Sugary and fatty diet can affect brainpower by changing bacteria in our gut: Although high fat and high sugar diets make our taste buds sing, the consequences they have on bacteria in our guts may cause poorer brain function.

Sugary And Fatty Diet Can Affect Brainpower

Diets high in fatty and sugary foods have been termed as unhealthy and poor substitutes for proper nutrition. A high amount of chronic diseases, including obesity and Alzheimer’s have been associated with what is commonly known as the Western Diet. Although such foods taste heavenly, but a new study looks at the havoc the delicious diet may be wreaking on our brain and gut.

In a study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University (OSU), it was observed that mice fed a diet high in sugar had decreased mental functioning. It was found that the diets were causing changes in gut bacteria, which then affected cognitive function.

Mice have long been used as models for studies related to obesity, aging and other issues in human beings.
The microbiome in the human digestive system is a highly complex system consisting of about 100 trillion microorganisms. Previous studies have suggested that high sugar and fat diets can affect the microbiome of the gut that in turn can affect brain function and behavior.

It’s apparent that bacteria in the gut communicate with the brain. According to the researchers at OSU, they can do so by many methods such as stimulating sensory nerves or the immune system, releasing compounds that act as neurotransmitters.

The current research was done on common lab mice that were given different diets and then tested for changes in mental and physical functions. The animals used were young, which would have healthier bio-systems that could resist any pathological influences from their microorganisms.

The mice that were given a high sugar or high fat diet showed a decrease in performance on simple lab tests such as water maze running, in just four weeks as compared to those on a normal diet.

One of the most startling changes observed was cognitive flexibility or adaptability to changing situations. This effect was found to be more seriously associated with high sugar diet. The diet also caused problems of early learning in both short- and long-term memory.

The researchers explained cognitive flexibility using the example of driving on a familiar route to get home. This route is used daily and is something a person is used to doing. If, however, one day the road is closed, then a new route has to be found.

People with higher levels of cognitive flexibility can adapt immediately to change and will not only pick the next best route to their home, but will also remember to use the new route on subsequent days. Those who have slower flexibility will have trouble adapting and remembering the change.

“This work suggests that fat and sugar are altering your healthy bacterial systems, just another reason these foods are not good for you,” said Kathy Magnusson, lead author of the paper and a professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. “It’s not just the food that’s affecting your brain though, it’s the interaction between the food and the microorganisms as well.”

The study was published in the journal Neuroscience. The Microbiology Foundation and National Science Foundation supported the study.