower the Rate of Binge Eating? Research Shows Promise!

Recent research has suggested that specific neurological circuits in the brain that are associated with dopamine production may be able to inhibit binge eating in lab mice. At the current time the cause of binge eating is not known, and the neurological basis behind this disorder is unclear. The newest research brings some much needed clarity. Researchers at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston determined that some of the neural circuits in the brain may be able to inhibit binge eating although the how and why of this inhibition is still not completely clear. Senior paper author, Baylor College of Medicine associate professor of pediatrics Dr. Yong Xu, explained that “Human literature suggests that dysfunction of the serotonin system or dopamine system in the brain may be associated with developing binge-like eating behavior. However, mechanistically, there’s no direct evidence to show how this system affects behavior.”

Binge eating is a big problem, and the dopamine system in the brain is associated with this disorder but the processes involved are not yet clear. The research study was published in the Biological Psychiatry journal, and researchers managed to identify a neural circuit which involves serotonin neurons which project to dopamine neurons and cause these receptors to become activated. In the research study the mice experienced inhibition in binge eating when this circuit was activated. Identifying the specific receptors and circuits involved is an important first step to determining the causes of binge eating and developing effective treatments. The serotonin 2C receptor plays a role in preventing binge eating, that much researchers have identified, but there are also a number of other variables involved that need to be examined as well.

Unavailable Parents and Family Teasing Over Weight Linked to Binge Eating in Kids

A new medical study links family teasing over weight and having unavailable parents to binge eating in kids. Kids who have parents who are not available physically or emotionally, and those who endure family teasing about their weight, have a higher risk of developing a binge eating disorder. The University of Illinois study also determined that race, income, and the weight of the parents did not have any impact on the eating patterns of the child. Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program scholar and human development and family studies doctoral researcher Jaclyn Saltzman explained “This study found that childhood binge eating is really associated with parents’ weight-related beliefs, but not their actual weight, and their emotional availability but not necessarily the income availability.”

Early recognition and treatment for childhood binge eating could prevent many problems in adulthood. Unavailable parents and/or family teasing over weight can leave psychological scars that can compound the eating disorder. According to Saltzman “Intervening early to address binge eating may not only help prevent an eating disorder from emerging but also prevent lifetime habits of unhealthy weight-related behaviors. Loss of control is something that researchers have used to describe binge eating in young children. The idea is that the size of the binge — the amount of food they eat — is less important than the feelings of being out of control or the stress about that eating behavior, especially in young kids, because they don’t have all that much control over the food that they have access to. Binge eating is feeling like you are not in control when you are eating. You are eating past the point of fullness and to the point of discomfort. You are experiencing a lot of emotional distress because of it.”

Saltzman continued by explaining “We want to emphasize to parents that weight isn’t the ‘be all end all,’ and that focusing on weight too much can be damaging. Instead, focusing on giving kids the tools they need to manage their emotions, particularly emotions around eating and weight, can help strengthen children’s coping skills so they are less likely to need binge eating.”