Findings from a new UT Southwestern Medical Center study suggest that fat from certain foods we eat makes its way to the brain. Once there, the fat molecules cause the brain to send messages to the body’s cells, warning them to ignore the appetite-suppressing signals from leptin and insulin, hormones involved in weight regulation.
The researchers also found that one particular type of fat – palmitic acid – is particularly effective at instigating this mechanism.
“Normally, our body is primed to say when we’ve had enough, but that doesn’t always happen when we’re eating something good,” said Dr. Deborah Clegg, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and senior author of the rodent study appearing in the September issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
“What we’ve shown in this study is that someone’s entire brain chemistry can change in a very short period of time. Our findings suggest that when you eat something high in fat, your brain gets ‘hit’ with the fatty acids, and you become resistant to insulin and leptin,” Dr. Clegg said. “Since you’re not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat.”
Dr. Clegg said that in the animals, the effect lasts about three days, potentially explaining why many people who splurge on Friday or Saturday say they’re hungrier than normal on Monday.
Though scientists have known that eating a high-fat diet can cause insulin resistance, little has been known about the mechanism that triggers this resistance or whether specific types of fat are more likely to cause increased insulin resistance. Dr. Clegg said she suspected the brain might play a role because it incorporates some of the fat we eat – whether it is from healthy oils or the not-so-healthy saturated fat found in butter and beef – into its structure.