Anyone Silly Enough to Think Fat Is Good for You Needs to See This Brain Study

Bad news: Fat doesn't just pack the pounds on to your stomach. It also clogs your brain.

The extra grease in every cheeseburger, burrito and side of fries you eat could also affect your memory and learning skills, provided you eat enough of them. Once fat collects in the body, it doesn't stay there — it migrates to the brain, affecting cognitive ability as well, new research suggests.


Image credit: Flickr

Here’s how scientists hit on the fat-brain link: Researchers at Georgia Regents University found that a substance produced by fat cells in obese mice glides across the blood-brain barrier and gums up specific sections of the brain, reducing the critters’ performance on memory and learning tests.

It's important to remember that because the study was done in mice, the results can't be directly translated into human results. But most of the health research scientists have done over the past few decades has been in rodents — scientists can't subject people to tests with harmful results.

To find out how the fat was affecting the mice brains, the researchers liposuctioned the excess flesh from the critters’ waistlines. Almost immediately, the cognitive scores of the newly-lean mice (whose blood fat content also decreased as a result of the surgery) shot up. Similarly, when they implanted fat into lean mice, their scores fell.

Researchers quickly saw an inflamed and swollen hippocampus, the part of the brain critical for memory and learning. They also noticed far lower levels of a chemical associated with healthy communication between neurons than the same organ inside lean mice.

Rodent lipo wasn’t the only way to bring back the mice’s brain power. Exercise worked just as well. In this case, the researchers found that having mice run on a treadmill for three months every day for 45 minutes had the same effect as surgery.


It's that easy.

Now that scientists have clarified that eating an abundance of greasy food can slow us down not only physically but mentally, it's time for the rest of the media to stop promoting excessive fat as harmless. 


Image Credit: TIME

TIME, for example, recently published this feature story encouraging readers to "end the war on fat." To be sure, small amounts of butter and oils — particularly the kind found in vegetables or nuts — are a healthy part of any diet. But when consumed in excess, as this food porn-esque shot seems to suggest, fat's effects are far from innocuous.

  

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Erin Brodwin

Erin is a science and health writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Popular Science, Scientific American and Psychology Today.

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