Binge Eating Disorder Linked To Molecular Changes In The Body

First Posted: Mar 30, 2015 05:15 PM EDT

Statistics show that roughly eight million adults in the U.S. deal with a binge eating disorder. However, relatively little research has been done regarding compulsive binging on foods and how high fat and sugar can trigger specific molecular changes, including high blood pressure. This is the first comprehensive study to examine the effects that a binge eating disorder can have on the body and the brain.

"Our work is helping build a link in terms of how consistently poor diets of high fat and high sugar start a cascade that sets your body up for potentially developing diseases or other metabolic issues down the road," said Kimberlei Richardson, Ph.D., assistant professor at Howard University College of Medicine and member of the research team, in a news release. "Our research may lead to therapeutic and pharmacological treatments that reduce the risk of compulsive binge eaters developing hypertension and cardiovascular disease."

For the study, researchers specifically examined how binge eating affects proteins in the liver and kidneys of female rats. (Only female rats were chosen as women are more widely affected by binge eating than men.) They investigated levels of the orexin receptor 1, which is associated with food and drug reward, and NADPH oxidase 4 (NOX-4), an enzyme that is expressed at higher levels in people with high blood pressure.

Researchers intermittently gave nine female rats the option to chose between chow with high fat and sugar content or regular chow throughout the span of several weeks. Then, they divided the rats into two groups: those who most often ate the highly palatable chow chronically and those who chose the regular chow. Then they compared chronic and acute exposure groups to those who used to compare levels of the orexin receptor 1 and NOX-4.

Findings revealed that female rats with chronic exposure (modeling binge eating) showed a 59 percent decrease in expression of the orexin receptor 1 in the kidneys when compared to female rats that had a short exposure to chow containing high amounts of both fat and sugar.

Researchers believe that this may indicate why consuming high levels of fat and sugar help maintain the effect received in previous exposure to high fat and sugar. Binging rats also had higher levels of NOX-4 in the kidney (40 percent) and the liver (50 percent), making them more likely to develop hypertension.

"Our research demonstrates eating high fat, high sugar foods affects the expression of orexin-1 receptors and NOX-4 levels in the kidneys and liver of female rats," concluded Dexter L. Lee, Ph.D., associate professor at Howard University College of Medicine , who will present the research at the American Physiological Society (APS) Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology 2015. "These changes trigger biological pathways that can lead to hypertension and other cardiovascular disease risk factors. Since the orexin-1 receptor is involved, there is a possibility that drugs targeting it could decrease a person's urge to binge, which would also help prevent the development of hypertension."

However, more studies are necessary to cement the connections. At this time, researchers are repeating their experiments on larger groups of animals and planning future studies in order to better understand the molecular changes associated with binge eating.

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