By Laura Shin
Posting in Food
A single high-fat meal can cause inflammation and scarring in the brain in mice and rats -- and brain scans of humans show a fatty diet could do the same to us.
Feeling your resolution to lose weight in the new year fading by now? A recent study might give you renewed motivation.
Researchers found that a single high-fat meal can cause changes in the brain. While the experiments were conducted in mice and rats, they also found evidence of similar brain activity in the brains of obese humans.
They fed rats and mice a high-fat diet that is typical in the United States and noticed inflammation in the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that regulates weight and hunger, within a day -- even before the rodents put on pounds.
"That was quite a shock," says lead author Dr. Michael Schwartz, a professor and director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence at the University of Washington. "This might reflect fundamental biological changes in how the brain works that help explain why it's so hard to keep weight off."
The animals' brains began to repair and protect the damaged neurons that week, causing the inflammation to subside, but as the rodents were kept on a high-fat diet, a month later it returned and continued until the study's conclusion eight months later. Dr. Schwartz believes that when the brain attempts to heal the injured neurons, it causes gliosis, a process that results in scarring in the central nervous system.
To see if the brain reacted similarly in humans fed high-fat diets, Dr. Schwartz and his team then examined MRI scans of 34 people. Those who were obese exhibited more repair activity in the hypothalamus than people of normal weight.
I would be concerned about this. If we can see these responses occurring rapidly with eating high-fat foods in excess, maybe we as humans should think that there are potential consequences for indiscriminate eating.
In fact, Schwartz's study turned up another finding that might explain why those who have gained weight find it hard to lose it: Rodents on a high-fat diet lost about 25% of their POMC cells, which are critical to regulating appetite and staving off weight gain.
"Losing those cells would help explain why a new elevated level of body weight would occur," Dr. Schwartz told CNN.
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Schwartz is now studying rodents who are put on a healthy diet after weight gain to see if their brains return to normal.
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photo: The brain, with the hypothalamus in red. (Life Sciences Database/Wikimedia)
Jan 17, 2012
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The type of fats you eat make a big difference in general levels of inflammation as revealed by markers like C-reactive protein levels. Presumably the same principle would apply to brain inflammation in response to dietary fats. The standard American diet (SAD) is high in polyunsaturated fats like soy, corn and safflower oil and deficient in healthy fats like fish oils and monounsaturated fats like olive and canola. A natural diet like our ancestors consumed was much lower in the damaging polyunsaturates and comparatively higher in monounsaturates and Omega-3 fish oils. This doesn't mean pigging out on meat though, as modern meat animals have an unnatural higher content of saturated fats as well as higher total fats and lower levels of healthier fats. Range fed is better, but lean chicken and ocean raised (not farmed) fatty fish like sardines and salmon are great. It would be nice if researchers and science writers put these sorts of things in context when reporting study results like the above.
Seems to me that it is the "over-use" of fatty foods that cause scarring. In fact fatty foods are necessary to help normal brain function and growth. To have a headline that states that "Fatty Foods Cause Brain Scarring" is misleading to say the least. It is my understanding that Americans are probably the most obese people in the world(1). They got that way by listening to their government telling them to eat more carbs and less fat. Eating carbs does not satisfy food cravings as much as eating fat but still causes the body to put on more fat. (1). I asked a balloon operator once how many people he could take for a ride. He answered "5 Japanese or 4 New Zealanders or 3 Americans"
A more detailed study of this in humans would be insightful indeed and ....yes, motivational when it comes to altering life styles.
Japanese have recently discovered donuts. That whole thing about 5 vs 3 is changing now. The fatter ones - they say - have westernized diets. However, while the Japanese call those few fat - we refer to them as normal sized and healthy.
... so eating a few donuts in the morning can help my brain? That still explains a lot, well, I mean - about everybody else in the room.
Hi Greggatshack, While I don't disagree with you that eating too many carbs will cause people to gain weight, I just wanted to point out that this study specifically looked at the effects of a high-fat diet, and so the headline is not misleading. Laura
... my cousin married one of them. She's what we here would call a "hottie," yet her Japanese friends think she's fat.