According to Emily Noble, assistant professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, "There's underlying physiology in your brain that is regulating your capacity to say no to (impulsive eating)."
"In experimental models, you can activate that circuitry and get a specific behavioural response."
Using a rat model, researchers focused on a subset of brain cells that produce a type of transmitter in the hypothalamus called melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH).
"We found that when we activate the cells in the brain that produce MCH, animals become more impulsive in their behaviour around food," Noble said.
Researchers then used advanced techniques to activate a specific MCH neural pathway from the hypothalamus to the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved with learning and memory function.
Results indicated MCH doesn't affect how much the animals liked the food or how hard they were willing to work for the food. Rather, the circuit acted on the animals' inhibitory control, or their ability to stop themselves from trying to get the food.
Noble concluded, "Understanding that this circuit, which selectively affects food impulsivity, exists opens the door to the possibility that one day we might be able to develop therapeutics for overeating that help people stick to a diet without reducing normal appetite or making delicious foods less delicious."