One of the most “fashionable” things to do today is to go on dietary “cleanses” that promise to help you shed 20 pounds in just two weeks. Apart from the fact that these are dangerous, because they deprive your body of crucial nutrients and calories, they also lead to a slowing metabolism and long-term weight gain. Despite these facts, many people still continue to go on these cleanses. If these cleanses also lead to obsessive behavior, would people still be so eager to try them?
In a study published by the Yale School of Medicine, researchers discovered that in the absence of food, the neurons normally in charge of regulating your appetite initiate repetitive behaviors that are commonly associated with disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia nervosa.
Utilizing the fact that neurons are responsible for goal-oriented behavior, the Yale team investigated a specific population of neurons within the hypothalamus, discovering that these neurons that normally regulate food intake are also involved in other behaviors.
When experimenting with mice, the team discovered that in the absence of food, the mice performed repetitive activities such as burying marbles and grooming. It should be noted that these activities, however, are unrelated to anxiety, and are instead goal-oriented. Therefore, although many people tend to view obsessive behaviors (for example, compulsively organizing your desk every day) as solely the product of anxiety and stress, this breakthrough shows that compulsive behavior can arise from sources other than anxiety and/or stress, such as the absence of food.
Image Source: JGI/Jamie Grill
“These observations unmask the relevance of primitive brain regions previously linked to eating to other complex behaviors,” said lead author Marcelo Dietrich, M.D., assistant professor of comparative medicine and neurobiology and member of the Yale Program in Integrative Cell Signaling and Neurobiology of Metabolism at Yale School of Medicine. “These findings are relevant to understanding diseases with both homeostatic and compulsive components, and highlight the multitasking nature of neurons in the brain.”
According to Dietrich, this discovery insinuates that the primitive part of the brain, which includes the hypothalamus, that governs involuntary activities such as breathing and heart rate could be the key to understanding neuropsychiatric diseases that have compulsive behavioral components such as anorexia nervosa.
So the next time you look at a “miracle diet” that requires you to go on a cleanse, think twice!