There could be benefits to a fat-rich diet after researchers in the US linked fatty foods with new cell growth in the area of the brain that regulates eating decisions.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore put mice on a "Big Mac" diet containing 60 percent fat increased from the 35 percent fat diet they were regularly fed.
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"We really don't understand the function of these neurons in the normal brain," said Seth Blackshaw, study researcher and associate professor at the university.
"Our data suggests that these neurons may have an important role in regulating feeding."
While the mice were fed their "supersized" diet, the scientists found that new brain-cell growth in the area of the brain called the median eminence increased from 1 percent to 5 percent.
The researchers suggest that because the median eminence lies outside the blood-brain barrier, it could be detecting chemicals in the blood and then sending signals to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain controlling hunger, thirst and associated behaviours.
If the region were located inside the blood-brain barrier, the barrier would filter out any toxins or foreign substances that could regulate new cell growth in that area.
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When the researchers selectively stopped new brain cells from growing in this region, they found that the mice gained 7 percent less weight when compared to normal mice on a high-fat diet, but were 15 percent more active.
"We have no idea if this happens in any species other than mice," Blackshaw said. "In humans all the cells and the structures are conserved … I think there's no reason to assume necessarily that this wouldn’t happen in humans."
Blackshaw warns to "be very careful into reading too much in these studies", but is positive about the implications of these findings, which may have an impact on future research into diet-related therapies.
"The therapeutic potential [is] quite exciting," Blackshaw said. "The beauty of this region, this median eminence, is that it lies completely outside of the blood-brain barrier.
"Delivery of therapeutics to target [and] regulate neurons or regulate neurogeneration [the growth of new brain cells] could be made pretty specific."
The findings were published yesterday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
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