November 24, 2009

Comfort Food Really Is Comforting!

Eat those naughty, high calorie foods! A high-fat, high-sugar diet has now been shown to affect the brain the same way as mood-altering drugs, Australian researchers announced on Tuesday.

In a recent investigation, rats - traumatized when young and exhibiting signs of depressed behavior - were fed lard-laced foods like sweets. The results suggested these foods decreased the rats' stress levels.

"We asked the question, if you're stressed early in life and then you're given yummy food to eat does that reduce your behavioral deficit, and basically that's what we found," lead researcher Margaret Morris said to the AFP. "The animals that'd been exposed to stress who were then given palatable food, junk food if you will, no longer looked anxious."

Morris and her University of New South Wales research group replicated distress by making two control groups of rats tolerate long periods of isolation from their mothers.

One group was given a "cafeteria diet" of junk food, and the other ate a healthy, balanced meal. Both were then sent through a stressful maze.

Morris wrote of an anti-depressant drug-like state that the stressed rats experienced after consuming junk food.

"The deficit in stress hormone receptors in part of the brain that we saw in the stressed animals was reversed by the diet," she said.

However, Morris cautioned against quick conclusions, insisting that further testing was needed.

"We wouldn't want to say 'go and eat comfort food' because that's not very healthy, but if we can find out whatever it was that started that process in train and find some other way of doing that, that would be really useful."

"There might be a critical time in the brain of those animals that their mood pathways or their behavior is being modulated, and (if we) just tickled it for a few weeks maybe we would get the same benefit without having to make them all obese," she added.


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