We already know that eating fatty food is bad for our physical health, but a new study shows it may have some negative consequences for our mental health, too. It may even alter our behavior.

The study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, suggests that the way a high-fat diet changes our gut bacteria may actually have an effect on our brains, increasing the risk of depression, among other mental health problems. A healthy balance of gut bacteria (also called your microbiome), is essential for physiological functioning. But some research has shown changes in the microbiome may not only lead to digestion problems and weight issues, but it may also affect our brain.

To dig deeper into this idea, researchers at Louisiana State University transplanted gut bacteria from mice being fed a high-fat diet into non-obese mice being fed a normal diet. After receiving the gut bacteria altered by fatty foods, the mice showed behavioral changes like increased anxiety, impaired memory, and repetitive behaviors. They also had visible signs of inflammation in the brain — which researchers think may have contributed to the behavioral changes.

More research needs to be done to get down to the why, but so far, this is consistent with previous research and provides even stronger evidence that changes in our gut microbiome can truly impact brain function. It also shows that potentially focusing on improving gut health could be a more natural way to treat neuropsychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.

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