Diets affect the body physically, from your weight to your risk of having diseases. But a new study suggests the food you eat can also cause neurological changes in the brain.
Researchers from Yale University found another negative effect of high-fat diets. It could contribute to irregularities in a brain region that plays a key role in body weight and metabolism.
“There are specific brain mechanisms that get activated when we expose ourselves to specific type of foods,” the researchers said in a statement. “This is a mechanism that may be important from an evolutionary point of view. However, when food rich in fat and carbs is constantly available it is detrimental.”
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The findings, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, come from the analysis of the effects of high-fat diet on hypothalamic inflammation, which occurs as the brain’s response to obesity and malnutrition. Researchers said the diet could trigger such inflammation as early as three days after consumption of food high in fat and carbs.
“We were intrigued by the fact that these are very fast changes that occur even before the body weight changes, and we wanted to understand the underlying cellular mechanism,” Sabrina Diano, lead researcher and a professor of neuroscience and comparative medicine, said.
In tests in animal subjects, high-fat diet caused changes in the structure of microglial cells. These cells protect the central nervous system, which regulates inflammation.
The animals on the diet also had smaller mitochondria, which play a role in energy production from the foods. Researchers said the mitochondria decreased in size due to the protein, Uncoupling Protein 2 (UCP2).
The changes in cells then affected how the animals’ brain receive inflammatory signals and encouraged them to eat more. Those on high-fat diet experienced obesity.
But the researchers were able to reverse the effects of the diet by removing the UCP2 protein from microglia. The animals ate less and appeared resistant to gain weight despite consumption of foods high in fats.
Diano has started studying the effects of high fat diet on various diseases in the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease.
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