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Could A Low Fat Diet Treat Depression?
Researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre in Montreal have discovered that there is a physical neural link between obesity and depression. In a laboratory study, mice were fed fatty and low fat diets and researchers monitored their brain’s responses. The mice that ate the fatty foods were far more likely to be anxious and emotionally distraught than the mice that ate the low fat diets. People with weight problems have always been casually associated with depression and poor body image, but there may also be a scientific reason for their unhappiness.
Rich Foods Create a Vicious Cycle
The scientists found that eating rich, fatty foods causes the brain to send out a reward chemical called dopamine. When a person eats the foods, they feel great for a little while and then they experience a crash similar to coming down from a mild drug. That crash leaves them feeling worse than before and can cause depression symptoms. The person needs to eat more fatty foods to restore the good feeling, which leads to another crash and another round of eating fatty foods. The combination of this eating cycle with the unhealthy aspects of the fatty foods could be blamed for continued obesity in many individuals.
Study Shows Increased Stress after Fatty Foods
The mice in the Montreal study also showed signs that fatty foods left them anxious and more stressed than healthy foods. Hormones related to stress and anxiety were far more prevalent in the brains of the mice that ate fatty foods. These mice also avoided open spaces and did not try to escape from enclosed spaces as quickly as the mice that consumed low fat diets.
Changes in Diet Affect Brain Responses
The results of the study indicate that brain chemicals are heavily involved in the way people reward themselves with food. It’s reasonable to think that simply switching to a healthier, low fat diet could at least alleviate some depressive symptoms. In some ways, cutting fatty foods from your diet is similar to cutting caffeine from your diet. You may experience some depression as your brain adjusts to the lack of reward it had been receiving from the fatty foods, but eventually you will escape the endless cycle of eating to feel better.
Low Fat Foods Cause Less Neural Activity
This research study indicated that the low fat foods did not create the same neural responses that the fatty foods caused. The mice that ate low fat diets did not show the same signs of anxiety or depression as the other mice. That finding should translate directly to the way human brains respond to the same types of foods. A low fat diet is healthier for your heart and waistline, but it is also healthier for your brain. Low fat foods allow you to eat a healthy diet without subjecting your brain to unwanted spikes in dopamine or other hormones.
Scientists Closer to Understanding Brain’s Role in Obesity
As scientists learn more about how different types of foods affect the brain, they are finding that there is a direct link between the kind of food you eat and your emotional state. Stereotypes of overweight people as depressed and lacking the will to get up and move around are exaggerated, but there is a scientific kernel of truth behind the behavior. Once a person eliminates the fatty foods from their diet, they should experience emotions that are more balanced. A new diet may not be a cure for depression, but it can be a way to help keep the symptoms more manageable.
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