Yum… the pleasure of food: Food can be a mere necessity for some, and a great passion for others. Food activates pleasure circuits in the brain, just like an addictive drug does.

According to research, mammalian bodies seem to be able to regulate food intake by measuring the amount of energy available in the food we consume, as opposed to the amount of food consumed.

Therefore, the brain must receive signals from the body indicating weight and energy expenditure. These signals are received in the hypothalamus, located at the base of the brain. 

Leptin maintains our body weight. Obviously, moderation is a necessity, but our body is capable of maintaining its own weight. The Leptin protein is secreted by fat cells, and acts in the brain to reduce appetite and increase energy expenditure, hence keeping weight constant. These leptin levels increase with weight gain, and decrease with weight loss.

In modern times, the availability of food and the types of food is vast compared with the diet of our ancestors, which mainly consisted of vegetarian food, with very little fat and sugar. It has been proved that after the consumption of energy dense, fatty and sugary food, it activates a part of the brain that controls the release of dopamine.

This energy dense fatty and sugary food is addictive, producing a larger jolt of pleasure. Moderate stress will stimulate appetite in a wide variety of mammals, resulting in the increased choice of high calorie and fatty foods.

Stress signals a cascade in which neurons travel through the bloodstream, hence the appeal of comforting foods. Severe stress, however, can have the opposite effect, by suppressing appetite.

An addiction to food can lead to a modern-day phenomenon – the disease of obesity. Food addiction in fact shares many biological properties with drug addiction, hence the seriousness of the illness.

 

Originally posted on: 1 September 2012
Last updated on: 12 April 2024
The About my Brain Institute

The About my Brain Institute

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