Being a relatively sporty kind of guy, I’m friends with a lot of people who take exercise seriously. They’ll do a whole lot of research into things like the best training routines, the psychology of sport, and of course, the optimal diet for their training and performance.
By and large, you might think that all of this can only be good for you. I mean exercise is widely known to be good for our performance and wellbeing, and a good diet must be beneficial? Yes, and no. One of the latest trends in dieting, especially among guys that want to bulk up, is a high fat diet. The belief is that it rekindles our inner cave man and trains our body to burn fat for energy rather than carbohydrates and so we get lean and healthy, because the fat also fills us up, hence we eat less.
Anyway, that’s the ’general’ theory. So how does this matter for work? Let me explain.
How high fat diets affect the brain
A recent study, which was published in Biological Psychiatry, has been exploring the impact a high fat diet has on the way our brain behaves. It found that it can significantly increase the likelihood of things such as depression and anxiety, albeit only in mice (thus far).
“This paper suggests that high-fat diets impair brain health, in part, by disrupting the symbiotic relationship between humans and the microorganisms that occupy our gastrointestinal tracts,” the authors write.
You see, it’s all to do with how the food we eat influences what happens in our stomach, which in turn influences what happens in our brain.
“this is the first definitive evidence that high-fat diet-induced changes to the gut microbiome [the community of organisms in the human gut] are sufficient to disrupt brain physiology and function in the absence of obesity,” the authors say.
The study saw mice given a normal diet, but then give something called a gut microbiota. This is a microorganism which lives inside the gut. The microbiota they were given was from another mouse that had been fed a high-fat diet.
These mice were then compared to other mice who were only given gut microbiota from a normally fed mouse. The high fat diet based mouse underwent some pretty remarkable changes, including showing signs of anxiety, memory loss, depression and even repetitive behaviours.
We’ve known for a while that especially high fat diets are likely to increase our risk of developing things such as heart disease and strokes. However, this is one of the first studies suggesting a direct link between gut health and brain health.
“…these data are in agreement with the extensive body of literature describing the sensitivity of the brain to diet-induced obesity and the growing number of studies linking gut microbiota to central nervous system health and behavior. For example, there is a reported high comorbidity [overlap] between psychiatric syndromes, including depression and anxiety, with gastrointestinal disorders, while conversely, recent studies link probiotics to positive changes in mood and behavior,” the authors conclude.
If you’re on a high-fat diet yourself, consider yourself warned.
Are you practising this latest trend? Do you think it is having a positive or negative effect on your health? Your thoughts and comments below please...