A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, it was found that consuming fatty foods might do more than just cause you to pack on the pounds. In fact, it appears that eating foods high in saturated fat could also cause damage to the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for determining hunger and thirst, as well as for regulating the body’s natural cycles and rhythms.
The recent study involved only rodents, but the results are one step closer to determining why it is so difficult for some dieters to keep the pounds off for the long term. The findings suggest that we may actually be in greater control than we realize of how we eat, and additional studies on humans are necessary to determine if diets can actually re-program the structure of our brains.
The human body is already pre-programmed to adjust the amount of fuel that it stores as fat using a process known as energy homeostasis, but this study suggests that an obese person may experience cravings that cause his or her body to stay at the same weight permanently.
“That’s the biggest problem with obesity treatment,” shared Dr. Michael Schwartz, a lead author on the study and the director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence at the University of Washington. “Obese people can lose weight, but they often have trouble keeping it off.”
The study found that inflammation (also known as neuron injury) in peripheral tissues and in hypothalamic areas was evident in both rats and mice prior to substantial weight gain, within just one to three days of beginning to consume a high fat diet. Researchers involved with the study also closely examined the MRI brain scans of 34 people and discovered that those who had a high body mass index also showed similar levels of scarring, inflammation and neuron loss as the rats and mice involved in the study. Although this does not confirm that the scarring was caused by obesity, the connection is strong enough to warrant additional testing.
It is also important to note that, although the neuron injury subsided after only a few days of consuming a high fat diet, suggesting an innate ability for the brain to heal itself, the rodents that were fed a long-term high fat diet appeared to leave permanent brain damage. According to Schwartz, this could indicate that scarring has occurred as a result of the brain’s attempt to heal the injured neurons through a process known as gliosis.
These findings seem to suggest that losing weight may be more complicated than simply choosing to eat the right foods and get enough exercise on a regular basis. In fact, a reduction of POMC cells could be at least partly to blame. Researchers found that the rodents lost an average of 25% of their POMC cells while on the high fat diet, and these cells are crucial in helping the body control fat, regulate the appetite and therefore prevent excess weight gain.