Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reveal that food cravings activate brain areas related to emotion, memory and reward – areas also activated during drug-craving studies. Study lead author Marcia Levin Pelchat, PhD, a Monell Center sensory psychologist, comments, "This is consistent with the idea that cravings of all kinds, whether for food, drugs, or designer shoes, have common mechanisms."
Studies of food craving, possibly the evolutionary basis of all craving behavior, may provide insight into drug craving and how it contributes to maintenance and relapse of drug addiction. Pelchat notes, "Identifying the brain regions involved can tell us a great deal about the normal and pathological neurochemistry of craving, and in turn, lead us to better pharmacological treatments for obesity and drug addiction." During food craving episodes, craving-specific activation was seen in three regions of the brain: the hippocampus, insula, and caudate. These same three areas have also been reported to be involved in drug craving.
J. Daniel Ragland, PhD of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, was responsible for the imaging part of the study. Ragland comments, "The pattern of fMRI results suggests that memory areas of the brain responsible for associating a food with a reward are more important to food craving than are the actual reward centers." He goes on to say, "This result fits nicely with animal research that has shown that stimulation of memory centers is more effective than stimulation of reward centers in getting animals to work for drug rewards."
Marcia Pelchat | EurekAlert!
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