Scientist at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have found that the simple display of food, where hungry people are allowed to smell and taste their favourite foods without eating it, causes a significant rise in brain dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.

The scientists say the dopamine rise is distinct from the activity of the brain chemical registered when food is eaten, and could be similar to the feeling addicts describe when they crave drugs.

“Eating is a highly reinforcing behaviour, just like taking illicit drugs,” said psychiatrist Nora Volkow, the study’s lead investigator. “But this is the first time anyone has shown that the dopamine system can be triggered by food when there is no pleasure associated with it since the subjects don’t eat the food. This provides us with new clues about the mechanisms that lead people to eat other than just for pleasure, and in this respect may help us understand why some people overeat.”

For further information, visit the website of the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory by clicking here.