Damaging effects of a high-fat diet to the brain and cognition: a review of proposed mechanisms

Nutr Neurosci. 2014 Nov;17(6):241-51. doi: 10.1179/1476830513Y.0000000092. Epub 2013 Nov 26.


The prevalence of obesity is growing and now includes at least one-third of the adult population in the United States. As obesity and dementia rates reach epidemic proportions, an even greater interest in the effects of nutrition on the brain have become evident. This review discusses various mechanisms by which a high fat diet and/or obesity can alter the brain and cognition. It is well known that a poor diet and obesity can lead to certain disorders such as type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. However, long-term effects of obesity on the brain need to be further examined. The contribution of insulin resistance and oxidative stress is briefly reviewed from studies in the current literature. The role of inflammation and vascular alterations are described in more detail due to our laboratory's experience in evaluating these specific factors. It is very likely that each of these factors plays a role in diet-induced and/or obesity-induced cognitive decline.

Keywords: Brain Health; Cerebrovascularization; Cognition; Inflammation; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Dementia / epidemiology*
  • Dementia / etiology
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Prevalence
  • United States