People whose diets are made up of saturated fats and sugars may have more than a growing waistline to worry about. Terry Davidson and Camille Sample from The Conversation have conducted their own studies, and found indications that a “Western diet” could cause considerable brain damage.

They cite past research that has found middle-age and older people who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. Other studies show overweight children are threatened as well with impairments to memory. This led them to take on their own research to see the effects these foods have on the brain.

In their own study, publish in the journal Neuroscience, the two researchers along with their team gave a group of rats a diet rich in saturated fats and sugar, which resulted in a weakening of the blood-brain barrier—a wall of cells and membranes that help stop any harmful chemicals or agents from entering into the brain. The barrier begins to weaken, allowing harmful agents to get into the brain causing damage.

They injected the rats with a blue dye to find out which areas were being most influenced by the weakening membrane, and the blue dye tended to settle in the hippocampus—a part of the brain responsible for learning by converting short-term memory into long-term memory. With the hippocampus compromised, Davidson and Sample suggest in their article that the damage would only continue, affecting our ability to stop eating. They write:

“One type of information that is processed by the hippocampus takes the form of internal physiological signals about one’s need for food. Rats and people who have sustained damage to their hippocampus appear to have difficulty using those internal signals to tell whether or not they’ve had enough to eat or drink.”

Thus begins a vicious cycle of continuous eating and drinking of the very food that's posing these issues, causing people to overeat. They suggest further research may be required in order to find a way to help strengthen the blood-brain barrier. But until then, understanding the risks these food pose to our health and practicing good eating will have to suffice.

Read more at The Conversation

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