Binge-eaters may have a new weapon to enable healthy eating

October 10, 2016 Providence Health Team

A brain receptor discovered 15 years ago may hold a key for reducing binge eating, according to a new study.

Binge eating – when a person quickly eats large amounts of food compulsively, even to the point of discomfort – has been a difficult disorder to treat effectively. Health officials say the disorder affects about 15 million people in the United States.

Binge eating can lead to severe emotional distress and extreme efforts to manage weight or food intake, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The condition may start with modest changes in eating habits, but can spiral out of control, the institute says.

In the new study, researchers manipulated the trace amine-associated receptor 1 (TAAR1) in rats, then observed how their diets were affected. They found that the receptor, which was detected in 2001, seemed to act as a brake on binge eating.

“The results of this study provide a new window toward the development of a new class of drugs with a novel target unexplored until now,” said corresponding author Pietro Cottone, an associate professor of pharmacology and psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Eating disorders are treatable

The National Institute of Mental Health describes eating disorders as “real, treatable medical illnesses.” They affect both men and women, and boys and girls, but are more prevalent among females.

They often coexist with – and contribute to – other illnesses, such as depression and substance abuse. They can also trigger other unhealthy behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting.

And eating disorders are serious. The institute notes that anorexia – an eating disorder in which a sufferer deprives herself or himself of nourishment to an unhealthy degree – has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

Treatment often involves psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, focused medical care and medications such as antidepressants. That’s why the new study is being heralded as an important development in targeted treatment for binge eating.

To learn more

The study, called “The Trace Amine-Associated Receptor 1 Agonist RO5256390 Blocks Compulsive, Binge-Like Eating in Rats,” was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

A more reader-friendly discussion of the study was issued by Boston University, where corresponding author Cottone is an associate professor.

The National Institute of Mental Health has a resource page, “Eating Disorders: About More Than Food.”

You can read about Providence’s Adult Eating Disorders Treatment Program on our site. Providence also runs an Adolescent Eating Disorders Program.

If you have unhealthy eating habits, talk with your health care provider about ways you can manage or improve them. You can find a Providence provider here.

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