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Donut Blues: Does Eating High-Fat Foods Make Us Depressed?

Donut Blues: Does Eating High-Fat Foods Make Us Depressed?

That ice cream sundae, a big bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese: These are the “comfort” foods that people so often turn to. Some studies have shown that eating high-fat foods make different regions of the brain light up; they become addictive because people keep turning to them for that pleasurable sensation. A new study from the International Journal of Obesity suggests the opposite: University of Montreal researchers found that a high-fat diet led to depressive and anxiety-like behaviors in mice.

Canada.com describes the study (which involved the mice undergoing some very stressful moments). One group of mice (who were prone to obesity) were fed a diet high in saturated fats, the other low-fat food. After 12 weeks, the researchers put the mice through a stress test; rodents who are stressed will freeze or run for a corner, rather than explore,

Mice exposed to the high-fat diet were considerably less active, explored less and avoided open areas.

In a swim test used to measure “behavioural despair” — a test also widely used by drug companies to screen new anti-depressants — mice were forced to swim in a glass cylinder filled with water for six minutes.

“Animals that give up quickly — they stop swimming and just float and stop trying to pull themselves out of the beaker — that’s (a sign of) self-helplessness,” [lead researcher Dr. Stephanie] Fulton said

Mice on the high-fat diet “actually gave up” and attempted fewer escapes, she said.

A study of the mice’s brains revealed that those fed a high-fat diet had higher levels of the stress hormone, corticosterone. Researchers also noted changes in the expression of proteins that control the firing of neurons and, notably, in parts of the mice’s brains that regulate emotions and reward.

Fulton, a principal investigator at the Centre hospitalier de l’Universite de Montreal and a member of the Montreal Diabetes Research Centre, also points out that, while high-fat foods may feel comforting in the short term, in the long term, “increasing adiposity (fat mass)” can have “negative effects on mood.”

Fulton’s research coheres with another study linking fast food consumption to depression.

Anecdotally: My late mother-in-law spent the last 50+ years of her life depressed, at times severely enough to require hospitalization. She was very overweight, never exercised (never really got out of her chair) and fought off my husband’s attempts to have her walk with him down the driveway. Food was both a comfort and an obsession; her diet was dairy-based and full of fat and sugar (she always talked about dessert as a meal was being served). Getting her to eat stir-fried broccoli or a bit of salad was like trying to get a picky toddler to eat one bite of a carrot. Her depression and anxiety arose from a variety of sources — she was very intelligent but had only attended a year of college because her father insisted she study science not the history she loved; she revelled in working for a Manhattan radio station but quit to get married — and the feeling was, she’s struggling already, why not just let her eat what she wants?

But could all those “comfort” foods only have been adding to her discomfort, physically and mentally?

 

Related Care2 Coverage

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Would You Pay a 20% “Fat Tax”?

 

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48 comments

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8:23AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

There is nothing wrong with comfort food in moderation. One could have old fashioned macaroni and cheese or a worse choice, the more convenient boxed mac and cheese which is filled with far more additives, toxins and chemicals.

Real depression, such as clinical depression, dysthymia and other forms have a multitude of factors, not simply diet. One can be a vegetarian or vegan and still be severely depressed.

Eating a balanced diet certainly helps improve health along with regular exercise but if one is severely depressed the person was likely predisposed to this no matter what the diet. Many on fatty diets never get depressed. I am not advocating an unhealthy eating style, just wishing to point out severe depression can happen to anyone including people such as Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln along with people eating a balanced diet.

5:52PM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

One very important part of this article is the cruel animal experiment that was done to show that eating high fat foods is bad for us! The study made mice swim for 6 minutes in a cylinder filled with water, and the mice fed the high fat diets "gave up" sooner than other mice- and then their brains were examined. Think about it- not only did they torture mice by forcing them to swim to exhaustion, then they were killed and dissected! All so they could tell us that eating fatty foods is bad for us.

2:42AM PDT on Jun 2, 2012

Love homemade Mac & Cheese so who cares!

4:30PM PDT on Jun 1, 2012

Makes me sleepy and ready for a nap.

7:59PM PDT on May 30, 2012

thanks for info

2:36PM PDT on May 30, 2012

Is it the fat? Or is it the wheat? Donuts, mac and cheese and most of the comfort foods that people mention are all high carbohydrate foods that contain a lot of processed flour.

It's ridiculous to just blame it on the fat. I lost a great deal of weight by cutting out processed flour and sugar.

More importantly, blaming any food for depression is putting the cart before the horse. When I was depressed I craved these foods. When I dealt with the depression through the use of food supplements and amino acids (instead of Prozac), I stopped craving comfort foods.

10:42AM PDT on May 30, 2012

you need to feed your junk food cravings every now and then.

7:29AM PDT on May 30, 2012

I think they do! :(

7:29AM PDT on May 30, 2012

I think they do! :(

6:39AM PDT on May 30, 2012

thanks for sharing

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