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December 30, 2011 at 2:17 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Study: Just One Day of High-Fat Eating Affects the Brain!

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Id and Ego Blog Series

The media is full with both impossibly thin, beautiful people and with products that promise to make us more like them. Weight-related guilt abounds while obesity rates continue on an upward swing - but is our weight problem really ALL our fault? As a new study suggests, it may not be.

With the holiday season just past us now, there are a lot of us regretting those second helpings. Yet, to the scientific mind, the "holiday weight gain phenomenon" really does sound more like myth or even, to the more cynical among us, a poor excuse for gorging. It's a reasonable skepticism when you consider that even one pound of weight gain represents a significant diet change - the consumption of at least an extra 500 calories daily for a week!

However, hard facts defy the disbelievers: studies show that the average American does actually gain at least one pound between late November to January! So, what's exactly happening here? Is it a problem of peer influence - mothers and grandmothers urging us to eat more? Is it, as some evolutionary psychologists have recently suggested, a problem of biology - the cold, dark winter season influencing us to prepare for the lean times? Or is the problem a more simple one - the sheer availability of food and our lack of will power against it? Experts are still not completely sure, but there's one thing they do know - all this indulgence is affecting our brains.

High-Fat Diet Study

Researchers found that compared to brains on a balanced diet, not only do brains fed a high-fat diet display noticeable differences, those differences appear after only one day of indulgence! Said professor and director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence, Micheal Schwartz,"That was quite a shock....This might reflect fundamental biological changes in how the brain works that help explain why it's so hard to keep weight off."

In his research, Schwartz found that rats and mice switched to a high-fat diet (comparable to the "modern American diet") showed inflammation of the hypothalmus after just one day. Interesting, because the hypothalmus is the area of our brains responsible for appetite control and body weight and especially interesting, because though previous studies have shown similar inflammation in the brains of obese animals, in this study, Schwartz found changes happening in animals of a healthy weight, before they actually gained anything!

What This Means For Us

"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." said Schwartz.

Of course, as another scientist, Rexford Ahima, endocronologists and co-writer of a commentary on this research, pointed out, we don't know for sure what this inflammation might mean yet. It may even be a GOOD thing - our bodies way of protecting the brain. Or, in another theory, it may be similar to our bodies jolt in insulin levels after eating sugar - normal and impermanent in most cases, though like insulin levels, damaging when they remain consistently high - as they do with obesity.

For now, though the findings are intriguing, the exact affect and purpose of this inflammation is unclear. A new study from Schwartz, this time studying the change from a high-fat to a healthful diet in the brain, is underway to offer more clues to it's meaning. For now though, it's probably best to be safe. Feed your brain the food it wants. Eat healthy and keep the indulgence to a reasonable level.


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