Binging on unlimited quantities of food that are high in fat and sugar for only six weeks then returning to a more balanced diet is enough to cause anxiety, intense cravings, and other withdrawal-like symptoms in mice.
There have been numerous studies in the past decade on the addictive nature of junk foods. A new study conducted by Stephanie Fulton, a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal, adds to this research on sugar and fat addictions.
Some of the first studies on food addiction suggested simply that, when sugar is taken away from rodents, the rodents go through withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and tremors. Additional studies found that those symptoms accompany changes in dopamine and opioid systems in the brain, two types of neurotransmitters that are involved in cravings and withdrawal. In more recent and detailed research, scientists have reported specific changes in brain chemistry and behavior of rodents after a period of binging on junk food that copy what happens when the rodents abuse hard drugs, like cocaine.
For the new study, Stephanie Fulton and her colleagues wanted to continue this research but see what would happen to mice if they only ate the junk food diet for a relatively short period of time before resuming a healthy diet.
They had the mice eat a diet high in saturated fats for just a short six weeks. After the six week “food bender,” the mice had gained only 11 percent of their body weight, making them far from obese.
When half of the mice were put back on a low-fat diet, the researchers reported in the International Journal of Obesity, the mice appeared to be increasingly anxious. In a maze test, for example they chose to spend more time sitting still in the darkness than exploring exposed areas. These mice also displayed increased signs of craving with more motivation to get a high sugar solution.
The researchers also observed changes the brain chemistry of the mice. They measured the brain chemicals dopamine and CREB, which have been linked in previous work to both food cravings and drug addictions. “Even periods of high-fat feeding that don’t leave to obesity can produce several important biochemical and behavioral changes that make it hard to give up,” Stephanie Fulton said.
This new study is just one of many that are showing that high fat and high sugar foods do not just affect our waistlines, but these foods also affect our brains.
- High-fat diets: Addiction that’s hard to break. Fox News. 28 December 2012. Web. 28 December 2012.
Filed under: Addiction, Research · Tags: Addiction, anxiety, binge eating, Brain Chemistry, cocaine, CREB, depression, dopamine, fat addiction, food bender, junk food, neurotransmitters, obesity, Opioid, sugar addiction, tremors, withdrawal, withdrawal symptoms