High-fat diet can damage brain


NUTRITION:WE LIVE IN AN “obesigenic” environment where at every turn we are tempted by high-calorie, high-fat food choices. Eating them, however, looks capable of damaging your brain and contributing further to obesity.

“Recent research has shown a diet high in saturated fat damages the part of the brain that controls energy balance,” said Dr Lynda Williams of the University of Aberdeen. This could help explain why overweight people struggle to lose weight and maintain weight levels.

Her research group fed mice a diet where up to 60 per cent of the energy consumed came from saturated fats and sugar with 16 per cent fat, and compared these mice with controls fed a normal diet.

They found that the high-fat diet was associated with changes to the genes and the proteins that control a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.

“The hypothalamus is a small area at the base of the brain containing neurons that control the amount of food we eat and the energy we expend,” she said. This meant it became even more difficult to control eating given the interference with the hypothalamus.

She said the changes seemed to arise very quickly, with changes in proteins seen in a day or two and changes in genes within a week.

She acknowledged that the diet fed to the mice was “an extreme case” with a diet containing 10 per cent fat, which is considered a very high level. Humans could, on occasion, reach such levels of fat in their diets, but not over a sustained period.

“Our results indicate that a high-fat diet can damage the areas of the brain that control energy balance and perpetuate obesity,” said Dr Williams.