Compulsive Eating Similar to Drug Addiction, Researchers Say

scale1We often use drug analogies in relation to food–claiming we’re “addicted” to our favorite snack, or joking about being “chocoholics.”  For some people, however, the addiction may be real. A new study from the Scripps Research Institute has shown that the molecular mechanism that causes drug addiction is the same mechanism that drives people to compulsively eat. In an animal study, researchers found that a rise in obesity coincided with a deteriorating chemical balance in the pleasure centers of the brain. The rats developed compulsive eating behavior as these areas of the brain became less responsive. The same neurological changes are thought to be involved in the development of drug addiction.

The findings may lead to a new approach to treating obesity. The obesity drug market has garnered quite a bit of interest in the past year, as three pharmaceutical companies are engaging in a high-profile race for FDA approval. Vivus announced Friday that an FDA panel will review its obesity drug Qnexa on July 15. The panel discussion could influence the FDA’s final decision on whether to approve Qnexa. The FDA is scheduled to make a decision in October. Qnexa is a formulation of the weight loss drug phentermine and the epilepsy drug topiramate. The combination is designed to reduce appetite while increasing the feeling of fullness. Qnexa is in a hot race with two other obesity drugs: Arena Pharmaceuticals’ lorcaserin and Orexigen Therapeutics’ Contrave. The FDA is expected to rule on lorcaserin in October. Orexigen plans to file for approval at the end of April, with a final decision expected in February 2011. Other companies in the obesity drug market include Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Novo Nordisk and NeuroSearch.

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