Can't keep away from that tantalizing piece of cake or donut? Research found that genetics can be partly blamed for those uncontrollable urges to indulge the sweet tooth.
A study made by the Imperial College London found that two genetic variants involving the dopamine receptor D2 and the fat mass obesity associated gene (FTO) could be responsible for stimulating extra dopamine secretion, which is responsible for feelings of pleasure some people associate with sweets.
Dr. Tony Goldstone of the Imperial College London said that these changes in the genetic makeup could explain why some people experience stronger cravings for high calorie foods or a harder time controlling them than most people.
"Genetic variants near the FTO gene are associated with obesity and consumption of energy-dense foods," wrote Goldstone and his colleagues, who conducted their study to confirm the theory that the FTO can somehow affect dopamine production and D2 receptor stimulation.
The research team conducted the study on 45 white European volunteers aged 19 to 55 years old. After an overnight fast, participants were then showed pictures of high and low calorie foods then asked to rate how appealing each food item was to them.
In the background, researchers analyzed participants' brain activity in response to pictures of different foods by functional MRI. All of the volunteers have undergone a DNA test to determine which among them are predisposed to the FTO gene.
The team found that those with variant near the FTO gene released more dopamine upon seeing high calorie foods. They also found an increased brain activity in the striatum area, which is responsible for several cognitive functions such as learning.
The team is excited by their find because it suggested that there really is a genetic influence behind obesity in predisposed individuals.
"It means they may experience more cravings than the average person when presented with high-calorie foods - that is, those high in fat and/or sugar - leading them to eat more of these foods," Goldstone explained.
With these findings, researchers hope to understand the root cause of obesity and to develop individualized plans of care for managing obese patients.
Obesity is a growing health problem worldwide. It leaves people at risk for several chronic and potentially life threatening conditions including heart attack and neurovascular diseases. The healthcare community continues to work hard to educate people on the causes and adverse effects of obesity, as well researching ways to treat and prevent the condition.
Contributing to the continuing effort to combat obesity, the study's results were presented as part of Obesity Week in Los Angeles.