Does obesity, or even high-fat food, change the brain?

Experiments with mice suggest that fatty foods can cause inflammation in the hypothalamus of the brain. It’s an area that helps to regulate hunger and thus body weight; Isaac Asimov called it the “appestat” and suggested that fat people were hungrier people.

Brain, showing hypothalamus from "Gray's Anatomy"

(from Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s the article: “Could obesity change the brain?” Inflammation is seen after one high-fat meal. It does down after a week or so, but then a month later it comes back and persists for many months—a long time in the two-year life span of a mouse. Does it change the mice’s appetites? I’m not sure. Michael Schwartz, a professor and director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence at the University of Washington, says “This might reflect fundamental biological changes in how the brain works that help explain why it’s so hard to keep weight off.” The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (J Clin Invest. 2012;122(1):153–162. doi:10.1172/JCI59660).

It’s also possible that obesity, a longer-term exposure to fat in the bloodstream, causes persistent inflammation, as found in earlier studies of obese lab animals. Exactly what does this mean? The researchers are now looking at NMRI scans of obese humans and finding have inflammation of the hypothalamus.

Inflammation in the human hypothalamus: A, normal weight; B, obese.

(from JCI article)

It’s suggestive that some of the best diets reduce the amount of fat eaten and gradually reduce the craving for fats.

Further research is definitely needed into diet, brain reactions, and appetite.

Nutrition news for endurance sports

Long-distance swimmers, cyclists, and runners need special nutrition to keep from running out of fuel or becoming dehydrated. The traditional “carbo-loading” involves a big supper of pasta the night before, to enable the body to build quick-energy glycogen stores. During the race, athletes ingest low-fibre, high-carbohydrate foods and slightly salted and sugared water such as Gatorade. This research suggests how athletes can meet their needs without loading up the night before: “Nutrition for endurance sports” by A. E. Jeukendrup.

Endurance sports are increasing in popularity and athletes at all levels are looking for ways to optimize their performance by training and nutrition. For endurance exercise lasting 30 min or more, the most likely contributors to fatigue are dehydration and carbohydrate depletion, whereas gastrointestinal problems, hyperthermia, and hyponatraemia can reduce endurance exercise performance and are potentially health threatening, especially in longer events (>4 h). Although high muscle glycogen concentrations at the start may be beneficial for endurance exercise, this does not necessarily have to be achieved by the traditional supercompensation protocol. An individualized nutritional strategy can be developed that aims to deliver carbohydrate to the working muscle at a rate that is dependent on the absolute exercise intensity as well as the duration of the event. Endurance athletes should attempt to minimize dehydration and limit body mass losses through sweating to 2-3% of body mass. Gastrointestinal problems occur frequently, especially in long-distance races. Problems seem to be highly individual and perhaps genetically determined but may also be related to the intake of highly concentrated carbohydrate solutions, hyperosmotic drinks, as well as the intake of fibre, fat, and protein. Hyponatraemia has occasionally been reported, especially among slower competitors with very high intakes of water or other low sodium drinks. Here I provide a comprehensive overview of recent research findings and suggest several new guidelines for the endurance athlete on the basis of this. These guidelines are more detailed and allow a more individualized approach.

PMID: 21916794 [PubMed – in process]

Gingerbread Daleks

I think these are Dalek cookies. Listen closely: can you hear little voices chanting, “Exterminate! Exterminate!”?

funny food photos - Ring of Terror
see more My Food Looks Funny

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Baconized vodka!

Food chemistry! A Youtube™ video that someone posted, about flavouring vodka with bacon, suggested frying the bacon, then draining off the fat. Pour the fat into the vodka, keep it warm enough to stay liquid, and stir at least every 15 minutes. Let the flavours mingle for four or five hours. The video showed a nice glass container and glass swizzle stick, but I think it would be more efficient to put the mixture into an airtight container and shake it every 15 minutes: less evaporation, better mixing! Then you refrigerate it, remove the solidified fat, and filter once or twice through a coffee filter. Meanwhile, you can eat the bacon.

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Conservation initiatives: kelp caviar

Traditional caviar production kills pregnant sturgeon. Sturgeon, a prehistoric fish, is threatened by overfishing, poaching, and pollution. A decent substitute is caviar made from kelp. Let’s all switch before it’s too late for the sturgeon.

It comes in flavours of sturgeon, salmon, and wasabi and is available online through

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Megamouth shark is a rare dish

National Geographic reported in April that fishermen in the Philippines caught a megamouth shark. It died as they were capturing it, so they ate it in spite of urgings from a naturalist to save it for science. Megamouth sharks were discovered in 1976. They are a filter-feeder in their own family and genus.

This was only the 41st one ever seen. So little is known of them that conservation authorities can’t assess their status.

image from Natural Geographic

image from Natural Geographic

Go forth, my minions!

I must remember to try this.

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Mystery fruit identified

Almost four years ago I posted a picture of some yellow fruit that I found growing on a tree in Southern California.

Today, a discussion of almonds and peach pits turned into a random browse of fruit trees in the family Rosaceae and I found a picture of my mystery fruit: It’s a loquat. And they’re edible.

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