A long-term high-fat diet can shrink your brain

man eating high-fat diet

Eating a diet high in fatty foods is not only bad for your waistline – it also shrinks your brain and causes cognitive decline, according to new research.

If you needed any more reasons to switch to a low-fat diet, then this study conducted by the University of South Australia may provide them.

The international study, published in the journal Metabolic Brain Disease, has established a clear link between mice fed a high-fat diet for 30 weeks, resulting in diabetes, and a subsequent deterioration in their cognitive abilities, including developing anxiety, depression and worsening Alzheimer’s disease.

“Obesity and diabetes impair the central nervous system, exacerbating psychiatric disorders and cognitive decline. We demonstrated this in our study with mice,” says Associate Professor Larisa Bobrovskaya, co-author of the study.

Read: Does coffee help you lose weight?

During the study, mice were randomly allocated a standard diet or a high-fat diet. Food intake, body weight and glucose levels were monitored at different intervals, along with glucose and insulin tolerance tests and cognitive dysfunction tests.

Those on the high-fat diet gained large amounts of weight, developed resistance to insulin and began to behave abnormally, showing significant deterioration in their cognitive abilities.

“Obese individuals have about a 55 per cent increased risk of developing depression, and diabetes will double that risk,” Assoc. Prof. Bobrovskaya says.

“Our findings underline the importance of addressing the global obesity epidemic. A combination of obesity, age and diabetes is very likely to lead to a decline in cognitive abilities, Alzheimer’s disease and other mental health disorders.”

Read: Everyday behaviours that could be signs of dementia

According to government figures, around 67 per cent of Australians aged 18 and over could be classed as ‘overweight’, with just under half of that number falling into the ‘obese’ category.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare also found fewer than one in 10 adults in Australia consumes the recommended daily intake of five serves of vegetables, with men women more likely to eat their greens than men (96 per cent of men and 87 per cent of women are not getting enough vegetables).

As well as eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly is also key to lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive impairments.

Read: How to stay healthy when switching to a plant-based diet

Dementia Australia recommends three basic types of exercise for safeguarding your brain: aerobic exercise, resistance and weight training, and flexibility and balance exercises.

Getting in at least some exercise daily is preferable, but if that’s not possible aim for three to five 30-minute sessions per week.

“Exercise also plays a part in reducing stress and depression, which are commonly experienced by people with dementia,” says Dementia Australia.

“Repetitive activity such as walking on a treadmill or using an exercise bike can help reduce anxiety for people with dementia as there are no decisions to make or things to remember about what to do next.”

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Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

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