Western Diet Causes Cognitive Impairment, Anxiety, and Depression

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One of the problems with modern toxicology research is that the risks of exposure may only be revealed when the body is challenged – a model rarely employed in animal or human research. In a study from Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Andre et al explored the emotional, cognitive, and inflammatory impact of the Western Diet in rodents. They found:

  • Appreciable deficit in spatial recognition memory (Y-maze) after nine weeks of a Western Diet and enhancement of anxiety-like behavior (elevated plus-maze) after 18 weeks of exposure.
  • After exposure to the immune stimulus – bacterial lipopolysaccharide – at 20 weeks of a Western Diet, depressive behavior (tail suspension and forced-swim test) was increased as was hypothalamic and hippocampal proinflammatory cytokine expression and enzymatic IDO activity.
  • IDO is activated in the brain when the immune cells or microglia sense danger. Compounds related to kynurenin are created which have excitatory and potentially toxic effects at the cell-level. This activation underlies the cytokine theory of depression.

The authors conclude:

“Obesity, and possibly obesity-associated inflammatory priming, may represent a vulnerability state to immune-mediated depressive symptoms.”

It is posited by these findings that the Western Diet, marked by distorted vegetable fats, sugar, preservatives, and chemicals may be setting us up, as a population for the development of chronic inflammation when we experience an immune challenge in the form of infection, stress, or even further toxicant exposure. The greatest form of preventive medicine is to engage in non-American nutrition.

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More