The Salted Food Addiction Hypothesis may explain overeating and the obesity epidemic

Med Hypotheses. 2009 Dec;73(6):892-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.06.049. Epub 2009 Jul 29.


One plausible explanation for the controversy that surrounds the causes and clinical management of obesity is the notion that overeating and obesity may only be a couple of "symptoms" associated with a yet to be discovered medical disorder.

Objectives: To introduce the Salted Food Addition Hypothesis. This theory proposes that salted food acts in the brain like an opiate agonist, producing a hedonic reward which has been perceived as being only peripherally "flavorful", "tasty" or "delicious". The Salted Food Addition Hypothesis also proposes that opiate receptor withdrawal has been perceived as "preference," "urges," "craving" or "hunger" for salted food.

Methods: The Salted Food Addiction Hypothesis is made manifest by individually presenting a basic review of its primary coexisting components; the Neurological Component and the Psychosocial Component. We also designed a prospective study in order to test our hypothesis that opiate dependent subjects increase their consumption of salted food during opiate withdrawal.

Results: The neuropsychiatric evidence integrated here suggests that salted food acts like an, albeit mild, opiate agonist which drives overeating and weight gain. The opiate dependent group studied (N=27) developed a 6.6% increase in weight during opiate withdrawal.

Conclusions: Salted Food may be an addictive substance that stimulates opiate and dopamine receptors in the brain's reward and pleasure center more than it is "tasty", while salted food preference, urge, craving and hunger may be manifestations of opiate withdrawal. Salted food and opiate withdrawal stimulate appetite, increases calorie consumption, augments the incidence of overeating, overweight, obesity and related illnesses. Obesity and related illnesses may be symptoms of Salted Food Addiction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / administration & dosage*


  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary