Pizza, popcorn, chips, ice cream, and cheesecake are foods that are consumed when a disappointment results or a negative outcome is experienced. These foods serve as comfort foods, and help the eater to better cope with the bad emotional experience. In the past, the taste, texture, and consistency of the foods have been attributed to the easing and soothing effects of these foods. One common characteristic that has been recently tested for its soothing effects is the fat content. Researchers lead by Dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove have recently shown that fatty foods help eaters to cope with negative life events by decreasing the degree of sadness that is felt. The results of their study were published online in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. For the study, the researchers recruited 12 healthy non-obese individuals and performed functional magnetic resonance imaging before and during the infusion of a fatty acid or saline solution into their stomachs. In addition, the participants were asked to listen to sad or neutral music or view pictures of sad or neutral faces. Before and during the functional magnetic resonance imaging, the participants were asked to rate their hunger and mood. The researchers found that the participants that had received the fatty acid solutions were less than half as sad as the participants that received the saline infusion. The authors wrote, “we demonstrated, for what we believe to be the first time in humans, that a purely interoceptive, subliminal appetitive stimulus (intragastric fatty acid infusion in the fasted state) interacts with an exteroceptively generated negative emotional state, at both the behavioral and neural level. More specifically, fatty acid infusion attenuated both the behavioral and neural responses to sad emotion induction”. The exact mechanism of these results is not known but they do suggest that there is a physiologic response that regulates food intake, hunger, and emotional state. Future studies will focus on elucidating the exact mechanism and may help in the treatment of obesity and eating disorders.
Lukas Van Oudenhove et al. “Fatty acid-induced gut-brain signaling attenuates neural and behavioral effects of sad emotion in humans” J Clin Invest published online July 25, 2011 doi:10.1172/JCI46380