Potential Pharmacological Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

Eating disorders present many challenges in treatment. Often, by the time an individual seeks treatment, they have been hiding the eating disorder for months or even years. During this time, disordered eating behavior patterns have become very strong and patients struggle to establish new habits.

In many cases, strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy can help redirect behaviors and responses to stimuli. However, for some, there is need of additional help to boost their recovery and reduce the chances of relapse.

A new study offers information about a possible pharmacological treatment for those suffering from one type of eating disorder called binge eating disorder. The study was conducted by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and showed that the blocking of the Sigma-1 receptor may aid in treating binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder impacts an estimated 15 million people in the United States. It is characterized by binging on fatty, high-calorie foods in a relatively short period of time. Those who have the disorder overeat these foods despite an understanding of the range of negative consequences, from physical health problems to emotional and social issues. When binge eaters attempt to abstain from unhealthy foods, they experience withdrawal and distress.

The study, published in an online version of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, found that when a medication was used to block the Sigma-1 receptor, binge eaters were able to reduce their binge eating and even slow down their consumption. The study was led by Pietro Cottone, PhD, and Valentina Sabino, PhD. Both of the lead authors are assistant professors in the psychiatry and pharmacology departments at Boston University.

The researchers tested the effectiveness of the medication by providing animal models, split into two groups, with either a chocolate diet for 60 minutes per day or a normal laboratory feeding.

Two weeks after the beginning of the study and the initiation of the chocolate diet, the models given the chocolate diet were observed in binge eating behaviors and were consuming four times more food than the control group. In addition, those animals in the experimental group were compulsive in seeking out risky means to obtain sugary food at the same time the controls were observed avoiding the risk.

Researchers then introduced the drug that would block the Sigma-1 receptor to test whether the binge eating would be impacted. The data shows that the drug was successful in reducing the binge eating behaviors by about 40 percent and slowed the animals’ eating as well as reducing the risky behaviors to obtain food.

The researchers discovered that the Sigma-1 blocker’s success could be due to its effect on decision-making. Those animals that took significant risks to obtain sugary food may be impacted by functions in the prefronto-cortical regions found in the brain and may have an increased level of Sigma-1 receptors.

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