Food Addiction: New Research Fuels the Debate

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It has long been suspected that food has addictive qualities. At the 30th annual iaedp™ Symposium, Kim Dennis, MD, CEDS will present “Food Addiction: New Research Fuels the Debate,” showing recent evidence that suggests certain foods have the ability to disrupt, even hijack the brain, much like an addictive drug.

It has long been suspected that food has addictive qualities. At the 30th annual iaedp™ Symposium, Kim Dennis, MD, CEDS will present “Food Addiction: New Research Fuels the Debate,” showing recent evidence that suggests certain foods have the ability to disrupt, even hijack the brain, much like an addictive drug.

Among the clinical evidence, Dr. Dennis will discuss how the dopamine and opiate systems, pre-frontal cortex and sugar all play a role. This leading-edge research presentation is one of the more than 40 offered by leading eating disorder professionals during the 2016 iaedp Symposium, February 17 – 22, at the Omni on Amelia Island, Florida. Registration details can be found at iaedp.com.

Dr. Dennis’s research will show that dopamine, a neuro-transmitter that motivates people toward such things as food and sex, are central to the puzzle. Certain chemicals such as cocaine and heroin activate the same reward circuits in the brain that food or other natural rewards do. When triggered by ingesting a rewarding substance or engaging in a rewarding activity, this pathway results in dopamine release, the high.

According to Dr. Dennis, originally it was thought that obese or drug-addicted individuals would register high levels of dopamine receptors; however, brain scans indicate it is the exactly opposite. This is because repeated exposure to repeated hits of dopamine when the reward pathway is activated results in fewer dopamine receptors.

The body is designed to maintain a steady state, and this is one of the ways it does it, says Dr. Dennis. Although high levels of dopamine are generated, they are not experienced unless the dopamine binds to dopamine receptors. Therefore, in order to get the same reward, substantially more of the substance is required.

The research also states that addictions and eating disorders are family diseases, which are progressive, chronic and potentially fatal. Patients with eating disorders frequently have a family history of addiction. Clinical similarities between substance and behavioral addictions include common underlying biological, emotional, relational and spiritual problems. There appear to be similar biological brain pathways associated with addictive food behaviors and substance addictions.

Dr. Dennis is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorder treatment, addictions recovery, trauma/PTSD and co-occurring disorders. As CEO and medical director at Timberline Knolls in Chicago, she supervises the medical staff and sets the overall vision and direction for the treatment program. Dr. Dennis received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. She obtained her medical degree from the University Of Chicago Pritzker School Of Medicine and completed her psychiatry residency training at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she served as chief resident.

About iaedp: Since 1985, the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals has provided education and training standards to an international and multidisciplinary group of various healthcare treatment providers and helping professions.

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