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High Fat, High Sugar Diet Tied to Alzheimer’s Brain Changes

Can our long-term diets influence the course of Alzheimer’s disease?

A new study found that aging mice fed a high fat, high sugar diet showed changes in the brain typical of Alzheimer’s disease. The study was carried out in rodents, and further study is needed to determine if the same is true in people. But the findings suggest that diet can have a significant impact on brain health.

For the study, published in Physiological Reports, researchers at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, fed one group of mice a high fat, high sugar diet for 13 weeks, a fairly long time in the mouse life cycle. Another group, which served as controls, got a normal mouse diet.

The researchers measured levels of inflammation and other changes in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for memory. In people, the hippocampus is among the first areas ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease. The scientists also looked at the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that regulates cognitive and behavioral functions.

Compared to the control group, the group fed lots of fat and sugar had significantly higher markers of inflammation and insulin resistance in areas of the hippocampus thought to be involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Inflammation levels also increased in the mouse fed a normal diet. Those findings suggest that aging alone, independent of dietary factors, may play a role in the progression of Alzheimer’s as well.

The prefrontal cortex region of the brain also showed higher levels of inflammation, but over all was less affected than the hippocampus. Those results suggest that dietary factors can influence various brain regions differently, the authors noted.

The study results are consistent with earlier studies in people showing that obesity in midlife is tied to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease late in life. Obesity has been tied to higher levels of inflammation, and long-term inflammation damages organs throughout the body. Increasingly, researchers believe that the damage from long-term inflammation will also impact the brain.

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Bradley J. Baranowski, Kirsten N. Bott, Rebecca E. K. MacPherson. “Evaluation of neuropathological effects of a high-fat high-sucrose diet in middle-aged male C57BL6/J mice.” Physiological Reports, Vol. 6 (No. 11); 2018.

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