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Do fatty foods damage your brain?

The answer from the latest research says, “yes.” Most of us know that fatty foods – ones high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol – are bad for our heart, as fatty deposits, or plaques, can cling to artery walls and clog our arteries, leading to increased risk of blood clots. These blood clots prevent blood flow and cut off oxygen supply to the heart, which ultimately either damages or kills the heart cells.

What was not as well known is how fatty foods affect the brain.  Research from America University in Washington DC found in a recent study on rats that “the more high-fat foods they ate, the more impaired their blood-brain barrier became — a tight network of blood vessels which, when working efficiently, selectively screens what can get through and reach the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory” (NYDailynews.com, Oct 2, 2012). In the study, the rats were put through a series of cognitive tests and split into two groups: half on a low-fat and the other half on a high-fat diet. Those rats who consumed the higher fat diets performed much more poorly than their thinner counterparts when the researchers retested their learning and memory skills.

Another study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation in Australia had similar findings, showing that high-fat foods cause damage to the hypothalamus – an area in the brain responsible for hunger, thirst and the body’s natural rhythms and cycles.

The fact that both the hippocampus (responsible for suppressing memories) and the hypothalamus  (responsible for controlling hunger) are negatively affected by fatty foods could explain the prevalence of obesity in our society.  When we eat a high fat/high calorie diet, it impairs two of our inhibitory systems in our brain, and we end up overeating. We essentially can’t suppress unwanted thoughts and engage self-control and get caught in the vicious cycle of choosing foods that don’t nourish us.

But not all high fat foods are bad for you and can actually satiate your hunger and help you lose weight. Can you guess what foods these are? Check back in next week to find out!