Study: High-fat foods cause brain scarring
January 6th, 2012
01:31 PM ET

Study: High-fat foods cause brain scarring

Keeping pounds off long-term is difficult for even the most successful dieter, and scientists may now be on the path to determining why.

A study published recently in The Journal of Clinical Investigation shows that high-fat foods cause damage to the hypothalamus - an area in the brain responsible for hunger, thirst and the body's natural rhythms and cycles - in rodents.

“These are really important papers that begin to push the idea out that we’re not in control as much as we think we are,” says Dr. Steven R. Smith, co-director for the Sanford-Burnham Diabetes and Obesity Research Center, who wasn’t involved with the study.

However, Smith says researchers must first determine if the scarring happening in the rodent models will translate to the human condition. Not everything that scientists observe in rodents also applies to humans, of course, but it is a starting point.

“This is the tip of the spear. We’ve been talking a lot about diet and willpower and exercise and this sort of thing.  This is radically different [thinking] - that diets can actually re-program the structure of the brain.”

The human body is designed to regulate how much fuel is stored as fat through a process called energy homeostasis, the study's lead author Dr. Michael Schwartz says. For a normal-weight person, that's good.  But once a person becomes obese, his or her body seems to want to stay at that new weight permanently.

"That's the biggest problem with obesity treatment," says Schwartz, director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence at the University of Washington. "Obese people can lose weight, but they have trouble keeping it off."

Schwartz and his team found evidence of inflammation, or neuron injury, in rats and mice only three days after the rodents consumed foods high in fat.  Although the effect subsided temporarily, a long-term diet of unhealthy fare left permanent damage. Schwartz believes the brain's attempt to heal the injured neurons results in gliosis, a process that leads to scarring in the central nervous system.

The researchers also found a 25% reduction in the number of POMC cells in the rodents on a high-fat diet. POMC cells play a critical role in the body's fat control system, helping regulate appetite and prevent excess weight gain.

"Losing those cells would help explain why a new elevated level of body weight would occur," Schwartz says.

Smith says that the study is the result of more than a decade of hard work from neuro-scientists around the world who are trying to understand the body’s weight loss system.

“It may be a little bit more complicated than how hard we try and what we food we eat,” Smith says. “I don’t know if that makes people feel better or worse, but it gets us out of the blame game.”

He believes this study represents a step in the right direction for obesity treatment.

“Let’s say we could get the wiring straight again and we could reverse some of this gliosis [scarring],” Smith says. “What if we could get the wires to work right again, and make it easier to lose weight? I think that’s really an exciting idea.”

Schwartz’s team analyzed human MRIs during their study, discovering higher levels of gliosis in obese patients. The findings suggest the structural damage occurring in the rodents' brains may be duplicated in humans.

"Most wonder, 'Why can't I keep the weight off?'" Schwartz says. "Trying to come up with an explanation for it has been a challenge. This may be putting us on the path to understanding better why it's so hard."

soundoff (217 Responses)
  1. Salahuddin

    안녕 Check out theruggedgent(dot)com for some great articles.

    January 6, 2012 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eat Fat Lose Fat

      Eating animal fat is good for you. Look at what 'fat' people eat, they eat sugary garbage! They don't eat fat, try to find lard in the grocery store, it's almost impossible! People aren't fat because they eat fat! They are fat because they drink soda, eat 'no fat' dinners, eat processed junk foods. Check out the Price Pottenger Nutritional Foundation if you really want to find out the real truth. The TRUTH has already been known, these 'researchers' are just in it to get a paycheck!

      January 8, 2012 at 13:39 | Report abuse |
    • Galina L.

      Agree, I completely reversed the worsening of my health and lost weight on a high-saturated fat diet with severely limited carbs, it controls my migraines for 4 years. It made my brain better, not worse. Humans are not rats.

      January 8, 2012 at 22:22 | Report abuse |
    • Rick Buchikos

      The headline should read as follows: STUDY: HIGH FAT FOODS FROM CONVENTIONALLY RAISED AND ABUSED ANIMALS WHO EAT INAPPROPRIATE AND NON-ORGANIC DIETS CAUSE BRAIN SCARRING. It is both unscientific and irresponsible not to specify. Nobody should be eating that toxic crap. Cows in particular are supposed to eat grass, not grains, and chickens are not vegetarians, etc. You can't make healthy people out of sick animals.

      January 9, 2012 at 12:51 | Report abuse |
  2. mymom


    January 6, 2012 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. boredatschool

    i'M GOING TO HAVE HOT DIRTY SEX WITH YOUR MOTHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 6, 2012 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • everyonesopinion

      I do say, the author of this comment seems like a very awesome guy

      January 6, 2012 at 17:55 | Report abuse |
    • Emm


      January 9, 2012 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
  4. dougaussie

    the rats are probably right. I think when you move to a higher calorie way of life your body adapts and your brain says i'm starving if you haven't eaten for a few hours, whereas if you were in the mountains of some far off tribal village you would probably eat a rat once a week, while jogging 600 miles in thin air and carring a sixpack of 10 stone logs on your back....i feel hungry...

    January 6, 2012 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Galina L.

      Another media misinterpretation of another research on rats, without even mentioning the composition of fats! With burger on the picture instead of some high-fat rat chow with the amount of fat excessive for rats but not humans and fat contains mostly omega-6 oils .

      January 8, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse |
  5. bacon

    more bacon video is funny

    January 6, 2012 at 17:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. bacon


    January 6, 2012 at 17:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. mymom

    beef jerkey

    January 6, 2012 at 17:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • everyonesopinion

      John Medek is gay.

      January 6, 2012 at 17:58 | Report abuse |
  8. mymom

    and so is chris skinner

    January 6, 2012 at 17:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bacon

      whos this john medek

      January 6, 2012 at 18:01 | Report abuse |
    • everyonesopinion

      I'm everyone's opinion and he is a pretty swell and straight guy to us.

      January 6, 2012 at 18:02 | Report abuse |
  9. mymom

    you dont need to know

    January 6, 2012 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • everyonesopinion

      about what's up your butt, of course we don't need to know about that.

      January 6, 2012 at 18:04 | Report abuse |
  10. gix

    oh well too late now... hmmmm I need to swing by five guys tonight since that pic makes me hungry... Who's down?

    January 6, 2012 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. mymom

    okay everoneopinion aka chris i hope he forgives you

    January 6, 2012 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Texman

    Looks like the vegans are taking aim on the populace again.

    Win the cigarette battle ...... move on to french fries.

    What is next .... nefarious potato chip eaters?

    Go be crazy somewhere else. Champion a real cause ....... like homelessness in the US

    January 6, 2012 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • person

      There are plenty of high fat vegan foods; this has nothing to do with vegans.

      January 6, 2012 at 19:22 | Report abuse |
  13. P

    I know the solution to all this but you people wouldn't wanna hear it

    January 6, 2012 at 18:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • You betcha

      You got it.

      January 7, 2012 at 13:12 | Report abuse |
  14. Rod C. Venger

    Bullets scar one's brain too...but some people insist on eating them anyway. Free will.

    January 6, 2012 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. eggnogDrinker

    MAY affect brain, B.S. I just had an MRI and my brain is healthier than a newborns. I drank eggnog almost every day since November, ate nothing but junk for two months and I do this every year. I ate pizza for 1 year straight, about 5 days a week and American Chinese food the other two days. Sometimes I ate two pizzas a day, as I was working from home. Yeah I gained weight, lost it since, but still I ate more pizza than probably everybody on earth in that one year alone. I ate fast food all of the time, and yet no brain scarring. Scientists need to wait until they have facts before they scare the public, just as they did about caffeine years ago saying it was the worst thing in the world for you, now it seems it is one of the best things for you. Research Scientists should never release information until it is fact, period.

    January 6, 2012 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • wat

      I don't think you know how science works.

      January 6, 2012 at 19:31 | Report abuse |
    • eggnogDrinker

      Nowhere in science does it say it must release bogus information. It is bogus until proven true. You must not understand common sense.

      January 6, 2012 at 19:44 | Report abuse |
    • Lori

      Dear Eggnog drinker:

      You're an idiot! >:

      January 6, 2012 at 21:56 | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      Scientists have to release initial results of their experiements so that they can recieve more funding to continue to gather more data. That's how it works. It's not the researchers' fault if the results can be misinterpreted or released in a poorly written article.

      January 9, 2012 at 11:43 | Report abuse |
  16. Aletheya

    The article doesn't explain exactly what they did with the rats' diet. Did they simply add fat to their existing diet? Or did they reduce carbs and/or protein as they added fat? If they simply added fat to an already high carb diet, there are too many confounding factors to draw any conclusions at all. Dietary elements have effects in combination – you can't just increase or decrease one without controlling for the others. For example, the Atkins diet works because you're reducing carbs to a very low level at the same time you are eating a lot of protein and fat – you lose weight without clogging your arteries. But if you eat that amount of protein and fat in combination with a lot of high-glycemic carbs, you'll clog your arteries. So how were all these various factors controlled in the rats diet?

    January 6, 2012 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NyteShayde

      Why are you asking here? Go find the study and read it.

      January 7, 2012 at 04:02 | Report abuse |
    • KentAZ

      Good point. There isn't enough information from the article to draw a conclusion.

      There is also the implication from the article's author that high-fat consumption leads to weight gain, which is not true.

      January 7, 2012 at 18:38 | Report abuse |
  17. stayThin

    I wonder if this study was conducted on a high-fat low-carb diet or a high-fat high-carb diet. That might make a HUGE difference.

    January 6, 2012 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NyteShayde

      No it wouldn't. You need to look at nutrient density from a micro perspective, not macro. Several peer reviewed and published studies have already shown that animal fat and protein are the leading cause of disease in humans.

      January 7, 2012 at 04:03 | Report abuse |
    • RabiaDiluvio

      nyteshade: You read too many PETA pamphlets. I can promise you that there is no such provable conclusion. In this study, for instance, they fed mice a high carb diet (High sugar, actually) with some lard thrown in. They were basically fed a mixture of starches and sugar with added lard–icing. It is well established that certain fats in combination with sugars cause inflammation and damage. It is also well established that independent of a high carb intake, saturated fat in moderate amounts healthy for tissues and anti-inflammatory. It would make a tremendous difference both in terms of the study and being able to control and isolate variables and prove the conclusion. That the fat caused the damage and not the sugar or the combination of the two together is not a conclusion you can support on available data. This is why this study is so deeply flawed. That and they did not select out TYPES of fat (very important). Really in the end all they demonstrated was that feeding a rodent nothing but frosting for a while will result in damage to the hypothalamus.

      January 7, 2012 at 10:54 | Report abuse |
    • Galina L.

      Every study that proves the danger of eating meat and animal fats got debunked. Here are examples : http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/07/07/the-china-study-fact-or-fallac/, http://rawfoodsos.com/2011/09/22/forks-over-knives-is-the-science-legit-a-review-and-critique/

      January 8, 2012 at 22:31 | Report abuse |
  18. awdam

    Looking at the Dick-Tators wife will cause brain and retina scarring!

    January 6, 2012 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. portland tony

    @eggnog.......This blog definitely proves one thing : Having a "perfect MRI" certainly doesn't make you a genius. And that having a healthy "new borns' brain doesn't make you intelligent. Try using that perfect brain of yours!?

    January 6, 2012 at 19:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • eggnogDrinker

      You are just jealous that you can't eat high fatty foods like me for long periods of time only to be healthy afterwards. Stop listening to research scientists bogus information until the information is no longer bogus and proven fact. Stop being a moron.

      January 6, 2012 at 19:45 | Report abuse |
    • NyteShayde

      You're the moron, those facts have already been proven. I suggest you go find the research. I'll even give you a freedie: The China Study. Have fun.

      January 7, 2012 at 04:05 | Report abuse |
  20. weeder

    I guess this means if you don't want a fat rat with a scarred brain, leave it home when you go out for fastfood?

    January 6, 2012 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. portland tony

    Rats don't Google. I, and my younger peers, find it more convenient to gloss over superficial information, when it's readily available at the click of a mouse. The same goes for correspondence, spelling, etc. Grasping concepts are what we need to concentrate on. Testing people for loss of brain function, by not taking this new way of mental processesing into consideration are bound to give erroneous conclusions

    January 6, 2012 at 22:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NyteShayde

      Thinking that you're going to get correct analysis and fact from a Google search IS an erroneous conclusion, whelp

      January 7, 2012 at 04:06 | Report abuse |
  22. RoadRunner, Albuquerque, NM

    Reducing fat to less than 15 grams/day intake will bring the pounds off. There is some effect that causes hunger cravings with increased intake of fat that makes dieting next to impossible; maybe this article is on track for identifying the biochemical process. Less fat consumption equals less cravings, translating into more successful wieght reduction.

    All of this is well known by U.S. gov. researchers, but not made public b/c of the fast food (fat-food) lobby: McDonald's, Wendy's, Furrs Cafeterias, etc. , all very popular, especially among obese patrons. All very corporatist, well-connected to suppressing information about the unhealthy realities of their menus, as fat foods taste good (to those who are hooked on them) and they are cheap to produce, so the profit margin is quite "fat" for the corporations that peddle them. The gov. and the corporatist owned media go along with both the hype and the suppression of information regarding the deleterious effects of fat consumption, and its undeniable contribution to U.S. epidemic of obesity among men, women and children.

    January 6, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jason

      Don't forget the big-pharma lobby. There's billions of dollars in getting us sick and keeping us that way.

      January 7, 2012 at 00:54 | Report abuse |
    • NyteShayde

      Thank God, there is intelligent life here.

      January 7, 2012 at 04:08 | Report abuse |

    MILLIONS TO BE ASSASSINATED FOR THE SAKE OF $$$ LIABILITIES(mk-ultra, chip implants, electroshocks etc. performed on them) AND NEW WORLD ORDER(multiculturalism = terrorism) POLITICAL AGENDA KNOWN AS "YOU ARE NEXT"(financial liabilities are 2 expensive for the government and it is cheaper to get read of you instead) !!! IF YOU WERE TREATED WITH ELECTROSHOCKS OR DRUGS USED FOR WIPING OUT MEMORY(numerous Americans and Europeans were and are) AFTER ENDURING FORCED CHIP IMPLANTS(or to retard individual = how homeless people are produced), YOU ARE SCHEDULED NEXT !!!






    http://www.youtube.com/user/BostjanAvsec OBAMA'S HEALTH CARE RECORDED LIVE IN 2009 !!! These are hard facts about lunatic Obama/Bush's twilight zone administrations(HORROR) or genocide against whites per ZIONIST Washington DC and in complete agreement with communist Moscow !!!


    January 7, 2012 at 07:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cmh

      You seem very angry. I didn't actually read what you wrote. Too many words and too much capitilazation. Maybe you could take a course on effective communication?

      January 8, 2012 at 13:05 | Report abuse |
  24. serveandvolley

    This was just a study. No concrete evidence can be drawn from it, but that is how studies are. They are simply tools for gathering information. CNN like all mainstream media likes good headlines.. See the Whole Health Source blog for a much better rundown on this study. At the risk of feeding trolls, tothe guy that eats pizza and chinese food daily, let me know how that is working for you in 20 years.

    January 7, 2012 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. mavsfan93

    Epic Meal Time.

    January 7, 2012 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply


    January 7, 2012 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Johuyik

    Data with no info. Misleading headline. What kinds of fats?..different fats have VERY effects, some of them proven very beneficial. Thanks for nothing CNN.

    January 7, 2012 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Opp

    This article doesn't mention what types of fats the rats ate, or did I just miss that part. It seems that the types of fat may make a difference, as it does in other studies of fat consuption.

    January 7, 2012 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Ashleigh Kirk

    Just going to comment when I saw Opp beat me too it. The problem is with animal fat.So in response to those above who say the artical has nothing to do with being vegan, it does. Vegan diet contains only vege. oil, no animal fat.

    January 7, 2012 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Teeny

    Great, another excuse for people to use when they won't lose weight and think it's not their fault.

    January 7, 2012 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. JasonBee

    any ties to multiple sclerosis, maybe??

    January 7, 2012 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • L. Davis

      I really liked this comment... it gave the article more meaning. =)

      January 14, 2012 at 00:45 | Report abuse |
  32. RoadRunner, Albuquerque, NM

    This study, and the reporting of it, actually IS News. It should be on the front page. Good job reporting, and here's to the hopoe that you will do follow up studies on this topic.

    January 8, 2012 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Jon

    Our bodies get used to having some substance in the bloodstream. When the level of that substance drops, be it nicotene or fat, or tegretol, the body tells us in the only way it knows how that it's missing something: "Feed me! Feed me!"

    January 8, 2012 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • smart

      No, that's lack of willpower saying "Feed me!"

      January 8, 2012 at 12:32 | Report abuse |
  34. smart

    "Most wonder, 'Why can't I keep the weight off?'" Schwartz says. "Trying to come up with an explanation for it has been a challenge."

    I'll tell you why right now: it's because people lose the weight and then go back to eating like they did before. Dieting and eating right isn't a temporary thing, it's a lifestyle change you have to make. If you lose a bunch of weight and then start stuffing your face with calories again, of course you're going to put weight back on. It doesn't take a scientist to figure this out.

    January 8, 2012 at 12:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. J. J. Hopkins

    More of our food has additives that shut down our ability to know when we are full, so we overeat. These additives can be addictive for many of us according to the book The Well Fed Dieter. Ever wonder why you feel hungry again not long after a meal even though you know you are still full?

    January 8, 2012 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Dana

    Two animals known for their grain consumption and NOT for hunting will develop scarring on the hypothalamus when they eat high-fat food? You don't say. How shocking.

    And they're not even primates? DO tell.

    January 8, 2012 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Dana

    I mean, this is like the HERBIVOROUS rabbits who got hardened arteries from eating animal cholesterol. I cannot IMAGINE why that would have happened. Yet, because of them, we're told to avoid cholesterol today. Not even the same mammalian *order*, much less the same species.

    January 8, 2012 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Eat Fat Lose Fat

    This is the biggest bunch of tripe I've seen in awhile. Eating animal fat is good for you, duh. Look at what 'fat' people eat, they eat sugary garbage! They don't eat fat, try to find lard in the grocery store, it's almost impossible! People aren't fat because they eat fat! They are fat because they drink soda, eat 'no fat' dinners, eat processed junk foods. Check out the Price Pottenger Nutritional Foundation if you really want to find out the real truth. The TRUTH has already been known, these 'researchers' are just in it to get a paycheck!

    January 8, 2012 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • smart

      It's amazing how many people think eating fat automatically translates into body fat. Fat is part of a healthy diet, just like carbs and protein are.

      January 8, 2012 at 13:49 | Report abuse |
    • SoulCatcher

      Have you ever seen a skinny eskimo?

      January 9, 2012 at 10:14 | Report abuse |
  39. rcsdinthehills

    So is the problem high fat foods, or the kind of fat, or the total amount of calories, or what else is being consumed with the fat. Don't trust this article. The idea that fat is bad and whole grains are good is slow poison to many people. Look into wheat intolerance and the enormous number of people that have problems with wheat and anything gluten. Many people don't even realize what the problem is. Sugar is horrendous. And they try to tell us to stay away from fat. High quality fats are wonderful for your health and they will help you control your weight and make you healthy inside and out. Olive oil, coconut oil, krill oil, fish oil, organic bacon, organic beef, flax seed, sesame seed, raw walnuts, raw macadamias are yummy and VERY good for you.

    January 8, 2012 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Stephanie

    This is really shoddy journalism. A full explanation of the study by one of the author's, Stephan Guyenet, is here:


    He states, "Nowhere in the paper does it say that dietary fat per se causes damage to the brain, or even causes obesity, and Drs. Thaler and Schwartz were careful not to say that in interviews either."

    Shame on you, CNN.

    January 8, 2012 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Bob

    The study, which is linked in the article, doesn't state what kind of fat the rats ate. It just says they ate a high fat diet so we can't even begin to make any conclusions from the data. The rats also were genetical bred for dietary induced obesity so who knows what that did to their brains. This study really has no bearing on anything we eat right now and the authors of the study even state that it's not meant to but it makes a good headline.

    January 8, 2012 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Mohamed Kaysar

    are they talkin about the total fat in grams or saturated fat in grams?

    January 8, 2012 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Travis

    The article itself is a lot better than the headline. The problem with the headline is that the study was testing the effect of obesity on rodent brain scarring, not the effect of a high fat diet. It's a good study though- it talks a good bit about the link between obesity and craving control. Though a nutritional study on rodents should never be considered immediate proof of cause for humans.

    January 8, 2012 at 23:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Carl

    This article is trash. A bunch of opinion and extrapolation, but they don't answer the most obvious and basic questions. What exactly does "high fat" mean? How far from a normal rat diet was it? Do rats normally eat as much fat as humans? What kind of fat?

    January 9, 2012 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. M3NTA7

    I'm eating a big tub of lard right now.

    January 9, 2012 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. In case you're really interested

    If you want more information about the fat composition in this study, then click on the link above and read the "Methods" section. The researchers used a standard feed for obesity studies – D12492, manufactured by Research Diets. Then google D12492 and you can find out that the feed contains 24% fat by weight, with 45% (not 60% as it states in the research study) of the calories coming from fat. The weight of the fat composition is approximately 12.5% from soybean oil and 87.5% from lard.

    January 9, 2012 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. In case you're really interested

    If you want more information about the fat composition in this study, then click on the link above for the research study and read the "Methods" section. The researchers used a standard feed for obesity studies – D12492, manufactured by Research Diets. Then google D12492 and you can find out that the feed contains 24% fat by weight, with 45% (not 60% as it states in the research study) of the calories coming from fat. The weight of the fat composition is approximately 12.5% from soybean oil and 87.5% from lard.

    January 9, 2012 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Reading is helpful

    "Not everything that scientists observe in rodents also applies to humans." just because scarring is present in the rats doesn't mean it scars people. And they didn't say a thing about eating fat being bad for you, they said it's hard for an obese person to lose weight and keep it off... try reading, it's helpful.

    January 9, 2012 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Nachi

    High fat foods cause brain scarring... IN MICE
    High fat foods MAY cause brain scarring
    not to mention this is all the bull**** all of it

    January 12, 2012 at 20:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. L. Davis

    I wonder, could it be possible to do an MRI study on people who are obese versus those who are not? Certainly something to contemplate on... A post-mortem study could also be done. This is possible people! =) I feel like people can only opinion on an issue to a certain extent... it's time to discuss solutions to the issue. That is, after all (and in my opinion) , how life progresses.

    January 14, 2012 at 00:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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