Can a High Fat Diet Change Your Brain?

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


Is it possible that a high fat diet can change your brain?You’ve heard for years that consuming too much fat can increase your risk of stroke and heart disease, among other serious health conditions. But could consuming a high fat diet alter your brain?

A new study shows that a high fat diet might trigger behavioral changes by altering the gut microbiome, which refers to the bacterial populations in the gut. Results are published in Biological Psychiatry.

The microbiome of your gut is made up of trillions of bacteria, all of which are critical to normal biological function. We already know that these bacteria are vital to your immune system and influence your vulnerability to illness, but now we’re finding out that changes to the gut microbiome could even influence the development of neuropsychiatric conditions.

Obesity tends to increase the risk of depression, dementia, and other forms of mental illness. Scientists at Louisiana State University conducted a study to find out whether a microbiome associated with obesity could alter cognition or behavior in non-obese subjects.

Adult mice of normal weight and fed a normal diet had gut bacteria transplants taken from mice that had consumed either a normal diet or a high fat diet. After the gut microbiomes of the recipient mice were repopulated by the transplanted bacteria, the mice receiving the transplants were studied for changes in behavior.

A high fat diet has many negative impacts, and can even increase anxietyThe mice that received the transplants from mice that had been fed high fat diets demonstrated multiple behavioral disruptions. They had higher levels of anxiety, memory impairments, and engaged in repetitive behaviors. They also had signs of intestinal permeability and higher levels of inflammation. The mice showed indications of brain inflammation, which may have contributed to changes in behavior. Brain inflammation has been linked to severe depression in humans.

According to Biological Psychiatry editor Dr. John Krystal, the results indicate that high fat diets may disrupt the gut microbiome, which may in turn negatively affect brain health. This study shows that altering the gut microbiome can induce changes in brain function, even in non-obese individuals. This supports prior research that has shown a link between various psychiatric conditions and gastrointestinal issues. However, the mechanisms by which gut bacteria affect the brain are still unclear.

Additional research is still needed, but the results of this study suggest that improving the health of the gut microbiome could provide a therapeutic treatment for certain neuropsychiatric conditions.

Ohio State University professor Dr. Gary L. Wenk states that nearly everything we consume influences our brains, whether directly or indirectly. The immediate effects of caffeine and sugar are readily apparent, but high glycemic amino acids and carbohydrates influence the brain over periods of days to week. However, there have been more studies conducted on what happens when we consume too little than have been done on what happens when we consume too much.

This isn’t to say that all high fat foods are bad. Avocado, walnuts, and oily fish all contain significant amounts of fat, but can improve both brain health and overall health.

Dr. Lam’s Perspective on High Fat Diet:

Since adrenal fatigue is a systemic condition and exerts effects on all systems of the body, many sufferers experience afflictions and upsets to their gastrointestinal tract. In fact, gut dysbioses such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida overgrowth are conditions commonly associated with adrenal fatigue. Simply put, it is even more important for the adrenal fatigue sufferer to avoid dietary mistakes and make sure they stick to a healthy and balanced diet to promote the proper balance of microorganisms in the gut.

It is important to note that the gut contains more neurons than the spinal cord, so its importance in maintaining nervous system health is easy to see. Furthermore, studies continue to establish the association between gut health and mental well being. To keep the internal balance, eating a healthy diet is key. Not all fats are bad; and good fats are invaluable, while bad fat can destroy your body. The ketogenic diet, a diet high in fat, is extremely useful in the treatment of intractable seizures, for example. The key to preserving the beneficial qualities of fat is to avoid heat. High temperature changes the chemical and molecular structure of fat, turning it into a potentially damaging nutrient.

The damage of a high fat diet can be reduced with the help of probioticsIn addition, using gut supplementation such as probiotics will further strengthen the intestinal flora and boost gut health, and consequently mental well being. As always, supplementation must only be used when the body has the strength to tolerate them or else you run the risk of crashing with paradoxical reactions and making the body’s condition worse. Probiotics can also cause constipation in some people. Also, digestive enzymes can help the gut break down food and help assimilation and transportation of nutrients across the gastric tract; but be careful, too much can lead to diarrhea.

A high fat diet has many negative impacts, and can even increase anxiety

Source: Biological Psychiatry, April 2015




2 Comments

  • Sarah says:

    I’m confused. I see articles saying that Keto diet will heal everything because we have been fat starved for so long, and I’ve been keto off and on for a few years. Then I see articles saying low fat vegan is the way and will heal everything because we have been carb starved for so long, I grew up low fat vegetarian. I have severe adrenal fatigue. I can’t lose weight no matter what diet I’m on, but I will gain weight very easily when not restricting heavily. What diet is right? It’s so frustrating to see so much conflicting information out here.

    • Dr.Lam says:

      When you have AFS in advance stages, the body tend to hold onto weight. It is not a matter of diet other than starvation, and that will only make matters worse. the key is to focus on the adrenals and not the diet or the weight. Here is any article. Click Weight Loss & Adrenal Fatigue for more information.

      Dr Lam