Junk Food and the Male Brain

Junk Food and the Male Brain

black-man-eating-junk-food1Men, it turns out that chowing down on that delicious cheeseburger and chasing it down with a soda is much more harmful for you than it is for your wife. That is of course if the results of a recent study on mice also apply to humans as it is believed to.

According to the results of the study, junk food causes inflammation in the male mice brains, but the female mice brains are protected by estrogen. Dr. Deborah Clegg was the lead researcher on this project. She ran this study when she was at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The study builds upon some existing research that links inflammation in the brain with heart disease and obesity in male mice.

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Clegg explained that the research was embarked upon because the link between a diet high in fat and inflammation had already been shown in male mice- so it was only natural to wonder if the same process happened in female mice.

Past research revealed that one of the causes of inflammation in the hypothalamus is palmitic acid. Palmitic acid is a saturated fatty acid that is found in meat and dairy products, as well as palm oil and is a very common ingredient in high fat foods. The hypothalamus is the area of the brain that is in control of the balance of energy.

The study involved both male and female mice. Some were fed their normal diet and others were fed a high fat diet. In addition to containing 42 percent fat, the high fat diet was also very high in carbohydrates, which made it a good correlation of typical human junk foods. It was very tasty- the human equivalent would be eating a burger and drinking a soda.

After a period of sixteen weeks on this high fat, junk food diet, the male mice were showing inflammation in their brains. On the other hand, there was no inflammation in the hypothalamuses of the female mice.  The results came as a total shock- the fact that there was inflammation present in male brains, but not the female brains.

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The study also revealed that male mice on the high fat, junk food diet were more likely than the female mice to have impaired function of their hearts and to become glucose-intolerant. The study went on to show that an estrogen receptor was responsible for protecting the brains of the female mice from becoming inflamed.

This goes along very well with what we already know about premenopausal women- with high estrogen levels- and the fact that they have fewer of the harmful effects of obesity such as heart disease and diabetes. However, once women have reached menopause, they are no longer protected by estrogen.

Another surprising finding was the fact that the male and female brains differ in the fatty acid composition of their brains, even when looking at those that had the normal diets.

The brain of the male mice seems to mirror the composition of fatty acids in their diet, but the female brain does not. The levels of palmitic acid and ceramides were much higher in the male brain than the female brain. On the other hand, the levels of linoleic acid were higher in female brains, but were completely missing in the brain of the male mice. Dr. Clegg stated that as far as she knows, this is the very first time that a study has revealed the differences in fat composition in the brain between the two sexes.

Dr. Clegg is currently working at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles where her plans are to find out if these same results apply to humans. She feels that this is the most important question- the work was done on mice and now it needs to be done on humans.

The study has basically confirmed that diet does affect the brain through an inflammatory response, however the effects are different for males than for females because estrogen is acting at the estrogen receptor in the brains of the females.

It is a very interesting study that places the blame on palmitic acid as the specific factor that is causing the inflammation. However, Professor Margaret Morris and a team at the University of New South Wales are conducting a study that has shown that sugar has an inflammatory effect on the hypothalamus in rats.

Dr. Morris says that this is very fascinating- it seems that there are multiple causes of inflammation in the male brains. 

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