DIET
July 8, 2015

Clues to Obesity from the Brains of Fat Rats

What you eat can affect your gut microbes and interfere with your ability to know you are full.

Could our modern diet, with its highly processed, artificial foods, have altered the way our gut and brain communicate with each other? And could this change be a factor in obesity? A new study opens the door to that possibility.

When rats were fed high fat diets their intestinal bacteria and subsequent signals to the brain were so altered that the rats didn't know they were full and overate, according to research presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior.

A change in diet causes an immediate effect as different nutrients modify the microenvironment of the gut, causing some bacteria to overpopulate.

The rats' brain circuits were actually reorganized by the high fat meals, according to Keystof Czaja, associate professor of neuroanatomy at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.

“The brain is changed by eating unbalanced foods. It induces inflammation in the brain regions responsible for feeding behavior. Those reorganized circuits and inflammation may alter satiety signaling,” he said in a statement.

In a normal physiological state, many strains of bacteria live in the intestinal tract. A change in diet causes an immediate effect as different nutrients modify the microenvironment of the gut, causing some bacteria to overpopulate. Certain bacteria die, and some may disappear.

These environmental changes in the gut cause inflammation that is damaging to the nerve cells that send signals from the intestine to the brain.

It is not yet known if the resulting miscommunication between the two is permanent. The team plans to study this in the future.

Though this study was done in rats, it may well have implications for humans. Only a few decades ago humans ate whole, natural foods. Processed, artificial, high-sugar, high-fat foods now dominate the American diet.

The study shows how our modern diet might have changed the microbiome in the intestine and altered gut-brain communication. The relatively recent disruption in a diet that was consumed by humans for thousands of years has affected the brain and led to ineffective signals that don't tell us when we’re full. So we overeat.

Give your brain — and your belly — a break. Ditch the processed stuff and eat some real food.

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