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cupcakeWhat can rats and frosting tell us about the nature of binge eating?

Potentially a lot, according to a new study from Michigan State University. A lab experiment involving two different types of rats and some vanilla frosting might offer new cues about the genetic nature of binge eating disorder, and the biological factors that might contribute to eating patterns. 

Using two different types of rodents, the researchers conducted a feeding experiment where they gave both groups of rats their usual rat food — but they switched it out intermittently with vanilla frosting. Why? They wanted to see how the rats would respond when give the opportunity to eat something sweet. Frosting, they reasoned, could tell them more about the rats’ eating habits, as humans are more likely to binge on something high in sugar and fat than on something healthy. (Ever know anyone that has a salad binge eating problem? Me neither.)

“We only gave the rats the vanilla frosting every other day because that mimics human binge eating habits,” said Britny Hildebrandt, a graduate student in the Klump lab.

Genes tell a story

What the team found was that binge eating rates were much higher in one type of female rat than in the other rats. Previous research has shown that binge eating is influenced by genetics, but identifying these genes in humans hasn’t been successful, the study authors noted.

“Unlike humans, animals do not have the cultural, psychological or psychosocial risk factors for binge eating, so they are simpler to study,” said study author Kelly Klump. “A rat could care less what it looks like.”

What implications do the findings have for humans? Studying the rats more prone to binge eating, Klump said, could help researchers come one step closer to finding a treatment for binge eating disorder.

“We can now study the strain to identify the genes that might contribute to the disease,” she concluded. “From there, we can map these genes in humans. If we can narrow down to 20 or so genes, then we are one step closer to finding an effective treatment for binge eating.”

Do you believe there could be a binge eating gene? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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