Junk Food Withdrawal Mirrors Drug Withdrawal: Study Finds

Quitting junk food could have the same withdrawal effects as giving up drugs, a study has found. People who ditch burgers go through the same sadness, tiredness and depression that drug users experience when they try to quit. But if someone can last the first five days, quitting becomes easier and cravings and tiredness begin to fade away, scientists say.

The research suggests fatty foods are addictive to the brain and it could be harder for people to change their diet than experts previously thought. University of Michigan researchers are thought to be the first to have measured how stopping eating processed foods affects people in 231 people over a period of one year. Trials have been done on the withdrawal symptoms from sugar in animals, but now the effects of quitting junk food have been confirmed in humans.

Sugar and salt are both known to produce cravings which drive people to impulsively eat food which makes them fat and unhealthy. And ignoring the body's plea for that next can of soda, burger, or packet of crisps could make people feel miserable and exhausted. These feelings of despair could then drag people into a relapse of eating badly and make it difficult for them to change to a healthier diet, said lead researcher Dr Ashley Gearhardt.

They say certain foods – usually processed food – trigger the same 'reward' centers in the brain as hard drugs. And studies on humans have shown some people meet the criteria for substance dependence (drug addiction) when the substance is food. It isn't known which specific foods produce addictive responses but foods with added fat or refined carbohydrates (like white flour and sugar) are more likely to. But unprocessed foods, with no added fat or refined carbohydrates like brown rice and salmon, were not associated with addictive-like eating behavior.

Individuals with symptoms of food addiction or who were fatter reported worse problems with processed foods, suggesting some may be particularly sensitive to the 'rewarding' properties of these foods. Participants reported feeling sad, bad-tempered, tired and having cravings during the first two to five days after stopping eating junk food. The side-effects begun to fade away after this first five days, the researchers found, which they say mirrors what happens in drug addicts.

Dr Gearhardt and her team have called for more research to measure the effects of withdrawal as they happen in real-time. They admitted they did not consider whether people quit 'cold turkey' or if they gradually phased out fatty foods. Previous research by the same scientists revealed unhealthy foods like chocolate and pizza trigger the brain to produce 'reward' responses when they're eaten. This system means eating the foods can be addictive, leaving the brain yearning for the next hit of junk food.

The new findings were published in the journal Appetite.

Reference: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6192819/Quitting-fatty-foods-causes-withdrawal-symptoms-coming-drugs-study-finds.html
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