APR 08, 2024 5:45 PM PDT

Loneliness Linked to More Food Cravings, Less Self Control

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Women who perceive themselves as lonely experience increased neural activity in areas of the brain linked to food cravings. The corresponding study was published in JAMA Network Open

Previous studies have found that perceived social isolation is linked to negative health outcomes, including altered eating behaviors, obesity, and psychological symptoms. In the current study, researchers investigated the underlying brain pathways linking these factors. 

To do so, they recruited 93 women with an average age of 25 years old. They surveyed the women about their support system and feelings of loneliness and isolation. They also showed the women pictures of food versus non-food, sweet food versus non-food, and savory food versus non-food while recording their brain activity via MRI. 

Ultimately, they found that women with higher perceived social isolation reported higher fat mass, lower diet quality, increased maladaptive eating behaviors such as cravings and uncontrolled eating, and poor mental health such as anxiety and depression. Women with higher perceived social isolation also exhibited more neural activity in regions of the brain linked to greater cravings for sugary foods and decreased activity in a brain region linked to self-control when eating. 

"These findings are interesting because it provides evidence for what we intuitively know," said senior study author Arpana Gupta, PhD, a researcher and co-director of the UCLA Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, in a press release.

"When people are alone or lonely, it impacts more than how they are feeling; they underreport what they eat, their desire to eat, and their cravings especially for unhealthy foods," she added. 

The researchers concluded that their findings highlight the need for holistic mind-body-directed interventions that mitigate the health consequences of social isolation. In future studies, Dr. Arpana hopes to investigate other biological markers such as metabolites, microbiome, and inflammatory signatures linked to loneliness. 


Sources: Science DailyJAMA Network Open

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets.
You May Also Like
Loading Comments...