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Western Diet Causes Cycle of Brain Damage and Obesity

Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

Unlike any other time in human history, the food manufacturing industry in the last half century has shaped the Western diet. The norm has become a diet of white flour, white sugar, high fat, high calorie and nutrient poor foods, but it is far from ideal.

Just thinking about the term ‘food manufacturing industry’ does not sound natural. Images of massive warehouses and chemicals come to mind rather than backyard gardens, fruit trees, small family farms, or your grandma’s kitchen with whole natural foods. Stepping away from tradition into high saturated fats and simple carbohydrates, Western diet and lifestyle is costing you and contributes to a decline in our country’s health.

Ongoing research shows us from a health perspective just how bad Western diets are to the human brain and metabolism. Worse yet, the diet creates a perpetual cycle of brain inflammation, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and loss of health.

Western Diet and Its Impact

High saturated fat and simple sugars repetitively consumed in the diet are detrimental. Most individuals realize that it isn’t a healthy diet, but at what cost? In recent years, considerable information and data has been analyzed on this topic. Two decades ago, it was realized that the Western diet increases the risk of seemingly unrelated concerns of Alzheimer’s disease, other cognitive dysfunction, and metabolic syndrome.

Hippocampus Damaged by Western Diet

As scientists narrowed the focus down to the brain, a key recognition was how the Western diet damages the hippocampus. Very subtle damage starts and continues in the hippocampus or memory center of the brain with consumption of high fat and/or high sugar/simple carbohydrates. The first clue of damage is loss of ability to remember new information and trouble with spatial relationships or navigating to and from different places. Think of how many people now require GPS signaling because they have trouble following directions or get easily lost.

Inability to Feel Satisfied

There were other things learned about how the diet harms the brain. Other functions of a healthy hippocampus include the ability to perceive hunger versus feeling satiated. When the hippocampus is impaired by the stress of the Western diet, the ability to feel satiated after a meal is compromised. As this happens, larger portion sizes are consumed beyond what is needed for the daily metabolic needs.

In addition, more subconscious signals are sent out between meals by the hippocampus to seek and gather food. In present day abundance, this leads to snacking and grazing behaviors. It becomes a vicious cycle of impaired satiety, brain injury, and dysfunctional metabolism. If the pattern doesn’t change, it turns into obesity, metabolic syndrome, brain inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.

Subtle Changes Occur Decades Before Disease

It is easy to think that what you eat today is good enough and what happens decades later with metabolism and brain health has nothing to do with your meals today. To the contrary, unhealthy foods cause subtle brain inflammation and other systemic effects. It becomes a cumulative insult unless something changes. It is critical to understand that scientists proved that the first signs of cognitive decline start 50 years or more before full blown onset of serious concerns like Alzheimer’s disease. Subtle damage from the Western diet consumed for years slowly erodes away at normal function as it provokes low-grade chronic inflammation, much like a smoldering fire waiting to erupt into flames.

Brain Stress After Just a Short Time of Western Diet Consumption

With technological advances, scientists can measure what happens to the brain in just a few days of consuming the Western diet. One study placed 20 healthy volunteers on a high saturated fat Western diet for 7 days.