How Sugar & Fat Depress The Brain’s Pleasure Centers
Obese Children’s Brains “Light Up” in Response to Sugar
Alas, here we are again, discussing the detrimental effects that sugar has on our brains. It’s scary stuff when you get down to the nitty gritty science of how sugar can actually alter our brain chemistry for the worse.
In a recent study out of the University of California San Diego, researchers discovered that the brains of obese children actually light up differently while eating sugar compared to non-obese children. Published in the International Journal of Obesity, this study adds to a growing body of research that suggests obese individuals may actually have a heightened psychological reward response to consuming junk food.
Heightened brain activity in the insular cortex and amygdala, as well as in regions of the brain involved in perception, emotion, awareness, taste, motivation and reward, was detected in children as young as eight years old.
Currently, 80-90% of obese children grow up to be obese adults. Researchers note that early detection of food reward circuitry changes in pre-adolescents may be instrumental in reversing negative alterations before these pathways become fully-developed.
High Fat & Sugar Intake Linked to Inhibited Dopamine Response
In recent years, researchers have become more and more aware of the deep connection between what we put in our bellies and how our brains respond. While the conversation has centered mostly on the nasty effects that sugar has on both cognitive function and eating behaviors, new research has shed light on yet another food group that affects our brains: fats.
When you put sugar and fat together (think ice cream), you’re hitting your brain with a double-whammy. One study found that people who regularly eat ice cream developed a deadened dopamine response in their brains over time. Essentially, these frequent “users” of fat and sugar built up their tolerance to the point where certain “doses” no longer triggered the appropriate response in the brain, leading them to crave more and more junk food.
Sounds eerily similar to drug addiction, doesn’t it?
Lighten Up for Love
When we overwhelm our bodies with calorie-dense foods like ice cream, we assault our pleasure receptors. The result? Our sensitivity to experiencing pleasure in all aspects of our lives retreats because our dopamine receptors have been down-regulated.
And we’re not just talking about no longer feeling joy at the sight of a bright bouquet of flowers, we’re talking about a depressed neurological capacity to enjoy things like sex. This is serious stuff folks.
How do we fix this nasty inability to experience pleasure? Nutritionists point to the produce aisle. By choosing foods that are calorically dilute, as is the case with fruits and vegetables, we can reprogram our brains not only to crave healthy foods, but also to restore our dopamine receptor sensitivity.
So if losing a few pounds isn’t enough motivation for you to get your diet in check, do it for love!