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Study Of How We Eat Offers Clues For Tackling Eating Disorders

Research into how we view our food could provide clues to help deal with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, according to scientists. You know how fast-food outlets often have mouth-watering pictures of the food on offer (even when it looks nothing like what they’ll actually serve up!)? Well, it seems that we are all hard-wired to ‘eat with our eyes’ – that is, start to feel a bit hungry when we see appetizing food.

The reason for this is said to be down to evolution and is a response that helps keep babies and other young animals alive. The response creates motivation for food and can be seen in how babies will put small objects in their mouths to test them out.

The research was done by scientists at the National Institute of Genetics near Fuji in southern Japan, where they studied brain activity in zebrafish – an animal with a similar neuron network as humans. The lead author of the study, Dr Akira Muto, explained:

“Feeding behavior and hunger is regulated by a brain area called the hypothalamus in humans. Zebrafish, like humans, mostly use vision for recognition of food or prey. It was not known how the hypothalamus receives visual information about prey. We first demonstrated that neurons in the hypothalamus do indeed respond to the sight of prey. Then we discovered “prey detector” neurons in an area called the pretectum. Furthermore, we found a direct neural link connecting the prey detector neurons to the hypothalamic feeding center.”

If that’s all a bit too scientific for you, basically, it shows a direct link between seeing food and the motivation to eat. As Dr. Muto noted:

“Our study demonstrates how tightly visual perception of food is linked to motivational feeding behavior in vertebrate animals. This is an important step toward understanding how feeding is regulated and can be modulated in normal conditions as well as in feeding disorders.”

The hope is that this research can offer some insight into what causes human eating disorders, although the study’s co-author, Professor Koichi Kawakami noted:

“These will be future works.”



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