Quitting smoking leads people to eat more junk food, study finds
(StudyFinds.org) – Quitting smoking is no easy task, especially when nicotine withdrawal kicks in. Now, a new study finds that one of the immediate side effects of quitting is craving for junk food. Researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine say they have discovered a brain link between a person’s addiction to nicotine and poor eating habits.
The study indicates that the opioid system – the brain functions that regulate both addiction and appetite – is responsible for smokers seeking high-calorie foods when they experience nicotine withdrawal. It is a vicious cycle for people who are trying to quit smoking, as cravings for junk food can lead to weight gain and, in turn, can cause people to start smoking again.
“We looked at whether or not acute nicotine withdrawal increases the consumption of junk foods – high in salt, fat and sugar – and how the anti-stress receptors in the opioid system are involved,” says lead author Mustafa al ‘Absi, PhD in a university outing. âAlleviating these challenges during the treatment process will help patients quit smoking while understanding their eating habits and encouraging healthier decisions. “
The urge to smoke leads to eating more fatty foods
The team examined a group of smokers and non-smokers between the ages of 18 and 75 in two lab experiments. Each group participated in a 24-hour withdrawal from nicotine products, while taking either a placebo or a 50 mg dose of naltrexone, a drug prescribed by doctors for alcohol and opioid disorders. . After each session, the researchers provided smokers and non-smokers with a selection of snacks that differed in their salt and fat levels.
The experiments revealed that smokers suffering from nicotine withdrawal consumed more calories than non-smokers. Participants were also less likely to choose foods high in fat if they took naltrexone during the experiment.
“The results of the study may be linked to the use of foods, particularly those high in calories, to cope with the negative affect and distress that characterize the feelings that people experience during smoking cessation.” , explains al’Absi. âThe results of preclinical and clinical research confirm this and demonstrate that stress increases the propensity to foods high in fat and sugar. “
A possible drug for junk food cravings
The study also found that naltrexone normalized the calorie intake of smokers, bringing them down to the same levels as non-smokers. The study authors say the results suggest that the opioid system may be what triggers the withdrawal-induced calorie cravings.
“Rather, it is a new discovery in the context of nicotine addiction and has many implications for the development of future treatment,” said al’Absi.
“These results build on previous studies that indicate the impact of tobacco use on appetite and help identify the influence of an important biological link, the cerebral opioid system, on craving during nicotine withdrawal. “, concludes Absi. âFear of weight gain is a major concern among smokers who are considering quitting. The key to removing these barriers is to better understand the factors that increase the craving for high-calorie foods.
The study appears in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Addiction.
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