The 11/24/2009 University of New South Wales press release “Comfort eating reverses effects of early trauma” states that--for the first time--it was proven that the eating of “comfort foods” can eliminate the effects of psychological trauma on the brain experienced earlier in life.
The article “Palatable cafeteria diet ameliorates anxiety and depression-like symptoms following an adverse early environment,” appears online beginning on November 24, 2009, in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Its authors are PhD student Jayanthi Maniam and Professor Margaret J. Morris, both from the School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales, Australia.
The UNSW article states, “Eating palatable food rich in fat and sugar can alter the chemical composition in the brain and ameliorate anxiety-like behaviour induced in early life….”
The researchers state, within the abstract of their paper, “Early trauma contributes to psychosocial disorders later in life. An adverse early environment induced by maternal separation (MS) is known to alter behavioural and stress responses in rats.”
Thus, they decided to look into whether or not a high-fat diet (HFD) has an impact on behavioral responses in rats after begin separated from their mothers (called maternal separation, MS) for a long or short period of time, or when not handled (NH).
The researchers used Sprague-Dawley rats. The pups were divided into two groups: either isolated from their mothers for periods of time or provided with normal contacts with their mothers.
Page two describes the experiment.
The rats were exposed by the scientists to one of the following scenarios: (1) short separation of 15 minutes (S15); (2) prolonged separation of 180 minutes (S180) daily from postnatal days 2 to 14; (3) not given contact (non-handled).
The researchers assessed depression with the sucrose preference test (SPT) and anxiety with the elevated plus maze (EPM) test. They also measured “hypothalamic CRH and hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor (GR) expression.”
The rats separated for a prolonged period (180 minutes daily, S180) showed increased symptoms of anxiety and depression than the rats deprived the comfort of their mothers for only a short while (15 minutes, S15).
The S15 rats did not show any benefit from the high-fat diet.
Overall, the rats that were subjected to stress early in their lives (separated from their mothers for long periods of time) had higher levels of stress hormones in their bodies and had fewer steroid receptors in their brains that controlled behavior.
However, these high levels of stress hormones and small steroid receptors were reversed when high-fat foods were introduced into their diets.
Page three concludes with comments from one of the researching authors.
Dr. Morris states, “Many neurological diseases appear to have their origins early in life. Stress hormones definitely affect the way nerve cells grow in the brain."
She compares comfort foods with anti-depressent medicines. Morris states, “Eating palatable food seems to affect neurogenesis similar to the way anti-depressants promote nerve growth in the brain. We need to test this possibility more, and trial other interventions such as exercise."
Morris concludes by saying, “What’s exciting about this is that we are able to reverse a behavioural deficit that was caused by a traumatic event early in life, simply through a dietary intervention.” [UNSW press release]
The two Australian authors concluded, “Thus behavioural deficits and gene expression changes induced by early life stress were ameliorated by HFD. These results highlight the important place of palatable food in reducing central stress responses supporting the therapeutic value of ‘comfort food’.”
The authors state that their results also adds to mounting evidence that the brain is able to re-do its neural networks in order to repair previous damage.
And, in some cases, the brain can accomplish this with a mere change of diet.