Diabetes of the brain

Here’s a term I wish I had thought of: “diabetes of the brain.”

The lead author of a fascinating new study coined that brilliant phrase. And the results of the research that inspired it are startling, to say the least.

As part of this study, a team of Australian scientists combed through decades’ worth of data. Their goal? To identify how the food you eat might change the way your brain works.

This investigation is especially important in light of skyrocketing obesity rates in the West. And unfortunately, the news isn’t very good.

In fact, the researchers found that the typical Western high-fat, high-sugar diet leads directly to impaired brain function. Which means it could be a driving force behind any number of neurodegenerative diseases.

I have to admit, this conclusion makes me just a little wary. Because while I agree with it on principle, I’m not convinced that saturated fats have any deleterious effects… unless, of course, they’re paired with sugar. (Which, as you know, is the real calling card of the Western diet.)

Still, the study does bring up many interesting observations–not the least of which is that these diet-linked brain changes may not be reversible.

So what kind of changes are we looking at here?

For starters, this study showed that the Standard American Diet (SAD) can lead to changes in brain chemistry, especially when it comes to energy and food intake regulation. (That might be one reason why bad eating habits die hard.)

But it seems that high-sugar diets also impair your brain’s cognitive abilities (like memory and attention) and reward processes. This finding led the team to conclude that your food choices could contribute to diagnoses like ADHD, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

I don’t know how many times this has to be repeated. Our country’s addiction to sugar is doing more than just making us fat. It’s a public health crisis of the first degree.

What’s worse, we’ve only scratched the surface. There’s no telling how much damage our abysmal diet is really doing… or how deep this diabesity epidemic actually runs.

We do know, however, that even simple dietary changes can save your life.

What you do with this knowledge is entirely up to you. But something–anything–is better than nothing.

“The longer-term impacts of Western diet on human cognition and the brain.” Appetite. 2013 Apr 1;63C:119-128. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.12.018. Epub 2013 Jan 3.