Your Brain on High-Fat or High-Sugar Diets

Did You Know…that high-fat and high-sugar diets erode cognitive function? 

Your body doesn’t just belong to you.  It’s home to around 100 trillion microorganisms that live in your gut and feed off the food you eat.  This may sound like an alien invasion, but it’s actually a very healthy symbiotic relationship.  The beneficial bacteria in your gut keep your immune system thriving, keep obesity and diabetes at bay, and keep your digestive system flourishing.  Gut bacteria also help prevent leaky gut, a syndrome that increases inflammation throughout your body and appears to be one of the main instigators of autoimmune disease and neurological disorders.

Your brain health is also intricately linked to the microflora in your gut.  Dr. Perlmutter, a board-certified neurologist, fellow of the American College of Nutrition (ACN), and author of the New York Times bestseller Grain Brain, says that gut bacteria “determine whether we’re going to have a healthy brain or not, whether our brain is going to function well or not, and whether our brain is going to become diseased or not.”

A new study conducted by Oregon State University researchers, the Microbiology Foundation, and the National Science Foundation confirms that foods we eat, specifically foods high in unhealthy fats and sugar, can alter the health and diversity of our bacterial systems, and in turn weaken our brains.

How High-Fat or High-Sugar Diets Hurt 

The study, published in the journal Neuroscience, confirmed the findings of previous studies, namely that diets high in sugar or fat impair cognitive function and behavior by impacting the healthful bacteria that make up your gut’s microbiome.  Bacteria in your gut manufacture neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, as well as essential vitamins for brain health.  When these bacteria are damaged, so is your cognitive function.

Researchers fed laboratory mice different diets and then assessed their mental and physical function with various tests, such as the water maze test.  They also tested for the impact of these diets on gut bacteria.  After 4 weeks, mice fed either high-fat or high-sugar diets showed decreased performance on the tests compared to mice fed a balanced diet.  Those on a high-sugar diet showed the most significant drop in short- and long-term memory as well as a dramatic decrease in cognitive flexibility—the ability to adapt to changes and unexpected situations.

The mice were all young, and scientists hypothesize that the effects of a high-sugar or high-fat diet on brain health may be even more distinct in older mice or in people with already compromised gastrointestinal health.

How You Can Protect Your Gut Health

There are a plethora of legitimate scientific studies on humans that attest to the dangers of high-fat or high-sugar diets on gut health and overall health.  The first step to healing your gut is to cut out the unhealthy fats and sugars.  This means saying goodbye to refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and simple carbohydrates, as well as trans fats and too many saturated fats.

Replace these unhealthy staples of the Western diet with natural sugars such as honey, and healthy fats like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3s.  Eat whole, unprocessed foods.  That means staying away from anything that comes in a box, as well as low- and non-fat creations sweetened with Frankenstein artificial sweeteners.  Get back to the basics, and cook with coconut and avocado oil, and dress your foods with healthy olive oil.  Treat yourself to a weekly excursion to your local farmers market and you’re sure to find all the foods you need for a healthy gut and brain.