Kevin Niswender, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine and Molecular Physiology & Biophysics, is two years into a line of basic research that indicates the challenges overweight and obese persons face are really similar to those faced by people with drug addictions.
“People with substance abuse problems have changes in certain parts of the brain and this causes them to continue to use substances and to increase their substance use in order to feel normal, or to have that sense of pleasure that people would get otherwise from healthier activities,” he said.
“Our idea is that people who have similar behaviors with regard to eating may be more predisposed to the development of obesity because they don’t experience that sense of reward or pleasure that an individual should feel from eating a more balanced meal.”
Niswender is teaming with Malcolm Avison, Ph.D., professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, and translational nutrition scientist Heidi Silver, Ph.D., R.D., on a new study designed to investigate the effects of insulin, which is used for treatment of diabetes mellitus, on energy balance, body composition, brain function and other risk factors for cardiometabolic disease.
The study will compare how a weight loss diet, with or without a newer type of insulin, affects areas of the brain’s dopamine system that are involved in food intake and the sense of pleasure people get from eating.
“This line of basic science research is really opening up a new way of thinking about the problems of obesity and overeating,” Niswender said.
“We think now that when one overeats, insulin has a different function. Insulin acts on those areas of the brain where dopamine normally functions to decrease the reward aspect of food intake, thereby helping to limit food intake.
“It is likely that this novel function of insulin is compromised in obese people.”
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