Researchers announced earlier this month that they had found a link between a western diet and cognitive decline and neurodegeneration in a study using mice.
Published in the Cell Press journal iScience, the Marshall University authors said that the diet creates these impacts on the brain through increased Na,K-ATPase signaling in adipocytes.
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Na,K-ATPase is a cellular sodium-potassium pump and adipocytes are fat cells and are the major energy storage sites in the body.
To reach these conclusions, the group used a gene-altered mouse model, feeding the mice either a normal diet or a western diet for 12 weeks.
The mice were also given the antibiotic doxycycline to activate the peptide NaKtide in the fat cells.
A burger, fries, chocolate and other calorie-rich foods (iStock)
The mice eating the western diet increased their body weight and showed insulin resistance, lowered oxygen levels and low energy.
Additionally, the mice on the western diet showed signs of behavioral changes in line with those typical of humans with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
"In this study, we found that a western diet produced systemic oxidant stress along with evidence of activation of Na,K-ATPase signaling within both murine brain and peripheral tissues," the authors wrote. "We also noted this diet caused increases in circulating inflammatory cytokines as well as behavioral, and brain biochemical changes consistent with neurodegeneration."
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When researchers obstructed the Na,K-ATPase signal through the use of NaKtide in the fat cells, it stopped the adverse effects the western diet had on the animals' brains – and the hippocampus in particular.
The hippocampus is the region of the brain that is associated with regulating emotional responses and is principally involved in storing long-term memories.
"These data suggest that a western diet produces cognitive decline and neurodegeneration through augmented Na,K-ATPase signaling and that antagonism of this pathway in adipocytes ameliorates the pathophysiology," they said.
If these conclusions are also observed in humans, the study's authors posited that the adipocyte Na,K-ATPase could serve as a clinical target in the therapy of neurodegenerative disorders.
Previous studies have found that a western diet increases the risk of death after a prostate cancer diagnosis and intensifies the severity of sepsis.
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The western diet generally includes the overconsumption of over-refined sugars, highly refined and saturated fats, and too many calories.
While the western diet has been found to cause numerous adverse health effects, like obesity, scientists have also previously published studies regarding its negative impact on behavior, cognition and emotion.