It’s well established fact that a diet of fatty and sugary foods isn’t good at all for your physical wellness, but a new study has shown that these foods can harm your mental wellbeing. If you’re on a diet, this can cause chemical changes in the brain to create feelings like you are having drug withdrawals.
According to Dr Stephanie Fulton, from the CRCHUM and the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Medicine, who published the study in the International Journal of Obesity, the experiments were done on mice and, ‘By working with mice, whose brains are in many ways comparable to our own, we discovered that the neurochemistry of the animals who had been fed a high fat, sugary diet were different from those who had been fed a healthy diet.’
For the study, the team wanted to see how different foods impacted the behaviour of the mice, and so fed one group of the animals a low-fat diet that consisted of 11% of calories coming from fat, as opposed to the other group, who were fed a high-fat diet with 58% of their calories coming from fat for the 6-week study. The high-fat group gained an 11% addition to their waist size, but they were not yet considered obese.
Then the researchers rewarded mice with food to monitor any behavioural and emotional changes. They found that the experience physically changed the brains of the animals, and the chemicals that were changed in the brain were the ones associated with depression, such as dopamine. The mice experienced withdrawal symptoms and a greater sensitivity to stressful situations, which then launched a vicious cycle of poor eating following the release of dopamine when they ate unhealthy foods.
According to Fulton, the CREB molecule which contributes to the forming of memories and dopamine production was ‘much more activated in the brains of higher-fat diet mice and these mice also have higher levels of corticosterone, a hormone that is associated with stress. This explains both the depression and the negative behaviour cycle.’
Fulton concluded ‘It’s interesting that these changes occur before obesity. These findings challenge our understanding of the relationship between diet, the body and the mind. It is food for thought about how we might support people psychologically as they strive to adopt healthy eating habits, regardless of their current corpulence.’