Narcolepsy Drug Could Treat Patients with Food Addiction

Modafinil was seen to reduce impulsiveness, which is a major component of food addiction.

A drug used to treat narcolepsy may also be used to promote weight loss in patients who are obese due to a food addiction, a recent study found.

"This could have important implications for people who are obese. There is mounting evidence to show that there is a substantial number of obese people who are food addicts because they have an inability to control their impulsive actions and this drug has shown it can give them more control, which will help overweight people lose weight and so improve their health,” said researcher Ivo Vlaev, PhD. “Food addicts know they need to lose weight, but the desire for more food is overwhelming, leading to a spiral of depression that can lead to psychological issues as well as health problems."

There are multiple studies that have shown obesity is not only caused by a lack of self-control and other behavioral conditions, but also could be a result of individuals being physically addicted to foods that contain high amounts of fats and sugars.

When individuals consume appetizing foods, dopamine is released in the reward center of the brain, but those who are addicted to food have been shown to be deficient in a specific type of dopamine. This means their sense of reward is lessened, and they have to eat additional food to reach the same level of reward as others.

It has also been discovered that impulsive behavior can lead to food addiction. In a new study, published by Personality and Individual Differences, investigators found that an approved drug, modafinil, could potentially reduce impulsivity and the resulting food addiction.

"We found modafinil, which is already on the market, did reduce people's impulsive behavior," Dr Vlaev said. “It has been shown to reduce impulsiveness in a variety of disorders such as alcohol dependence, schizophrenia and ADHD. Food addicts suffer from the same neurobiological conditions so we believe it will help food addicts as well and our initial tests have backed up that theory.”

Modafinil is a wakefulness-promoting stimulant that is thought to alter the action of neurotransmitters in the brain. It can be used to treat narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and shift work sleep disorder.

In the study, researchers tested the ability of both modafinil and atomoxetine, which is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor that treats ADHD and narcolepsy, to treat patients with food addiction. Both drugs can treat conditions related to impulsiveness, according to the study.

Included in the study were 60 men between 19- and 32-years-old who were equally split between placebo, modafinil, and atomoxetine treatment groups.

The investigators discovered that patients in the modafinil treatment group had reduced levels of impulsiveness compared with the other groups. Patients taking atomoxetine showed no significant difference compared with the placebo group, according to the study.

These findings could provide an effective treatment option to patients with obesity related to food addiction.

“Modafinil was found to have an effect on impulsivity in healthy individuals and so would be able to have an even bigger effect on food addicts, who are lacking in certain types of dopamine,” Dr Vlaev concluded. "This drug could be a real help to those people struggling to control their desire for food even though they know they should lose weight. The drug improves self-control, which is a key factor in determining obesity, so our hypothesis is that this drug should help in treating the disease."