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Patients savor this brain disorder.

Swiss researchers report finding a new brain disorder in a small percentage of people who have suffered strokes, brain tumors, and head traumas. In each case, the damage has produced a persistent behavioral effect. Yet none of the victims desires a cure. Indeed, they're enjoying the fallout: a craving for fine foods.

Marianne Regard of University Hospital in Zurich and Theodor Landis of Geneva University call this benign disorder gourmand syndrome.

Regard first encountered the condition 8 years ago in a 48-year-old political journalist who had been hospitalized with a stroke. Scans of the man's brain identified a lesion around the middle cerebral artery in the right hemisphere. The wound produced a temporary weakness on the left side of his body, making him unable to walk. Even so, Regard recalls, "he didn't complain about that." Instead, he griped about hospital meals.

"Since most people complain about hospital food, we initially took no notice," the neuropsychologist admits. But when she asked him to keep a diary of his thoughts, the man exhibited an inordinate preoccupation with food. Before the stroke, he had had an overwhelming interest in politics and had shown no particular food preferences, Afterwards, he lived for food. Indeed, as soon as he returned to work, he abandoned politics to become a columnist on fine dining.

When she observed a businessman hospitalized for stroke who also exhibited a newfound "lusting" after food, Regard says, she began investigating the role of the brain damage. After studying 723 patients suspected of having a discrete lesion in the brain, she and Landis identified 34 more instances of gourmand syndrome. Each patient had brain damage, usually in the right frontal region.

What constitutes fine food has proved "very individual," Regard says, with no single cuisine or taste--such as sweet or salty--driving the compulsion.

Most patients exhibited additional symptoms at first, such as spatial memory problems or diminished control over impulsive behaviors. During 8 years of follow-up, these symptoms disappeared for the most part, but the passion for food remained, Although preoccupied with shopping, dining rituals, and food preparation, the patients did not become overweight.

Many types of brain damage have been linked to altered eating behaviors, from insatiability to anorexia, but none seems to stem from this region of the brain, the authors note in the May Neurology.

The new findings "coincide with work that we and others have done with brain degenerations that affect primarily the right side of the brain," says neurologist Jeffrey Cummings of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. Some patients, he's found, experience a behavior-altering "heightened sensitivity" to and appreciation for particular stimuli.
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Title Annotation:altered eating behavior leading to a craving for fine foods was found in a small group of Swiss patients who suffered strokes, or brain and head traumas
Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 7, 1997
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