Food addiction, hormones and blood biomarkers in humans: A systematic literature review

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Background: Food addiction may play a role in rising obesity rates in connection with obesogenic environments and processed food availability, however the concept of food addiction remains controversial. While animal studies show evidence for addictive processes in relation to processed foods, most human studies are psychologically focussed and there is a need to better understand evidence for biological mechanisms of food addiction in humans. Several key hormones are implicated in models of food addiction, due to their key roles in feeding, energy metabolism, stress and addictive behaviours. This systematic literature review examines evidence for relationships between food addiction, hormones and other blood biomarkers. Methods: A series of literature searches was performed in Scopus, PsychInfo, MedLine, ProQuest, CINAHL and Web of Science. A total of 3111 articles were found, of which 1045 were duplicates. Articles were included if they contained a psychometric measurement of food addiction, such as the Yale Food Addiction Scale, as well as addressed the association between FA and hormones or blood biomarkers in humans. Articles were assessed for eligibility by two independent reviewers. Results: Sixteen studies were identified that examined relationships between food addiction and blood biomarkers, published between 2015 and 2021. Significant findings were reported for leptin, ghrelin, cortisol, insulin and glucose, oxytocin, cholesterol, plasma dopamine, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), triglyceride (TG), amylin, tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF- α) and cholecystokinin (CCK). Methodological issues included small sample sizes and variation in obesity status, sex and mental health-related comorbidities. Due to methodological limitations, definite connections between FA, hormones and other blood biomarkers cannot yet be determined. Conclusion: This systematic review identified preliminary evidence linking FA symptoms to hormones and other blood biomarkers related to feeding, addiction, and stress. However, due to the small number of studies and methodological limitations, further research is needed to evaluate biopsychosocial models of FA and to resolve controversies.

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