Being overweight can raise your blood pressure, cholesterol and risk for developing diabetes. It could be bad for your brain, too.
A diet high in saturated fats and sugars, the so-called Western diet, actually affects the parts of the brain that are important to memory and make people more likely to crave the unhealthful food, says psychologist Terry Davidson, director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University in Washington, D.C.
He didn’t start out studying what people ate. Instead, he was interested in learning more about the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s heavily involved in memory.
He was trying to figure out which parts of the hippocampus do what. He did that by studying rats that had very specific types of hippocampal damage and seeing what happened to them.
In the process, Davidson noticed something strange. The rats with the hippocampal damage would go to pick up food more often than the other rats, but they would eat a little bit, then drop it.
Davidson realized these rats didn’t know they were full. He says something similar may happen in human brains when people eat a diet high in fat and sugar. Davidson says there’s a vicious cycle of bad diets and brain changes.
Illustration: Katherine Streeter for NPR