Eating fatty and sugary foods causes chemical changes in the brain, new research shows. Even before overindulging in fatty and sugary foods leads to overweight and obesity, removing fat and sugar from your diet “might feel similar to going through drug withdrawal.”
In a study published today by Dr. Stephanie Fulton of the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Medicine, Fulton explains:
“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. The chemicals changed by the diet are associated with depression. A change of diet then causes withdrawal symptoms and a greater sensitivity to stressful situations, launching a vicious cycle of poor eating.”
In the study, researchers fed one group of mice a low-fat diet, and fed a high-fat diet to a second group for over six weeks. Researchers monitored how the different foods affected the mice’s behavior. Fat represented 11 percent of the calories in the low-fat diet, and 58 percent in the high fat diet.
Due to the diet, the waist size of the mice on the high-fat diet increased by 11 percent, which is not considered obese. Fulton and her researchers then evaluated the relationship between rewarding mice with food and their resulting behavior and emotions.
They also actually looked at the brains of the mice to see how they had changed.
Their research found that mice that had been fed the higher-fat diet exhibited signs of being anxious, such as an avoidance of open areas. Moreover, their brains have been physically altered by their experiences. Researchers paid special attention to a molecule called CREB, which is involved in brain function and dopamine production. Dopamine is the chemical that rewards our behaviors with good feelings, encouraging certain types of behavior.
As it turns out, CREB is much “more activated” in the brains of mice on the high-fat diet. Basically, when the high-fat diet is removed, lesser amounts of CREB lead to lesser amount of dopamine, causing a significant lessening in “good feelings.”
Fulton notes: “CREB is 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 behavior cycle.”
The researcher adds, “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.”