Neuropharmacology. 2014 Oct;85:81-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2014.05.019. Epub 2014 May 24.
Food has both homeostatic and hedonic components, which makes it a potent natural reward. Food related reward could therefore promote an escalation of intake and trigger symptoms associated to withdrawal, suggesting a behavioral parallel with substance abuse. Animal and human theoretical models of food reward and addiction have emerged, raising further interrogations on the validity of a bond between Substance Use Disorders, as clinically categorized in the DSM 5, and food reward.
These models propose that highly palatable food items, rich in sugar and/or fat, are overly stimulating to the brain’s reward pathways. Moreover, studies have also investigated the possibility of causal link between food reward and the contemporary obesity epidemic, with obesity being potentiated and maintained due to this overwhelming food reward.
Although natural rewards are a hot topic in the definition and categorization of Substance Use Disorders, proofs of concept and definite evidence are still inconclusive. This review focuses on available results from experimental studies in animal and human models exploring the concept of food addiction, in an effort to determine if it depicts a specific phenotype and if there is truly a neurobiological similarity between food addiction and Substance Use Disorders. It describes results from sugar, fat and sweet-fat bingeing in rodent models, and behavioral and neurobiological assessments in different human populations.
Although pieces of behavioral and neurobiological evidence supporting a food addiction phenotype in animals and humans are interesting, it seems premature to conclude on its validity.