Body and Brain
Anyone who has reached for a chocolate bar or tub of icecream during a painful breakup know how soothing they can be.
Now scientists have found 'comfort' eating really does work at a molecular level to lift our mood, which could explain why so many people spiral into obesity when facing stressful situations.
A team of scientists led by Dr Lukas Van Oudenhove from the University of Leuven, in Belgium, used MRI scans to assess the emotional impact of fat when injected into the stomach.
They recruited 12 healthy-weight volunteers and scanned their brainwaves as they were shown a series of sad and neutral images as well as exposing them to sad and neutral music.
They then inserted either fatty acids or saline into their stomachs but didn't tell the volunteers which was which. This meant they could bypass the effects of sensory stimulation as well as any associations to childhood foods.
The scientists found the music and expressions caused people's moods to fall across the board. However, the levels of sadness among those who consumed fatty acids were around 50 per cent lower compared to those who received saline.
'Eating fat seems to make us less vulnerable to sad emotions, even if we don't know we're eating fat,' Dr Oudenhove told HealthDay.
The researchers said their findings could have important implications for people with obesity, eating disorders and depression.
However, they wrote in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, that a follow-up study would need to recruit a wider range of participants.
Dr Giovanni Cizza, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, who co-authored an accompanying editorial: 'We did not know if you put fat in the stomach without pleasant stimulus, it could modulate our emotions,' he says.
'There must be a way in which the gut talks to the brain.'