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Yet that brain region was far less active in overweight people than in lean people, and in those who carry that A1 gene variant, the researchers reported. Moreover, women with that gene version were more likely to gain weight over the coming year.
It's a small study with few gene carriers, and thus must be verified, Volkow stressed.
Still, it could have important implications. Volkow, who heads NIH's National Institute of Drug Abuse, notes that "dopamine is not just about pleasure." It also plays a role in conditioning -- dopamine levels affect drug addiction -- and the ability to control impulses.
She wonders if instead of overeating to compensate for the lack of pleasure -- Stice's conclusion -- the study really might show that these people with malfunctioning dopamine in fact eat because they're impulsive.
Regardless, most people's tongues find a milkshake quite tasty; the brain reaction is subconscious.
But if doctors could determine who carries the at-risk gene, children especially could be steered toward "recreational sports or other things that give them satisfaction and pleasure and dopamine that aren't food ... and not get their brains used to having crappy food," said Stice, a clinical psychologist who has long studied obesity.
"Don't get your brain used to it," he said of non-nutritious food. "I would not buy Ho Hos for lunch every day because the more you eat, the more you crave."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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