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Booze, food more enjoyable to some, possibly predicting risky behavior

The Archives of General Psychiatry served up a pair of interesting studies today that you might consider over dinner today, or perhaps at "happy hour."


The Archives of General Psychiatry served up a pair of interesting studies today that you might consider before heading to dinner or to "happy hour" tonight.

In the first study, University of Chicago researchers found the happier people find their happy hour, the more likely they may be to drink heavily.

Psychologically, alcohol delivers a mixed bag of stimulating and depressing effects: Some people report feeling energized and elated when they drink; others say it makes them feel sluggish.

After identifying young adults who fit each pattern, the researchers followed them for two years. The heaviest drinkers in the sample initially tended to feel mainly the rewarding and stimulating effects of alcohol and little sedation. After two years, they tended to maintain their heavy drinking or even increase their consumption. Those who mainly felt sluggish after consuming alcohol, however, tended to reduce their drinking over the two year follow-up. Interestingly, the light drinkers had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol during intoxication, a biological response showing alcohol may not agree with them.

Similarly, food can produce different effects in different people. A second brain imaging study led by Yale researchers suggests that some people expect food to be more pleasurable than others, and this trait seems to be associated with a risk for eating "addiction."

Scientists and physicians have recently begun to explore the concept of food addiction, noting that problematic eating can meet many of the criteria for substance dependence (for example, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms and regretted, uncontrollable consumption). The Yale researchers diagnosed food addiction when a subject said they ate more than they planned, worried about their eating, or spent frequently felt sluggish from eating, among other behaviors.

Researchers then placed subjects in a scanner and provided them with small tastes of either salty water or chocolate shake (helpfully, the shake recipe appears in the study's the methods). The scans focused on areas of the brain known to be associated with the anticipation and experience of pleasure and with the cessation of enjoyable behavior.

The participants with higher food addiction tendencies showed higher activity in their reward centers while anticipating the chocolate shake. While they were savoring the frosty goodness, these same individuals showed less activation in the circuits involved in ceasing a pleasurable activity. Unlike in the alcohol study, both groups seemed to experience roughly the same level of enjoyment of the shake during consumption. In other words, those with food addiction tendencies seem to have found food more attractive before they ate it, and once they begin eating, they found it more difficult to stop.

The researchers argue that food advertising, now seemingly ubiquitous, may have more of a motivational impact on people with food addiction tendencies. In other words, to control weight, one good strategy might be to limit exposure to temptation in the first place.

Photo by mynameisharsha

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