Many previous studies proved that a high-fat diet can lead to obesity, but few explored how a diet can affect your brain.
A recent Yale study published in Aging Cell, however, has discovered that high-fat diets can lead to neurological changes in the brain.
About the study
In the study, the researchers observed if high-fat diets can cause irregularities in the hypothalamus region of the brain in animals. The hypothalamus is a small but important area in the center of the brain. It plays an important role in hormone production and helps maintain a balanced bodily state.
Just three days after consumption of a high-fat diet, the researchers found inflammation in the hypothalamus of the animal, even before the body began to display signs of obesity.
"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," said Sabrina Diano, the leader of the study.
The underlying mechanism
When inflammation occurred in the hypothalamus region of the animals, the physical structure of their microglial cells also changed. These cells regulate inflammation in the first place.
The changes of microglial cells were due to a protein, Uncoupling Protein 2 (UCP2), which regulates the function of mitochondria — the elements of cells which turn the food into energy.
The researchers found that UCP2 stimulated the animals on the high-fat diet to eat more and become obese. However, when removing the UCP2 protein from microglia, animals exposed to a high-fat diet ate less and were resistant to gain weight.
This mechanism shows that high-fat diets not only affect people physically, but also alter food intake neurologically.
"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," said Sabrina Diano, the leader of the study.