How a High-Fat Diet Is Wrecking Your Brain

How a High-Fat Diet Is Wrecking Your Brain

Turns out zombie brain could be a very real thing. According to a new study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, a diet high in saturated fats can actually cause your brain to start eating itself.

In order to find the effects of high-fat foods on the brain, researchers from the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University observed two groups of mice and monitored their brain activity. One group consumed a healthy diet that contained 10 percent saturated fat, while the second group consumed a diet with 60 percent saturated fat.

After eight weeks on the program, the high-fat group was obese but had brain health equal to the low-fat group's. However, come week 12, that all started to change.

At the three-month mark, the high-fat eaters began to experience cognitive issues, and their microglia—healthy cells in the brain that are known for their ability to rid the brain of trash and infections—began to overconsume.

"Normally, in the brain, microglia are constantly moving around. They are always moving around their little fingers and processes. What happens in obesity is they stop moving," said Alexis M. Stranahan, PhD, a neuroscientist with the department of neuroscience and regenerative medicine at the Medical College of Georgia and the lead author of the study. "They draw in all their processes; they basically just sit there and start eating synapses. When microglia start eating synapses, the mice don't learn as effectively."

Those powerful cells that can keep your brain healthy go on a ravenous eating rampage.

"Instead of doing garbage disposal, they are taking your mailbox, your front door, your kitchen sink, and all the stuff that you need," Stranahan added. "[They're] not doing their job of getting rid of trash."

Luckily, cutting the saturated fat can help the brain—and obesity—improve. After 12 weeks, the researchers switched half the mice on the 60 percent saturated-fat diet to the lower (10 percent) saturated-fat diet. The mice returned to their normal weight in two months. However, these mice did develop a fat layer that would make it easier for them to gain weight again in the future.

While the study authors note that the results cannot be necessarily translated to humans, that's no reason not to cut back on saturated fats. From their weight-increasing effects to their cholesterol-raising impact, these fats have some pretty adverse health effects you definitely want to avoid. And now it appears that cutting back on them may also help save your brain.