We’re all guilty of overindulging in food at some point in our lives, but binge eating is a repetitive behavior that can seriously affect our health. While binge eating is often the result of stress and underlying mental health problems, such as depression, two recent studies link the condition to both genetic predisposition and hormone deficiency.

It's In Your Genes

A study released this week found that teenagers' tendency to binge eat may be influenced by a mutation in their genes. For the study, researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia reviewed the genetic data of 6,000 participants aged 14 to 16. In doing so, they found that individuals with a specific mutation in the location of the FTO gene were 20 percent more likely to binge eat; girls specifically were 30 percent more likely to binge eat.

The research is a significant step forward in understanding the genetic influences behind binge-eating, a behavior believed to affect around 10 percent of the adult and teenage population. Understanding what leads people to binge eat is also key to developing future strategies to help prevent this dangerous practice.

"It's still early days in the research, but we're getting a better understanding of how these behaviors come about," explained researcher David Evans in a statement. "It's very complex because the tendency to binge is a behavior influenced by many different genetic and environmental factors."

Hormones To Blame For Raiding The Fridge

In a separate study, now published online in Cell Reports, researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School found a hormone deficiency also plays a role in binge eating.

As explained in the press release, the Rutgers team observed that when they reduced levels of the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) in mice, the animals overate and consumed more high-fat food. GLP-1 is a hormone associated with regulating eating behavior and letting the brain know when the stomach is satisfied and it's essentially time to stop eating.

When the team activated the hormone in the mesolimbic dopamine system, the reward circuit of the brain, the opposite effect was observed and mice consumed less food and lost their preference for high-fat food. According to the study, these results suggest that activating this hormone in just a single area of the brain would help to overcome these deficiencies and may be an effective way to control overeating.

“By finding out how the central nervous system regulates food intake behavior via GLP-1 signaling, we may be able to provide more targeted therapy with fewer side effects,” senior author Zhiping Pang, explained in a statement.

Binge eating is described as an eating disorder in which individuals will go through periods where they excessively overeat. These periods are often followed by induced vomiting. According to Medical News Today, binge eating puts individuals at increased risk for health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Identifying individuals who may be at increased risk for developing this eating disorder would give clinicians a means of providing early intervention. Such a method could significantly reduce these risks and instill healthy eating habits from an early age.

Source: Wang X, Liu J, Mirabella V, Pang ZP. Endogenous Glucagon-like Peptide-1 Suppresses High-Fat Food Intake by Reducing Synaptic Drive onto Mesolimbic Dopamine Neurons. Cell Reports. 2015.

Micali N, Field AE, Treasure JL, Evans DM. Are obesity risk genes associated with binge eating in adolescence? Obesity. 2015.