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Rich, fatty comfort foods can lead to depression, study finds

Ice cream can be a downer, not an upper, a new study suggests.

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The next time you're having a bad day, you may want to reach for an apple or a bag of carrot sticks instead of soothing your sorrows with a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.

That ice cream may momentarily lift your spirits, but it could actually make you feel gloomier afterward.

Scientists in Montreal have discovered that rich, fatty comfort foods make us feel good for a while. But after the initial "food-high" wears off, misery sets in.

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"In addition to causing obesity, rich foods can actually cause chemical reactions in the brain in a similar way to illicit drugs, ultimately leading to depression as the 'come-downs' take their toll," lead researcher Stephanie Fulton of the Montreal Diabetes Research Center said in a press release.

In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, Dr. Fulton and her colleagues fed mice different kinds of food for 12 weeks and studied how they behaved. The research team also examined how the brains of the mice changed.

Mice that were fed high-fat foods showed depressive-like behaviour, such as making less of an effort to escape when trapped. They also showed signs of being anxious, such as avoiding open areas.

In addition, the brains of the mice on high-fat diets had higher levels of the hormone corticosterone, associated with stress.

Dr. Fulton noted that previous research has linked obesity with increased risk of depression, but scientists had little understanding of why.

"We are demonstrating for the first time that the chronic consumption of palatable, high-fat diets has pro-depressive effects," she said.

Have you ever felt a down after eating rich, fatty foods?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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