Masters Thesis

The Effects of Diet and Social Isolation as Early-life Stressors during Development: A Rodent Model of Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders both globally and in the United States. Early-life stressors such as poor socialization and isolation, as well as diets high in fats and sugars have been shown to increase levels of anxiety and play a detrimental role on mental health. the present study sought to analyze the effects of both poor nutritional diet and social isolation on anxiety levels using an animal model. Eighty male Sprague-Dawley rodents at age five weeks at the beginning of testing were used to measure anxiety behaviors on the Elevated Plus Maze (EPM). Rodents were placed into one of four testing groups to assess anxiety: A control group, a high-fat and high-sucrose diet group, a socially isolated group, and an experimental condition in which social isolation and a high-fat, high-sucrose diet was given. It was hypothesized that Sprague-Dawley rodents living socially isolated and receiving the high-fat, high-sucrose diet would experience the high levels of anxiety, rodents living socially isolated would experience more anxiety than those receiving only the high-fat, high-sucrose diet, and rodents receiving the high-fat, high-sucrose diet would have higher levels of anxiety than the control group. Results showed that overall poor nutritional diet was not contributing to increased levels of anxiety in young male rodents, while social isolation was partially contributing to increased anxiety levels. Although many non-significant results were found, the importance of socialization and proper nutritional diet is explored, as well as the possible resiliency of young rodents to early-life stress.

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