Why Do We Crave Comfort Foods?

For many people, feelings of stress lead to periods of eating high-calorie and high-fat comfort foods. Now scientists are a step closer to knowing why, and consequently closer to developing ways to help treat and prevent stress-related obesity.

Led by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center, a recent mouse study suggests that the "hunger hormone" ghrelin plays a role in stress-induced indulgence in comfort foods. "This helps explain certain complex eating behaviors and may be one of the mechanisms by which obesity develops in people exposed to psychosocial stress," said author Dr. Jeffrey Zigman.

In the research study, normal mice placed under social stress responded by gravitating toward a chamber they knew contained comfort food, while mice genetically engineered not to respond to stress-induced increases in ghrelin did not. "Our findings show that ghrelin signaling is crucial to this particular behavior and that the increase in ghrelin which occurs as a result of chronic stress is probably behind these food-reward behaviors," Dr. Zigman explained.

While this response to stress may have provided a survival advantage for earlier humans, in modern society it seems to be more detrimental, leading to obesity and health problems. As researchers better understand how ghrelin and stress interact, we may find new ways to protect our healthy by modifying these stress-induced eating behaviors.

Source: Medical News Today
Photo: Pexels

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