Scientists Uncover How Saturated Fats Trigger Alzheimer’s

Brain Metabolism Glowing

A recent study by the URV has shown that a diet high in saturated fats accelerates Alzheimer’s development by affecting blood and brain molecules, opening new avenues for treatment and prevention.

This research, conducted by Universitat Rovira i Virgili, advances our knowledge of how obesity, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease are interconnected.

A study conducted by the URV has uncovered the process by which a diet high in saturated fats contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. This research centered on the impact of such a diet on specific molecules present in the blood and other tissues like the brain, which serve as indicators and controllers of the disease.

The study was headed by Mònica Bulló, professor at the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology and member of the Metabolic Health and Nutrition unit and the Environmental, Food and Toxicological Technology Centre (TecnATox) of the URV, in collaboration with the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute (IISPV), CIBERobn and the University of Barcelona. The results have been published in the journal Nutrients.

The research was conducted on mice models who developed Alzheimer’s disease in adulthood. Previous studies in these animals had already shown that after a diet high in saturated fats the mice developed Alzheimer’s much earlier than mice on a conventional diet. However, the mechanisms that led to the onset of Alzheimer’s remained unknown. That is, until now.

Key Findings on Molecular Changes

The researchers analyzed the expression of 15 miRNAs, small molecules of RNA that play a crucial role in genetic regulation in both plasma and brain tissues. The team examined changes in insulin-related miRNAs in mouse models predisposed to Alzheimer’s not on a diet low in saturated fats.

Mònica Bulló Research Team

A picture of the research team. Credit: Universitat Rovira i Virgili

The results demonstrated that their metabolism worsened after being on this diet for six months: their body weight increased significantly and their response to glucose and insulin decreased. These same characteristics can also be found in people with obesity or type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, researchers found changes to various miRNAs in both the blood and the brain. These changes were related to processes that can cause brain damage, such as the accumulation of β-amyloid plaques (protein deposits that form in the brain and which are markers of Alzheimer’s), excessive production of the tau protein (which can damage brain cells when it gets out of control) and inflammation in the brain.

“The results of this study are a step forward in our understanding of this disease and may explain the relationship between obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the onset of Alzheimer’s. The findings also offer new targets for the possible prevention and treatment of the disease”, said researcher Mònica Bulló

The study not only provides new data on how a high-fat diet can affect the health of the brain, but also opens the door to future research into dietary strategies as a means of treating Alzheimer’s. The results underline the importance of a balanced diet in preventing neurodegenerative diseases and highlight miRNAs as targets for therapeutic interventions.

Reference: “Effects of a High-Fat Diet on Insulin-Related miRNAs in Plasma and Brain Tissue in APPSwe/PS1dE9 and Wild-Type C57BL/6J Mice” by Melina Rojas-Criollo, Nil Novau-Ferré, Laia Gutierrez-Tordera, Miren Ettcheto, Jaume Folch, Christopher Papandreou, Laura Panisello, Amanda Cano, Hamza Mostafa, Javier Mateu-Fabregat, Marina Carrasco, Antoni Camins and Mònica Bulló, 25 March 2024, Nutrients.
DOI: 10.3390/nu16070955

3 Comments on "Scientists Uncover How Saturated Fats Trigger Alzheimer’s"

  1. The mice were fed hydrogenated coconut oils. Aren’t there trans fats in that? Why wasn’t extra virgin coconut oil used instead? It would eliminate the question of trans fats entirely from the study. As it is now I have some serious doubts about the study’s claims with the aforementioned information in mind.

  2. Fully hydrogenated coconut oil contains saturated fats but is free from trans fats, I’m assuming this was what was used in the study, which only specifies ‘hydrogenated coconut oil’

  3. According to the following article, full hydrogenation is not typically practical, to quote:

    “Complete saturation of all double bonds is practically not achievable in a factory scale hydrogenation process. In practice the residual Iodine Value (IV) of a fully hydrogenated product will be around 1-2 (the IV is the measure for the degree of unsaturation of an oil or fat, a completely saturated oil has an IV of zero).”


    So there’s likely still a small amount of artificial trans fats there, which I would think would be a confounding variable, even if considered small. It still doesn’t answer the question of why cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil wasn’t used instead; it would eliminate this potential confounding variable entirely as an issue.

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