Food Addiction (FA) causality will probably never be a settled matter because, in matters like this, various factors can change. It is difficult, in other words, to do any kind of deliberate study in the real world because we cannot set hard rules about what the conditions will be.
One part of the multi-faceted conversation says that all or some foods can contain substances that act like hard drugs in the human body. Here is an example of how controlled experiments are not compatible with life in the wild. Just when that issue was starting to be explored, the food processing corporations were seriously ramping up their efforts to prove that there is indeed such a thing as FA, and a whole industry eager to sell it to us.
More data, more problems
The multidisciplinary NeuroFAST program was designed to figure out whether FA exists, and in the course of about five years compiled a massive archive of findings. Not surprisingly, the more deeply researchers look into these issues, the more complicated everything becomes. One conclusion contains a lesson in the futility of making generalizations:
Our epidemiological studies have identified risk factors for the onset of substance use and eating disorders and have found these to differ widely depending on age, gender, sample and individual diagnoses.
The relationship between eating and addiction problems differs by age and gender.
As befits a multifactorial problem,
This multidisciplinary project explored the neurobiology of addiction and eating behaviour and the complex socio-psychological forces that can lead to its dysregulation.
And get this:
Food addiction-related overweight/obesity cannot be identified using anthropometric, metabolic, biochemical or adrenal hormonal parameters… These forces include dietary components (e.g. highly palatable foods and alcohol), some of which may have addictive properties, but also cultural and social pressures and cognitive-affective factors (perceived stress and stress regulation, anxiety and depression), and family-genetic influences on these.
Under the “Limits to Our Understanding” subhead, one of the limits is,
[W]e do not know the importance of ”food addiction” as an obesity factor in women, or what mechanisms underlie gender differences in eating behaviour…
While the hormones ghrelin and leptin have been intensely scrutinized because of their influence over the presence or absence of eating urges, little attention has been paid to what the female hormones can accomplish in this regard. An interesting discovery has been made about obese and overweight women. A cerebral positron emission tomography test can tell the difference between an addicted woman and a non-addicted one. And let us never forget,
In rodents, females are more vulnerable than males to weight gain in response to intermittent sweet treats.
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