New research on rats seems to find a connection between yo-yo dieting and compulsive eating.
According to researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), a chronic cyclic pattern of overeating followed by undereating reduces the brain’s ability to feel reward and may drive compulsive eating.
The finding suggests that future research into the treatment of compulsive eating behavior should focus on rebalancing the mesolimbic dopamine system, the part of the brain responsible for feeling reward or pleasure, researchers say.
“We are just now beginning to understand the addictive-like properties of food and how repeated overconsumption of high sugar — similar to taking drugs — may affect our brains and cause compulsive behaviors,” said corresponding author Pietro Cottone, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at BUSM and co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders.
To better understand compulsive and uncontrollable eating, Cottone and his research team performed a series of experiments on two groups of rats. One, the cycled group, received a high-sugar, chocolate-flavored diet for two days each week and a standard control diet the remaining days of the week, while the control group received the control diet all of the time.
The group that cycled between the palatable food and the less palatable food spontaneously developed compulsive, binge eating on the sweet food and refused to eat regular food, the researchers discovered.
Both groups were then injected with a psychostimulant amphetamine, a drug that releases dopamine and produces reward, and their behavior in a battery of behavioral tests was then observed.
While the control group predictably became very hyperactive after receiving amphetamine, the cycled group did not.
Furthermore, in a test of the conditioning properties of amphetamine, the control group was attracted to environments where they previously received amphetamine, whereas the cycled group were not.
Finally, when measuring the effects of amphetamine while directly stimulating the brain reward circuit, the control group was responsive to amphetamine, while the cycled group was not, according to the findings.
After investigating the biochemical and molecular properties of the mesolimbic dopamine system of both groups, the researchers determined that the cycled group had less dopamine overall, released less dopamine in response to amphetamine, and had dysfunctional dopamine transporters — proteins that carry dopamine back into brain cells — due to deficits in the mesolimbic dopamine system.
“We found that the cycled group display similar behavioral and neurobiological changes observed in drug addiction: specifically, a crash in the brain reward system,” Cottone said. “This study adds to our understanding of the neurobiology of compulsive eating behavior.
“Compulsive eating may derive from the reduced ability to feel reward. These findings also provide support to the theory that compulsive eating has similarities to drug addiction.”
“Our data suggest that a chronic cyclic pattern of overeating will reduce the brain’s ability to feel reward — feeling satiated. This results in a vicious circle, where diminished reward sensitivity may in turn be driving further compulsive eating,” said lead author Catherine (Cassie) Moore, Ph.D., a former graduate student in the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders at BUSM.
The study was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Source: Boston University School of Medicine
Going for that pint of ice cream after a bad breakup may not do as much damage as you think. A new study shows that despite the emotional turmoil, people on average do not report gaining weight after a breakup.
The study, which included researchers from Penn State, investigated the German concept of “kummerspeck” — excess weight gain due to emotional eating — which literally translates to “grief bacon.”
According to the researchers, although hoarding food after a breakup may have made sense for humans thousands of years ago, modern humans may have grown out of the habit.
“Food was much scarcer in the ancestral environment, so if your partner abandoned you, it could have made gathering food much harder,” said Dr. Marissa Harrison, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Harrisburg.
“It may have made sense if our ancestors hoarded food after a breakup. But our research showed that while it’s possible people may drown their sorrows in ice cream for a day or two, modern humans do not tend to gain weight after a breakup.”
The findings are published in the Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium.
The researchers say it is well documented that people sometimes use food as a way to cope with negative feelings and that emotional eating can lead to unhealthy food choices. Because breakups can be stressful and emotional, it could potentially trigger emotional eating.
In addition, ancient relationship dynamics may have made packing on the pounds after a breakup evolutionarily advantageous.
“Modern women of course have jobs and access to resources now, but back then, it was likely that women were smaller and needed more protection and help with resources,” Harrison said.
“If their partner left or abandoned them, they would be in trouble. And the same could have gone for men. With food not as plentiful in the ancestral world, it may have made sense for people to gorge to pack on the pounds.”
Harrison also noted that the existence of the word “kummerspeck” itself suggested that the phenomenon existed.
The research team conducted two studies to test the theory that people may be more likely to gain weight after a relationship breakup. In the first experiment, they recruited 581 people to complete an online survey about whether they had recently gone through a breakup and whether they gained or lost weight within a year of that breakup.
Most of the participants — 62.7 percent — reported no weight change. The researchers were surprised by this result and decided to perform an additional study.
For the second experiment, the researchers recruited 261 new participants to take a different, more extensive survey than the one used in the first study. The new survey asked whether participants had ever experienced the dissolution of a long-term relationship, and whether they gained or lost weight as a result.
The survey also asked about participants’ attitudes toward their ex-partner, how committed the relationship was, who initiated the breakup, whether the participants tended to eat emotionally, and how much participants enjoy food in general.
While all participants reported experiencing a break up at some point in their lives, the majority of participants — 65.13 percent — reported no change in weight after relationship dissolution.
“We were surprised that in both studies, which included large community samples, we found no evidence of kummerspeck,” Harrison said. “The only thing we found was in the second study, women who already had a proclivity for emotional eating did gain weight after a relationship breakup. But it wasn’t common.”
Harrison added that the results may have clinical implications.
“It could be helpful information for clinicians or counselors with patients who tend to eat emotionally,” Harrison said. “If your client is going through a breakup and already engages in emotional eating, this may be a time where they need some extra support.”
Victoria Warner, a Penn State Harrisburg graduate student, was the lead author of this study. Samantha Horn from Penn State Harrisburg and Susan Hughes from Albright College also participated in this work.
Source: Penn State
Research has established a link between food insecurity and higher rates of disease, but there is little evidence showing exactly why this occurs. A new study of more than 10,000 Canadian households shows this association may be at least partially attributed to lack of access to prescription medication.
“We knew that negative health outcomes are associated with food insecurity. But we didn’t really understand the mechanism,” said study co-author Dr. Craig Gundersen, distinguished professor of agricultural and consumer economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
The findings, published in the journal CMAJ Open, suggest that people may become ill or get worse because they can’t afford their medications. “For example, we know that there is a close connection between food insecurity and diabetes; it could be the case that part of the reason is medication nonadherence,” he said.
The study draws on data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, conducted annually by the Canadian national statistics office.The researchers evaluated data from 11,172 respondents, combining information on food insecurity with prescription drug use.
Overall, they found that food insecurity affects 12.6% of Canadian households, and 8.5% of respondents reported some form of nonadherence to prescription drugs. Nonadherence includes skipping or reducing doses of medication, as well as delaying or not filling prescriptions because of cost.
The researchers found a strong link between food insecurity and prescription drug nonadherence. Almost half (47.9%) of those who did not adhere to their prescription drug usage also reported some level of food insecurity. Of those who did adhere to their medications, only 10.5% were food insecure.
The findings indicate that nonadherence increases as food insecurity status gets worse. While just 4.9% of food secure households reported nonadherence to prescription drugs, cost-related nonadherence was reported by 13.2% of marginally, 29.4% of moderately, and by 47.1% of severely food insecure households.
Gundersen says that even though the health care system in Canada differs from the United States, there are lessons to learn for Americans in the study. All Canadians have access to health care; however, prescription drugs are covered by a combination of private and public insurance. Over four million Canadians are not enrolled in any drug insurance program.
“The study helps separate the effects of access to medical care from access to prescription drugs,” Gundersen said.
“Even if health insurance is covered, people still face struggles if prescription drugs are not covered. This amplifies the conclusion that illness associated with food insecurity is related to lack of access to medication.”
Source: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
A new Swedish study suggests anemia early in pregnancy may increase the risk of autism, ADHD and intellectual disability in children. Anemia is a common condition in late pregnancy and researchers discovered anemia toward the end of pregnancy did not have the same correlation.
The findings, published in JAMA Psychiatry, underscore the importance of early screening for iron status and nutrition counseling.
An estimated 15-20% of pregnant women worldwide suffer from iron deficiency anemia — lower blood oxygen levels due to a lack of iron. By the third trimester, pregnant women have nearly 50% more blood than they did pre-pregnancy in order to provide enough oxygen for both the woman and the fetus, and their iron requirements are nearly double that of nonpregnant women. Thus, the vast majority of anemia diagnoses are made toward the end of pregnancy, when blood levels are at their highest.
In the current study, the researchers examined what impact the timing of an anemia diagnosis had on the fetus’ neurodevelopment. Investigators specifically assessed if there was an association between an earlier diagnosis in the mother and the risk of intellectual disability (ID), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the child.
Overall, very few women are diagnosed with anemia early in pregnancy. In this study of nearly 300,000 mothers and more than half a million children born in Sweden between 1987-2010, less than 1% of all mothers were diagnosed with anemia before the 31st week of pregnancy. Among the 5.8% of mothers who were diagnosed with anemia, only 5% received their diagnosis early on.
The researchers found that children born to mothers with anemia diagnosed before the 31st week of pregnancy had a somewhat higher risk of developing autism and ADHD and a significantly higher risk of intellectual disability compared to healthy mothers and mothers diagnosed with anemia later in pregnancy.
Among the early anemic mothers, 4.9% of the children were diagnosed with autism compared to 3.5% of children born to non-anemic mothers, 9.3% were diagnosed with ADHD compared to 7.1%, and 3.1% were diagnosed with intellectual disability compared to 1.3%.
After considering other factors such as income level and maternal age, the researchers concluded that the risk of autism in children born to mothers with early anemia was 44% higher compared to children with non-anemic mothers. The risk of ADHD was 37% higher and the risk of intellectual disability was 120% higher.
Even when compared to their siblings, children exposed to early maternal anemia were at higher risk of autism and intellectual disability. Importantly, anemia diagnosed after the 30th week of pregnancy was not associated with a higher risk for any of these conditions.
“A diagnosis of anemia earlier in pregnancy might represent a more severe and long-lasting nutrition deficiency for the fetus,” says Renee Gardner, project coordinator at the Department of Public Health Sciences at Karolinska Institutet and the study’s lead researcher.
“Different parts of the brain and nervous system develop at different times during pregnancy, so an earlier exposure to anemia might affect the brain differently compared to a later exposure.”
The researchers also noted that early anemia diagnoses were associated with infants being born small for gestational age while later anemia diagnoses were associated with infants being born large for gestational age.
Babies born to mothers with late-stage anemia are typically born with a good iron supply, unlike babies born to mothers with early anemia.
Although researchers could not specify whether iron deficiency anemia is more detrimental than anemia caused by other factors, iron deficiency is by far the most common cause of anemia. Investigators say the findings may thus support regular iron supplementation in maternity care.
Scientists emphasize the importance of early screening for iron status and nutrition counseling but note that more research is needed to find out if early maternal iron supplementation could help reduce the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children.
Adult women 19 to 50 years old typically need 18 mg of iron per day, though needs increase during pregnancy. Since excessive iron intake can be toxic, pregnant women should discuss their iron intake with their midwife or doctor.
Both men and women hoping to become parents should avoid drinking alcohol prior to conception to protect their baby against congenital heart defects, according to a new study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
Previous studies investigating the link between alcohol and congenital heart disease have focused on prospective mothers, with inconclusive results. This is the first meta-analysis to also examine the role of paternal alcohol drinking.
According to the findings, babies have a 44% increased risk of congenital heart disease when their father drank alcohol three months before conception, compared to babies whose dads did not drink. When the mothers drank during this time period or during the first trimester, babies had a 16% increased risk of disease.
The researchers suggest that when couples are trying for a baby, men should not consume alcohol for at least six months before conception while women should stop alcohol one year before and avoid it during pregnancy.
In addition, binge drinking — defined as five or more drinks per sitting — was related to a 52% higher likelihood of having a child with birth defects among men and 16% among women.
“Binge drinking by would-be parents is a high risk and dangerous behaviour that not only may increase the chance of their baby being born with a heart defect, but also greatly damages their own health,” said study author Dr. Jiabi Qin, of Xiangya School of Public Health, Central South University, Changsha, China.
The researchers compiled the best data published between 1991 and 2019, which amounted to 55 studies including 41,747 babies with congenital heart disease and 297,587 without. The analysis showed a relationship between parental alcohol drinking and congenital heart diseases.
‘We observed a gradually rising risk of congenital heart diseases as parental alcohol consumption increased. The relationship was not statistically significant at the lower quantities,” said Qin.
The authors noted that this was an observational study and does not prove a causal effect, nor does it prove that paternal drinking is more harmful to the fetal heart than maternal drinking. The data cannot be used to define a cut-off of alcohol consumption that might be considered safe.
Regarding specific defects, the researchers found that, compared to abstinence, maternal drinking was correlated to a 20% greater risk of tetralogy of Fallot, a combination of four abnormalities in the heart’s structure.
“The underlying mechanisms connecting parental alcohol and congenital heart diseases are uncertain and warrant further research. Although our analysis has limitations — for example the type of alcohol was not recorded — it does indicate that men and women planning a family should give up alcohol,” said Qin.
Alcohol is a known teratogen (causes malformation of an embryo) and has been connected with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Around one in four children with FASD have congenital heart disease.
Congenital heart diseases are the most common birth defects, with approximately 1.35 million infants affected every year. These conditions can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease later in life, even after surgical treatment, and are the main cause of perinatal death.
Source: European Society of Cardiology
A new study finds that eating a seafood-rich diet during early pregnancy is associated with better attention outcomes in children.
A team of scientists from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) evaluated 1,641 mother-child pairs from the INMA Environment and Childhood Project, a Spanish cohort study focused on the role of pollutants during pregnancy and their effects on children.
Over the course of their pregnancies, the mothers completed numerous food-frequency questionnaires which assessed how often they ate more than a hundred different food items, including various types of seafood, including fatty fish, lean fish, canned tuna and shellfish.
Data on the children’s dietary habits were also collected using the same questionnaire at one, five and eight years of age. At eight years of age, the children also completed the Attention Network Task (ANT), a computer-based neuropsychological test designed to assess attention function.
The researchers found that children whose mothers ate a diet rich in various types of seafood scored very well on the attention tests, as did children of women with a diet rich only in fatty fish. However, scores were lower in children whose mothers relied on canned tuna or shellfish for their seafood intake.
Brain development takes place primarily during pregnancy. Essential nutrients such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) play a fundamental role in this development.
“Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the main omega-3 PUFAs involved in neurological development, and seafood is the main source of both of them,” said Dr. Jordi Júlvez, researcher in the Childhood & Environment programme at ISGlobal and lead author of the study.
“The consumption of seafood during the first trimester of pregnancy had a greater effect on children’s attention capacity than the consumption of seafood later in pregnancy or at five years of age, by which time some neurodevelopmental processes have already been completed.”
Because these nutrients participate in the development of fetal brain structure and function, they have a large impact on later neuropsychological development. Attention is a complex behavior that all children must learn, since it precedes other crucial functions such as memory.
“We focused on the attention function because attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is common in school-age children,” commented Dr. Jordi Sunyer, head of the Childhood & Environment programme at ISGlobal.
Despite the promising results of this study, the authors of previous research have reported a link between the consumption of fish during pregnancy and childhood obesity and increased blood pressure.
As a result, experts insist on the need for more research on this subject to determine exactly which species of fish and what quantities may be beneficial to fetal development.
The findings are published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Source: Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)