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Migraine to Go? The Surprising Effects of Fast Food

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For some time now, the media has kept us aware of the link between fast-food consumption and obesity, but Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film Super Size Me brought to our attention the other, overlooked side effects of biting into a Big Mac. Spurlock ate only food from McDonald’s for thirty days and not only experienced fat accumulation but also lost muscle mass, began to feel depressed and lethargic, and suffered from headaches. His nutritionist even pronounced him “addicted” to fast food. It seems a burger is more than just lunch these days.


Hamburger Hangover
One of Spurlock’s symptoms during the filming of Super Size Me was a recurrent, intense headache. It’s true that processed foods can trigger migraines. According to Suzy Cohen, who writes the “Dear Pharmacist” column for the Ocala, Florida, Star-Banner, processed foods, including those on the menus of fast-food joints, contain ingredients like nitrate or nitrite, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial sweeteners that are all “head-bangers.”


Nitrates and nitrites are preservatives that increase blood flow, leading to head pressure and pain. Food processors add it to their meat products to protect against Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes food poisoning, and because it gives the meat that fresh, pink color and “cured” taste. Makers of fast food also add MSG to enhance flavor and to hide the metallic tastes incurred while processing. These additives may make your dish more palatable, but they leave you with pretty nasty hangovers.


Down in the Dumps? Blame It on the Junk
Spurlock also complained of debilitating depression during his fast-food experiment, and research shows that junk food does indeed have an effect on mood. Researchers at University College London in England found that people who regularly ate processed foods that were high in fat and sugar were 58 percent more likely to suffer from depression than those who ate a more balanced diet, according to a study that appeared in the British Journal of Psychiatry. “There seem to be various aspects of lifestyle such as taking exercise which also matter, but it appears that diet is playing an independent role,” Dr. Eric Brunner, lead author of the study, told the Daily Mail.


Brunner and his peers concluded that relative to their calorie density, junk foods lack nutrients, like antioxidants, folate, and omega-3s, that contribute to good mental health. These important dietary elements come only from eating “wholesome foods.”


According to HealthAssist.net, certain foods and drinks act as powerful stimulants to the body and therefore contribute to stress and mood disorders. These processed foods—which contain synthetic additives like preservatives, emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilizers, and flavor enhancers—are called pseudostressors or sympathomimetics.


So it seems that fast food hits us twice when it comes to depression; we suffer from what we consume along with it, and from what we don’t.


Fast Food Kills the Mood
The foods we eat have a direct impact on our physical—and sexual—health. In their book Eat This, Not That!, David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding address the foods that affect libido for better and for worse. They write that fatty acids, most of which we consume from processed and fast foods, are the cause of a “national sex crisis,” not only because they contribute to weight gain, but also because they trigger biochemical changes that cause libido to take a nosedive, along with sperm count and ovulation. At the root of Zinczenko and Goulding’s argument: make babies, not burgers.


And because McDonald’s and other fast-food joints have franchises all over the world, this isn’t just a problem in America. The Italian Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (SIGO) has become so concerned about the prevalence of fast-food consumption killing women’s libido that it has published a book, Food and Sex, to address the issue.


“The increased pace of life means women who are working in the cities don’t have time to prepare fresh food and they are eating more fast food. Many cultural aspects of food are being lost, with consequences for their sexual health and libido,” said SIGO president Dr. Giorgio Vittori in an interview with Suite101.com’s Lee Anne Adendorff. Apparently, these women have forgotten the sage advice of the great Sophia Loren: “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”


Hooked on the Junk
In Super Size Me, Spurlock’s general practitioner describes his patient as “addicted” to McDonald’s food. While that statement might sound hyperbolic, a fast food addiction is possible, according to Science Daily. The high levels of sugar and fat cause blood sugar levels to spike and then crash, making patrons dependent on the euphoric effects of those insulin surges from the processed ingredients in their supersized meals.


What Tastes So Good Can Be So Bad
Spurlock may have turned a generation off to fast food, but according to the McDonald’s Web site, the corporation serves more than sixty million people around the globe every day. That’s a lot of headaches and unhappiness to go!



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