Food cue reactivity and the brain-heart axis during cognitive stress following clinically relevant weight loss

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Abstract

Successful weight loss maintainers are more vulnerable to stress induced eating. The aim of our study was to determine what effect an attention-demanding cognitive performance task had on brain-heart reactivity to visual food cues in women who maintained clinically relevant weight loss vs. women who had never weight cycled. A clinical weight loss group (CWL, n = 17) and a BMI-matched control group (CTL, n = 23) completed modified Stroop tasks that either included high calorie food pictures (Food Stroop) or excluded food cues (Office Stroop). ECG, breathing rate, and EEG were recorded. CWL participants: The Eating Restraint scores (Three Factor Eating Questionnaire) of the CWL participants correlated negatively with their heart rates recorded during the Food Stroop task (r = 0.62, p < 0.01). There was no such relationship in CTL participants. The P200 latencies in CWL participants evoked by the Stroop color-word cues at the C3 electrode were positively correlated to the log high frequency power in their cardiac spectrograms during the Food Stroop (r = 0.63, p < 0.02). There were no such relationships in the Office Stroop task nor in CTL participants. Combined Groups: Participants’ heart rates were significantly lower (p < 0.05) and their RMSSD values and the log Total Power in their cardiac spectrograms were significantly greater during the Food Stroop vs. Office Stroop (p < 0.01, Bonferroni corrected). In conclusion Eating Restraint scores in CWL participants correlated with their Stroop heart rates, while the P200 latencies evoked by the Stroop cues correlated with the log high frequency power in their cardiac spectrograms (marker of cardiac vagal activation) during the Food Stroop task. This provides evidence that even 12 months after successful weight loss maintenance the cardiac ANS reactivity to food cues while completing a cognitive performance test was still different to that in individuals of normal weight who never weight cycled. Across all participants the cardiac ANS reactivity evoked by performing the Stroop task was lowered by food cues suggesting that the dampening effect of food cues on cardiac ANS reactivity may be one of the drivers of ‘stress induced’ eating.

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Rauch, H. G. L., Hume, D. J., Howells, F. M., Kroff, J., & Lambert, E. V. (2019). Food cue reactivity and the brain-heart axis during cognitive stress following clinically relevant weight loss. Frontiers in Nutrition, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00135

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