Remembrance of Fat May Be at Root of Cravings

Once a survival tool, ability could be making people today fat, expert says

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WEDNESDAY, April 29, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- When you eat fat-rich foods, your brain forms long-term memories of the experience, says a new study.

The finding adds to knowledge about the link between dietary fats and appetite control and could lead to new ways of treating obesity and other eating disorders, according to researchers from the University of California, Irvine.

In previous studies, they found that oleic acids from fats are transformed into a compound called oleoylethanolamide (OEA) in the upper region of the small intestines. OEA sends hunger-curbing messages to the brain to increase feelings of fullness. Elevated levels of OEA can reduce appetite.

In their new study, the researchers found that OEA also causes memory consolidation, in which superficial, short-term memories are turned into meaningful, long-term memories. OEA does this by activating memory-enhancing signals in the amygdala, the brain area that plays a role in retaining memories of emotional events.

The study was published online in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"OEA is part of the molecular glue that makes memories stick," neuroscientist Daniele Piomelli, a co-author of the study, said in a university news release. "By helping mammals remember where and when they have eaten a fatty meal, OEA's memory-enhancing activity seems to have been an important evolutionary tool for early humans and other mammals."

The ability may have been a survival mechanism for early humans, but things are different today. Because fatty foods are now overly abundant, this ability can cause cravings that lead to excess consumption and obesity, Piomelli said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers advice about healthy nutrition.

SOURCE: University of California, Irvine, news release, April 27, 2009

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