Can a steady diet of cheeseburgers change your brain? It might just be possible, according to a 2012 study from Nature Neuroscience that linked high fat diets to neurogenesis and obesity in mice.
Brain changes: good or bad?
Neurogenesis is the growth of new brain cells, and the adult neurogenesis observed by this study’s researchers is a rare form of brain change.
Neurogenesis is one manifestation of neuroplasticity, which can be promoted through good lifestyle choices—think of how Lumosity training builds connections that make everyday tasks easier, for example. On the other hand, poor lifestyle decisions might also unfavorable results. The Johns Hopkins researchers in this study found that a high fat diet could trigger unwanted neurogenesis.
High fat diets change the brain
The study put mice into two groups: those fed a normal diet and those who feasted regularly on high fat foods. After 1 month of chowing down, adult mice on high fat diets had quadruple the rate of neurogenesis in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain responsible for regulating many metabolic processes.
But did neurogenesis also cause obesity? To answer this question, researchers irradiated the newly created portions of rats’ brains. Not only did radiation inhibit 85% of neurogenesis, but irradiated mice gained significantly less weight and fat mass compared to the group that kept their new neural growth—even though all of them stayed on the same high fat diet. Furthermore, irradiated mice used more energy and were more active despite their unhealthy diet.
Fighting obesity: current methods
The link between diet, obesity, and the brain is thought-provoking. But take it with a grain of salt: the same connection between diet and neurogenesis has yet to be confirmed in humans. As we wait for more research, consider some current methods that could help change your eating habits—methods that don’t involve a lab.
Many scientists have pointed out that obesity often functions like an addiction to food in the brain. And a 2012 study from the University of Amsterdam found that challenging cognitive training lowered addiction symptoms in individuals with a drinking problem. People who trained not only drank less—they actually improved memory capacity as well.
As we await new discoveries about food habits and the brain, why not try some challenging brain training to help strengthen your own willpower? Exercises similar to Lumosity’s Memory Matrix and Monster Garden were used in the University of Amsterdam study to great effect. Unlock full access today to try out all 35+ games!
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Tanycytes of the hypothalamic median eminence form a diet-responsive neurogenic niche - http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v15/n5/full/nn.3079.html
Getting a grip on drinking behavior: training working memory to reduce alcohol abuse. - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21685380