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Science for all

To eat is pleasurable. For our ancestors, this was essential for survival - to find food rewarding not only encouraged them to over-eat when food was available but also ensured that they obtained a diversity of nutrients, vitamins and minerals from their environment.

In our modern Western lifestyle food is abundant, advertised and always available – finding food rewarding may act against survival. We now face an obesity epidemic. The challenge is to understand better the control systems in the brain that determine how much, how often and why we eat, with a goal to developing new tools to help prevent and treat obesity and over-eating disorders.

Why do people become obese? Some people are more susceptible to gaining weight than others – genetics plays a role. For individuals susceptible to weight gain, ensuring a healthy environment may be especially important.

So, what constitutes a healthy environment, or an unhealthy? Diet, food availability and exercise are critical but also important are exposure to stress, anxiety, depression, loss of sleep and a host of psychosocial factors, not least income. Many people over-eat caloric foods because they are pleasurable and provide a way to cope with a stressful lifestyle.

We have reason for optimism. Research investigating brain mechanisms for over-eating reveal a role for brain areas involved in addiction. These include the dopamine neurons in the midbrain – cells that respond to all kinds of rewards, both natural and artificial (eg foods, alcohol, sex, drugs, gambling). Perhaps some individuals are food addicted? (See NeuroFAST-project). Research from the field of bariatric (weight loss) surgery also highlights the existence of a gut-brain connection controlling food intake.

In our research group, we are especially interested in hormones affected by this surgery and their impact on brain areas involved in food intake and reward. There is an expectation that such research will lead to the discovery of new ways to prevent and treat obesity and eating disorders.

Suzanne Dickson

Forskargruppsledare, professor

Tel: 031-786 35 68
E-post: suzanne.dickson@gu.se
Besöks- och postadresser

Sidansvarig: Annie Sundling|Sidan uppdaterades: 2013-06-28

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