Teaching children early about healthy eating habits may be an important step toward preserving their mental health and brain function later in life, at least according to a new study published this month in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Scientists in Sweden have determined that eating too many fatty foods in adolescence may increase the risk of behavioral problems in adulthood, as well as difficulty with thinking and decision making. It has to do with a protein called RELN (commonly called reelin), which is important for healthy neuron connections in the brain. In previous studies, low reelin levels have been linked to a significantly higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Using mice, a team of researchers found that a diet high in unhealthy fats depletes reelin levels in the body, which in turn slows down healthy brain function. In fact, after just four weeks on a high-fat diet, the mice began showing changes in brain function—even before they started to gain weight.
“These changes from a young age onwards are more the result of the fatty foods themselves, and the impact they have on young brains, rather than arising from the mere fact of being obese,” said study author Dr. Urs Meyer. He and his team focused specifically on the prefrontal cortex, which they point out is not fully developed in humans until early adulthood.