Sugar And Fat: A Heavy Diet Of These Two Can Hurt Your Thinking

First Posted: Jun 23, 2015 11:52 AM EDT

What we put in our body can ultimately influence our outside appearance, but it may also determine our ability to think.

New findings published in the journal Neuroscience found that a diet high in fat and sugar may not only increase the risk of weight gain, as well as a long list of health complications like high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but it can potentially disrupt cognitive functioning, too.

Researchers at Oregon State University found that both short- and long-term memory were lost when individuals were on a high-sugar diet, consistent with previous findings about the impact of fat and sugar on cognitive function and behavior. The findings suggest that some of these problems may be linked to alteration fo the microbiome--a complex mixture in the digestive system of close to 100 trillion microorganisms.

The study involved laboratory mice that were put on different diets and then different tests, including water maze testing, monitor changes to determine both their mental and physical function and associated impacts on various types of bacteria.

After four weeks, researchers found that the performance of the mice drastically dropped when on a high-fat or high-sugar diet. Physical function also began to drop as well. However, cognitive flexibility was one of the most pronounced changes.

"The impairment of cognitive flexibility in this study was pretty strong," Kathy Magnusson, a professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute, said in a news release. "Think about driving home on a route that's very familiar to you, something you're used to doing. Then one day that road is closed and you suddenly have to find a new way home."

The findings are particularly important because the diet used in the study is linked to a "Western diet"--one that's high in fat, sugars and simple carbohydrates and what's also commonly eaten in the United States, increasing the risk of certain chronic illnesses, including the obesity epidemic and an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.

"We've known for a while that too much fat and sugar are not good for you," Magnusson concluded. "This work suggests that fat and sugar are altering your healthy bacterial systems, and that's one of the reasons those foods aren't good for you. It's not just the food that could be influencing your brain, but an interaction between the food and microbial changes."

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