ISLAMABAD: Chances are, you are feeling a bit hefty after the Thanksgiving period; the average American consumes an average of 4,500 calories and 229 g of fat during a typical holiday get-together. But this overindulgence take its toll not only on the waistline, it could also play havoc with the brain, according to a new study.
The study suggests a high-fat diet destroys synapses - connections that aid communication between neurons, or brain cells - in the hippocampus of the brain, which may impair learning and memory.
But it is not all bad news; the research also suggests that switching to a low-fat diet for 2 months can counteract the brain-damaging effects of a high-fat diet.
According to the researchers, the diets the mice were fed represented a healthy diet versus a fast-food diet in humans. Each diet contained similar amounts macronutrients and protein, the team notes.
Additionally, the researchers analyzed the hippocampi of the mice - the brain region associated with learning and memory. Specifically, they measured levels of synaptic markers in the hippocampus - proteins that represent the number of synapses in the brain - and cytokine levels, which are markers of inflammation.
The researchers explain that when there is too much fat in the body, this leads to chronic inflammation, triggering an autoimmune response from microglia - glial cells that form the primary immune defense in the central nervous system.
Microglia usually helps rid the brain of harmful agents, which helps to protect and strengthen neurons, but it appears that too much fat in the body impairs this process.
"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," explains Dr. Stranahan. "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."
Dr. Stranahan notes that the findings suggest medications currently used to treat Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis - which work by blocking certain inflammatory cytokines, some of which were present in the brains of mice fed a high-fat diet - may show promise for neurological conditions involving synaptic loss, though further research is required.
In the meantime, if you have overindulged these past few days, think about eating a bit healthier - your brain may thank you for it.