If your adolescent children are in the habit of consuming saturated foods including butter, cheese, beef, pork or processed meats like salami, they are less likely to have stress coping skills in adulthood, warn researchers. People who consumed these foods, during teen age, showed alteration in areas of the brain that handle the fear and/or stress responses. They also began exhibiting behaviours that mirrored post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“The teenage years are a very critical time for brain maturation, including how well (or not) we’ll cope with stress as adults,” said Johnny Figueroa at the Loma Linda University in California, US.
The authors explained that understanding the neural networks that predispose obese adolescents to developing anxiety and stress-related disorders may help target metabolic measures to alleviate the burden of mental illness in this growing population.
In the study, published in the journal Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity, the team examined a rat model to investigate the impact of an obesogenic – that can produce obesity– Western-like high-saturated fat diet on the development of brain areas involved in responding to fear and stress.
The findings showed that adolescent rats who consumed obesogenic diet exhibited more anxiety, problems with associative and non-associative learning processes and an impaired fear-startle response.
Consumption of such diet during adolescence reduced the extinction of fear memories — a major impairment observed in people suffering from PTSD.
In addition, these rats incorrectly assessed the level of threat, suggesting that obesity and associated metabolic alterations may predispose individuals to PTSD-related psychopathology.
The team explained that the left-brain hemisphere seemed to be more vulnerable to the effects of high-saturated fat diet consumption and obesity-related metabolic alterations.
“The findings of our research support that the lifestyle decisions made during adolescence — even those as simple as your diet — can make a big difference in our ability to overcome every day challenges,” Figueroa explained.