High Fat Foods Can Lead To Brain Scarring

The intimate link between what we eat and the chemistry of our bodies has been demonstrated once again in a provoking new studying published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.1  This study found that high-fat foods, like hamburgers, onion rings, oily pizzas and other regularly consumed fatty foods, actually lead to brain scarring and damage to the hypothalamus- the area of the brain responsible for hunger, thirst and the body’s natural rhythms and cycles.  While the study was done on rodents, its findings remain insightful about what might happen to the human brain when we feed our bodies the unhealthful, high fat diets consumed by most Americans. 

The most prominent finding of the study was that inflammation, or neuron injury, developed in rats and mice just three days after consuming foods fatty meats and refined oils.  Additionally, when the rats remained on this diet long term, permanent damage to the neurons occurred. On the long-term high fat diet, the brain’s attempt to heal the injured neurons resulted in gliosis, a process that leads to scarring in the central nervous system.  The brain’s POMC cells, which play an important role in the body’s fat control system, regulate appetite and prevent excess weight gain, were reduced by over 25 percent.

Given these findings, scientists on the team surmise that losing these critical brain cells is related to why most people who attempt to lose weight by simply reducing calories and exercising more fail to keep the pounds off- they are still consuming high fat American fare that continues to damage the brain’s receptor cells for appetite control and weight gain prevention.

There is much reason to believe that brain damage due to greasy, high fat diets occurs in humans as well as rats.  When examining MRIs of obese and normal weight humans, obese individuals had significantly higher levels of gliosis (brain scarring) that those at healthy weights.  Further studies need to be conducted to determine the connection between brain scarring, brain functioning and weight loss, but it’s safe to say that it’s a good idea to pass on the French fries and cheeseburger. 

It’s also worth noting that fat itself is not bad; it is the type of fat that counts.  The rats in this study were not fed whole food, healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds and avocadoes, but high fat animal products and fried foods, the deleterious processed types.  As Dr. Fuhrman mentions in detail in his book, Super Immunity, low fat diets can lead to dry skin, thinning hair, muscle cramps, insomnia and poor exercise tolerance among other health problems. 

The moral of this blog post is to avoid processed high fat foods and get enough healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds, and avocadoes and from supplemental docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to keep your brain healthy and in tip top shape.



1. Baskin DG, Dietrich MO, Fischer JD, et al. Obesity is associated with hypothalamic injury in rodents and humans. J Clin Invest. 2012;122(1):153–162. 

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Comments (14) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Dan - February 20, 2012 11:49 AM

Dr. Stephan Guyenet, one of the study's authors, posted some thoughts about it on his blog: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2012/01/high-fat-diets-obesity-and-brain-damage.html

I'm not sure that he'd agree regarding extrapolating the findings to the effect of high-fat diets on humans:

"So if we're deliberately selecting rodent strains that are particularly sensitive to fat gain on a purified high-fat diet, how can we generalize from this and say that dietary fat causes damage in the brain and obesity? The answer is that we can't, and we haven't. 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. We choose rodent strains that are susceptible to obesity on purified high-fat diets simply because we're studying obesity, and we know that feeding this diet to the right strains of rats and mice produces it readily."

Kimmi - February 20, 2012 1:55 PM

Hi Talia,
Thanks for this awesome article! We keep finding more and more problems with fried oils. They are so toxic to the body. I already knew that cooked oils were carcinogenic, and to top it off there is some level of brain damage as well. Why would anyone eat this stuff!? After a few years of avoiding fried foods, they don't smell appealing any longer. They smell weird and inedible, like there is something wrong with them. I hope others read this and get educated too.
Thanks again :)

Lauren - February 20, 2012 4:02 PM

Very insightful and informative report. I am making copies to pass out to everyone I know. Thank you

Salinda Howell - February 20, 2012 4:40 PM

I have passed this article on to everyone in my office. Learning how to "Eat to Live" is vital and it effects us all!

Theresa Anderson - February 20, 2012 7:38 PM

Yet again BAD food is collared as the criminal element of the Standard American Diet. Wow! Who would have known!
Thanks for bringing this info to Disease Proof!
Easy to pass along.

Suzy - February 20, 2012 8:48 PM

There was also a recent study about fatty foods being addictive (also done with rats).


Fast food may be quick and easy, but at what cost to our health!

Thanks for the reminder!

Peter - February 21, 2012 1:52 AM

Where can we find a reliable plant-based non-supplemental source of DHA and EPA?

No wonder why fried potatoes or fried rice makes me crave more. When I eat steamed potatoes or steamed rice, it's hard to eat a lot of it.

Karen Harris - February 21, 2012 7:27 AM

Great article! I will host a newly formed healthy living group in my home Thursday evening and will share this article.

CACC - February 21, 2012 2:54 PM

Fascinating! Thanks for letting us know about this study. Any chance you could post a link to the study itself?

Talia - February 22, 2012 10:08 AM

Dan to address your comment,

This article, in the second to last paragraph, says:

"This study once again highlights the importance of the brain in the development of obesity, and shows directly for the first time that similar changes occur in humans. Our findings also raise the possibility that injury to the hypothalamus may contribute to the fact that obesity is so difficult to durably reverse. That does not mean that fat loss efforts are hopeless! I believe that with the right techniques, many obese people can lose a substantial amount of fat and keep it off. But realistically, we already know that it is rare for a long-term obese person to attain a totally lean state. Persistent changes in the function of the hypothalamus are a logical way to explain this, although more research will be required before we can say it conclusively."

So even in this article, the author of the study is saying that it is possible that the results may be extrapolated to humans. Schwartz’s research team also analyzed human MRIs during their study, discovering higher levels of gliosis in obese patients. There is enough evidence to support that their findings most likely have implications for humans given that obese individuals have similar brain scarring.

We cannot say the brain damage that would occur would be the same or as devastating as in rats, but nevertheless these foods damage the lining of our blood vessels and given other evidence and adding on this observation in rats, their certainly is some form of brain damage that likely occurs in humans too. Actually, we know these foods damage the brain and contribute to Alzheimer’s disease already, so why would we not recognize that some short term damage occurs that eventually builds up to result in long term damage. We also know that significant brain damage needs to occur before symptoms of disease are noticed.

Kat - February 23, 2012 1:26 PM


"...so why would we not recognize that some short term damage occurs that eventually builds up to result in long term damage."

Because that's not science. Just because it may seem like that's the appropriate conclusion - SURPRISE! - it may not turn out to be correct and you can't make such a definitive statement on mere speculation. The body is very complex and complex systems rarely respond in a linear fashion.

The researchers are careful not to make definitive statements unsupported by data and you should do the same.

And speaking of writing good articles, it would be helpful if you included what level the researchers identified as "too much fat". Is it 35% of calories? 50%? "Too much" is too subjective to be helpful. It would also be helpful to know which fats were included in the study. You make a claim that certain fats are desirable, but nuts have a lot of omega-6 fatty acids and those are inflammatory. Ratios matter and a well conducted study would have carefully documented them.

It's great to present these studies and people may interpret them the way they will (you can't control that). There are a number of reasons not to eat SAD besides the fact that it is utterly disgusting. I really don't know how Americans guzzle soda and survive on burgers and french fries daily, but you needn't engage in such flagrant confirmation bias to the point of making statements that call your credibility into question to achieve your goal of informing the public of the latest research.

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - February 23, 2012 5:22 PM

Peter - significant EPA and DHA can only be found in algae, so supplements are really the only reliable plant source.

Kat- short-term damage building up into long-term damage is exactly what the study's results suggest; and we do know this to be true for cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment - the results of unhealthy foods are cumulative over time.

Also, in the rat portion of the study, standard chow was approximately 13% calories from fat, and the high fat diet was 60% calories from fat.

Kat - February 26, 2012 2:42 PM

To add what I think is an important point to my previous post...

Another important downside to claiming cause when none has been established is to close people's minds to new scientific discoveries.

We humans know very little. We should always keep our minds open to the possibility that we are wrong. We should also understand that there are no solutions - only trade-offs. But, to accurately calculate the trade-offs, we must be honest about them and we mustn't cling to our priors with religious ferver.

Veronica Grace The Low Fat Vegan Chef - February 27, 2012 4:44 AM

This is a great reminder Dr. Fuhrman. It's no surprise that deep fried foods are the worst offenders for bad food choices. All too often people forget that oil is a refined product and has little health benefit to offer when compared to whole foods like nuts, seeds and avocado. Now it sounds even worse that it's shown to damage the brain. Deep fried foods are bad news.

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