In the study, led by a team from the University of Texas at Galveston on rats who had spent a month eating a low-fat diet, the team successfully inhibited the fatty food seeking behaviours.
“Craving for foods high in fat — this includes many junk foods — is an important part of obesity and binge eating,” said Jonathan Hommel, Assistant Professor at the University of Texas in the US.
“When trying to lose weight people often strive to avoid fatty foods, which ironically increases motivation and craving for these foods and can lead to overeating. Even worse, the longer someone abstains from fatty foods, the greater the cravings,” Hommel added.
Several behavioural studies have demonstrated that denying certain foods while on a diet causes increased craving and motivation for that food.
However, the brain mechanisms that lead to this type of overeating are not known.
For the study, published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, half of the rats underwent a surgical procedure that blocked the effects of a brain chemical called neuromedin U receptor 2 within a region of the brain that regulates food intake.
The other half of the rats did not receive this treatment.
After surgical recovery, the rats who had been treated did not work nearly as hard for fatty treats as their unaltered counterparts did.
“While our findings are only the first step in a long process from the scientific lab to the doctor’s office, we are planning to develop new drugs to help curb those cravings,” Hommel said.