Brain’s Response to Sweets May Indicate Risk for Development of Alcoholism

Several human and animal studies have shown a relationship between a preference for highly sweet tastes and alcohol use disorders. Furthermore, the brain mechanisms of sweet-taste responses may share common neural pathways with responses to alcohol and other drugs. A new study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has found that recent drinking is related to the orbitofrontal-region brain response to an intensely sweet stimulus, a brain response that may serve as an important phenotype, or observable characteristic, of alcoholism risk.

“It has long-been known that animals bred to prefer alcohol also drink considerably greater quantities of sweetened water than do animals without this selective breeding for alcohol preference,” explained David A. Kareken, deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center, a professor in the department of neurology at Indiana University School of Medicine, and corresponding author for the study. “More recently, it has become clear that animals bred to prefer the artificial sweetener, saccharin, also drink more alcohol. Although the data in humans are somewhat more variable, some studies do show that alcoholics, or even non-alcoholics with a family history of alcoholism, have a preference for unusually sweet tastes. Thus, while the precise reasons remain unclear, there does seem to be significant evidence suggesting some link between the rewarding properties of both sweet tastes and alcohol.”

Kareken added that this is the first study to examine the extent to which regions of the brain’s reward system, as they respond to an intensely sweet taste, are related to human drinking patterns.

Full story of sweet tooth and alcoholism at Science Daily

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