Researchers from ETH Zurich in Switzerland and the INMED Institute in Marseille, France, have shown that high-fat diets during adolescence can affect normal brain functioning and cognition. Their findings demonstrate that children who eat excessive amounts of fatty foods will not just suffer from obesity, but also develop cognitive and ehaviour l problems as they get older.
In mice studies, scientists observed cognitive defects as early as four weeks after the adolescent mice were given high fat foods, and before the mice even began gaining weight. The mice’s prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain associated with planning, decision making, personality and social ehaviour—had fewer neurons expressing reelin. Reelin is a protein that regulates brain synapses and brain activity. A deficiency in reelin is also associated with brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.
The prefrontal cortex doesn’t become fully developed until early adulthood, so it is particularly sensitive in adolescence and vulnerable to the effects of a high fat diet. Adolescence is a key period, as young people have higher calorific needs and heightened appetite, and begin to make food choices themselves.
“Our findings that high-fat diets during adolescence disrupt functioning of the adult prefrontal cortex suggest that a careful nutritional balance during this sensitive period is pivotal for reaching the full capacity of adult prefrontal functions,” says Marie Labouesse, lead author.