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Nov 16, 2014 11:15 PM EST

Alzheimer's Drug May Reduce Addictive, Impulsive Behavior Associated With Binge Eating

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New research suggests that the Alzheimer's drug may help binge eaters control their compulsion.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine discovered that the Alzheimer's drug memantine, a neuroprotective drug, may reduce the addictive and impulsive behavior associated with binge eating. They also found that a specific area in the brain, the nucleus accumbens, which is responsible for addictive behaviors, facilitates the effects of memantine.

"We found that memantine, which blocks glutamate NMDA receptors, blocks binge eating of junk food, blocks the strength of cues associated with junk food and blocks the compulsivity associated with binge eating," senior author Pietro Cottone said in a statement.

Binge-eating disorder is a prevalent illness in America, affecting more than 10 million people. It is characterized by periods of excessive uncontrolled consumption of food, followed by uncomfortable fullness and feelings of self-disgust. New evidence indicates that changes in brain chemistry reflecting the addictive nature of binge eating may parallel drug and alcohol addiction.

For the study, researchers used an experimental model to stimulate binge-eating behavior to identify the area of the brain associated with binge-eating and then suppress the behavior by applying memantine directly into that area.

This research opens new avenues for binge eating treatment especially since memantine is a drug already approved for other indications.

"Individuals with binge eating disorder have a very poor quality of life and decreased lifespan," coauthor Valentina Sabino said in a statement. "Our study gives a better understanding of the underpinning neurobiological mechanisms of the disorder."

The findings are detailed in the online journal Neuopsychopharmacology.

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