Studies Show How Diet and Obesity Alter Brain and Behavior
WASHINGTON, DC — Research released today on the effects of diet on different areas of the brain offers important insights into neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and depression. The research also sheds new light on how nutrition during pregnancy may alter children’s brains in ways that promote obesity. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2014, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
The emotional and financial burden of neurodegenerative diseases and obesity on individuals, families, and societies around the world is significant. Health officials estimate that 6.3 million people have Parkinson’s disease and 350 million people have depression. In addition, obesity has been declared a growing global epidemic by the World Health Organization. More than 1 billion people are currently overweight or obese, including more than 40 million children. Obesity is a major risk factor for a variety of illnesses, including some that affect the brain, such as stroke and dementia.
Today’s new findings show that:
- Being overweight or obese is associated with shrinkage of an area of the brain involved in long-term memory in cognitively healthy older adults (Nicolas Cherbuin, PhD, abstract 19.04, see attached summary).
- Prenatal exposure to a high-fat diet results in altered brain wiring in young monkeys, a finding that suggests exposure to a high-fat diet in the womb may alter children’s eating habits later in life (Heidi Rivera, abstract 290.04, see attached summary).
- The consumption of a high-fructose diet in adolescent rats exacerbates depressive- and anxiety-like behavior and affects the brain’s response to stress, a finding with implications for adolescent nutrition and development (Constance Harrell, abstract 80.11, see attached summary).
- The “hunger hormone” ghrelin plays a pivotal role in helping a calorie-restrictive diet reduce brain-cell damage associated with Parkinson’s disease in rats, a finding that suggests a possible new approach to treating the disease (Jacqueline Bayliss, abstract 138.08, see attached summary).
“The findings from today’s studies demonstrate the complex effects that diet and obesity have on brain health, mental function, and behavior,” said Ralph DiLeone, PhD, of Yale University, an expert in the neurobiological mechanisms associated with diet and obesity. “By deepening our understanding of those relationships, today’s discoveries may eventually lead to better treatments for many neurological disorders.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations. Find out more about diet, obesity, and the brain at BrainFacts.org.